Jon Hopkins @ The Sinclair 11.18.13
by Ben Stas (Journalism/English), published November 21st 2013
photos by Ben Stas
On Tuesday night, Boston’s Mmmmaven Agency celebrated its second birthday at The Sinclair with a bill of innovative electronic producers headlined by London’s Jon Hopkins. Fellow Englishmen Clark and Nathan Fake rounded out the bill, which packed in a surprisingly eager crowd for a Monday night.
Fake was up first, composing his set from a small array of controllers at center stage. His sound was largely characterized by gut-punching, rapid-fire beats perforated by glitchy manipulations akin to melodic dial-up modems. It could sound abrasive at times, but never grating. Fake artfully treaded the line between intriguingly out-there sounds and a keen sense of danceable propulsion. Extra points for a chaotic remix of Radiohead’s King of Limbs track “Morning Mr Magpie” that posited Thom Yorke’s laid-back vocal track over a bed of growling synths.
Chris Clark’s set began in a less aggressive space than Fake’s left off, but gradually ramped up the frantic intensity over the course of its 50-minute duration. Clark’s multi-table equipment spread was the most elaborate of the three, incorporating an actual hardware synthesizer and a guitar pedal or two on top of the usual controller-plus-laptop setup. He was constantly darting between various pieces of equipment, crafting subtle build-ups in rhythm and density. A climactic passage of chopped vocal samples that almost recalled a double-BPM Burial was the set’s standout moment.
Hopkins took the stage to a packed house at 11, and launched into a set rooted in his excellent 2013 record Immunity. Much like his music tends to on record, Hopkins’ live set engaged with a number of different sounds, moods and directions. One minute he was juxtaposing pastoral tones with moody, thumping bass, and the next he was disrupting a straight-ahead techno beat with buzz-saw synths or engineering the crowd’s anticipation of a drop by peeling away layers of sound. Hopkins’ recorded output demonstrates his mastery of manipulating space and tension through a varied sonic palette, and he exhibited those same skills in recreating his songs live. Things were clearly reworked in order to suit the seamless flow and necessary momentum of energy in a live set, but the personality and the distinctive Hopkins touch were still evident.
On the note of personality, Hopkins seemed to develop a rapport with the audience not always seen at electronic shows. He had no mic, but convened his appreciation to an adoring crowd via whatever smiles or short bows he could fit in between button presses. He certainly earned that adoration with a dynamic and engrossing set to close out the night.