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Jon Hopkins - Royal Festival Hall, London 19/09/14

24 September 2014, 09:00 | Written by Joe Daniels

The South Bank centre treads a fine line between what is cool, and what is trying so hard to be cool. It’s a collection of venues that put on shows that otherwise would be in venues half the size (just tonight both Moon Duo and Hopkins play), yet among all the brutalist architecture, shipping container restaurants and riverside frozen yogurt buses, it all seems a little naff. Thankfully, though the odd cultural cache the place trades in seems a little fudged, a chance to experience Jon Hopkins’ uniquely brilliant electronic compositions live dispels any doubts.

Not so much strutting onto the stage as nervously poking at it, Hopkins is not the most imposing of performers, but what he lacks in gravitas he more than makes up for in his ability to get people dancing.

Kicking things off with “Colour Eye”, the tone for the evening is set: a live recreation of some the most human-sounding electronic music of the last decade. The biggest cheers are for the first two tracks of 2013’s Immunity: the monolithic pairing of “We Disappear” and “Open Eye Signal”. Both songs on record are a hypnotic maelstrom of bleeps and scratches, but live it’s the sheer punchiness of the tracks that hits him.

Hopkins skits over sample pads, contorting his gangly form to each syncopated beat, twisting knobs and thwacking buttons. He looks like a man without inhibitions – a sort of gawky, anti-rock star – and the audience act accordingly, abandoning the usual decorum of the building in order to dance around like loons.

Between the heady, rave-like explosions there are excursions into the more pensive elements of Hopkins’ ouvre. He tinkers on a grand piano to recreate the delicate keystrokes of his “Monsters” composition, and “Collider” – as on record – is a thoughtful, meandering moment of respite from the relentlessness of everything else.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an electronic gig without the use of a big screen replete with acid-tinged imagery. Thankfully, the visuals are a well-balanced onslaught of abstract shapes and colours designed to trip folks out, and the more apollonian images of people having fun (in raves, on skateboards, etc).

Bowing at the end, Hopkins seems genuinely humbled by the reaction he has elicited from the crowd. He shakes the hands of a couple stood at the front (seats were abandoned long ago), sips a beer, and – as timidly as he arrived – makes for the exit. What remains however is the lasting effect of his music, and how it can transcend even the most fuddy-duddy of venues.

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