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Jon Hopkins review – recital turns rave as fans embrace one last gig | Music

Sunday evening and the atmosphere in Brighton Dome feels curiously subdued. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that you can’t escape current events. Jon Hopkins’ most recent album, 2018’s Singularity, unexpectedly made the Top 10. This sold-out gig is nevertheless pockmarked with empty seats. There seems every chance that this is the last concert anyone here will be going to for the foreseeable future, but some ticket holders have clearly decided that even that isn’t incentive enough to leave home.

Or perhaps a muted atmosphere generally prevails at gigs by Hopkins, a sometime Coldplay and Brian Eno collaborator whose music exists at a distinctly cerebral nexus where contemporary classical meets soundtrack-y ambience and egghead techno that would once have earned the frightful generic label intelligent dance music. It’s where profile-boosting appearances on Spotify curated playlists called things such as 4am Chillout and Atmospheric Calm meet generative sound installations.

Initially, this feels more like a recital than a gig. An anonymous figure in a white T-shirt, Hopkins sits hunched over a grand piano on a dark stage, playing the beautiful, fluttering figures of recent single Scene Suspended. The sound is augmented first by electric guitar so densely affected that what the guitarist is doing with his hands seems to bear no relation to what’s coming out of the speakers, then by cello and violin, the latter producing odd, wheezing drones.

The audience listen in reverential silence: there’s a degree of shushing and eye-rolling when people venture from their seats to the bar or the toilets. Occasionally, the music is enough to drown them out, swelling from charming fragility to something more muscular: at one point, the guitar swamps everything with fizzing noise that seems to pan from one side of the room to the other.

Jon Hopkins at a keyboard.

‘The volume of the roar when it ends seems to take him aback’ … Jon Hopkins. Photograph: Tabatha Fireman/The Guardian

When Hopkins shifts from piano to the bank of electronics at the rear of the stage, the effect is intriguing. The mid-tempo chug of Cosm provokes a solitary audience member out of her seat: she dances with the dogged self-consciousness you always see in people who get on their feet at a seated gig, only to discover no one else has followed suit. The next time Hopkins abandons the baby grand, however, what emerges from his laptop is more forceful. The criticism occasionally levelled at his music – that it’s too eggheaded and painstakingly thought through to connect with on a visceral level – makes no sense live. Every sound seems to come with added heft, the bass feels more central and pulverising and the beats more linear, less inclined to clatter.

It makes a visible impression. There’s a kind a ripple effect in the audience as more people get up until the entire crowd is dancing. As Hopkins ratchets up the intensity and the subtle lighting is replaced by blinding white flashes and strobes, it’s hard not to feel that there’s an oddly moving and powerful sense of gleeful catharsis and escapism in their reaction. People who were listening intently a few minutes ago are now whooping and yelling when the bass drops. The volume of the roar when it ends seems to take Hopkins aback: he stands on stage and applauds the crowd.

A Sunday evening recital has unexpectedly turned into something approximating a rave. If this is the last gig anyone here attends for the foreseeable, it’s quite a way to go out.

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