Natasha Khan and Jon Hopkins: a mercurial pairing (2023)

The list of similarities between Natasha Khan and Jon Hopkins borders on the freaky. Yes, they're admirably individual musicians: Khan as Bat For Lashes, the Kate Bush of her generation, and Hopkins as Brian Eno's former protege and ambient-techno freedom fighter. Yes, they ooze that affable coolness of naturally talented artists with nice hair. But they have also both been on tour with Coldplay, been nominated for an Ivor Novello award (Bat For Lashes won the Best Song category in 2010 for her track Daniel), and are each twice Mercury-nominated: Khan was shortlisted in 2007 and 2009; Hopkins in 2011 for his album with King Creosote, Diamond Mine, and this year with his solo record Immunity. They live around the corner from each other in east London; they're into various forms of meditation. Come to think of it, they even look kind of similar.

"We both have faces!" they shriek, almost in unison, when I reel off this exhaustive list. "I'm actually two months older than my twin," says Hopkins, goading Khan, as if he might stick his tongue out and blow a raspberry. "In fact, you do look like my mum when she was young," he tells her.

Khan ponders this for a minute. "That's weird isn't it, though? That we've got all the same credits? We should just do the same Wikipedia – half your face and half mine."

I'm sitting in a room with Natasha and Jon totting all this up because he has scored Kevin Macdonald's new film, How I Live Now – an adaptation of Meg Rosoff's "young adult" novel – and she has joined him in writing its final song, Garden's Heart. They're a fine pairing. Hopkins has gone from being "that guy who worked with Coldplay" to Electronic Music Man Of The Moment, revered for his ability to create dense human warmth and atmosphere out of cold computer beats. Natasha, meanwhile, "could sing about a hamburger and it would sound fucking amazing," as one YouTube commenter on the Garden's Heart video put it. The song itself engages with the film's themes of unfettered romance and yearning for an escape from the persistent anxiety of modern online life. It's the kind of emotionally stirring music that should come with a free pack of Kleenex.

"I cried, like, four times," says Natasha of her first viewing of the film. "A lot of the things that I was working on for my last album, The Haunted Man, were of a similar theme, so I felt really attached to them already: there's a love story, there's stunning countryside, the terrible reality of being pulled apart by war. It hit me really hard."

(Video) Keynote: Bringing Big Data to the Bedside- Christopher Longhurst, MD

Jon and Natasha first met ong before their collaboration, though. In 2009, when Hopkins was scoring the film Monsters. "I was really interested to see if she would like to co-write a song," he remembers. "I got her in for a screening and she liked the film but she had other things to do." He pauses. "She went to visit Beck and write a song with him for Twilight instead."

Natasha tosses her head back and giggles: "Yeah, it was such a shame I had to go to Malibu Beach."

"I'm going to go and hang out with him in a minute, actually," deadpans Jon in reply.

'This soundtrack contains the darkest stuff I've ever written but my music is primarily about escapism. I don't want to present grim reminders of how fucked the world is' - Jon Hopkins

Allow Spotify content?

This article includes content provided by Spotify. We ask for your permission before anything is loaded, as they may be using cookies and other technologies. To view this content, click 'Allow and continue'.

Reading this on mobile? Click here to view

It took four years from when the pair first met to get into the studio together. Natasha had written most of the lyrics "in my pyjamas, in bed, after reading some old English pastoral poetry" and came up with the song's shoegaze-y guitar line, while Jon "fannied around" with the production and spun a web of electronics around the song. Fans of Immunity will find plenty to love. Hopkins scored the film – including a beguiling remix of Daughter's Home – at the same time as making his solo record, and they share many of the same stunning sonic qualities. But his album work comes from a different place. "This soundtrack contains the darkest stuff I've ever written but my music is primarily about escapism. I don't want to present grim reminders of how fucked the world is," he says. Does he, like Khan, have an alter ego, then? He hesitates, so she jumps in. "You've got one in your pyjamas, haven't you?" she snickers.

Their conversation is full of moments like these. They've no solo album to tirelessly promote, no label pressure, no relentless touring schedule, only something they've done purely for its own sake. As such, it sounds like fun. "Collaboration is like making love as opposed to … having a frustrated wank on your own," says Khan, erupting into giggles.

Jon raises his eyebrow and smirks: "A lonely wank."

"I think music naturally wants to be played with more than one person", says Khan, raising the tone again. "There's a surprise element, and you don't know what it will be, and it's up to that other person's energy to help create this third thing."

Jon clearly enjoys these "third things": so far this year he's released a cover of Goodbye Horses with Wild Beasts' Hayden Thorpe and a new version of Breathe This Air with Purity Ring's Megan James (because "I think you should be open to letting songs have a life beyond just one version"). He plans to do a follow-up to Diamond Mine with King Creosote next. This Third Thing has also given Khan the chance to flex her other artistic muscles. She made her directorial debut with the video for Garden's Heart, which stars How I Live Now's leading lady, Saoirse Ronan. It sees Ronan dealing with the aftermath of war, slipping into a bath enveloped by blossoming lily pads, and eventually submerging herself in a river, which they filmed in Khan's home town. Khan says she cried again watching the actress on the monitor. "In the end we left it so last minute that we had a week to get it done," says Khan, who studied film at university and is keen to make a short film next. "We found the river location the night before – it was actually in Rickmansworth, where I grew up. That was really uncanny." She is full of praise for the Oscar-nominated actress. "I was crying whilst watching the monitor, especially when she took her hat off and the tears were rolling down her cheeks. She transmutes so much emotion through her amazing, young, brilliant face."

For Khan, visuals and music come together, and she's been described in the past as being able to "see the songs". It's clear she has a more cosmic, otherworldly way of approaching both. "Did you see that Björk meets David Attenborough documentary?" she asks Jon. "There was this incredible moment where this guy had developed a speaker that plays music upwards on a flat surface. He poured sand over the top of it and, with each note, the most incredible geometric patterns were created, like hexagons, a beehive and then floral shapes. Each note has an endless pattern that belongs to it. It means that if you love a particular singer, it's because you love the pattern they make with their voice. Seeing that was a real watershed moment for me."

'I want to add something worthwhile rather than just chucking loads of stuff into the world. I don't want to feel responsible for adding to the soup of mediocrity' – Natasha Khan

Natasha Khan and Jon Hopkins: a mercurial pairing (1)

Another artistic release is important for Khan. She got writer's block during the making of last October's The Haunted Man and took up life-drawing to help re-fire her imagination. Next on her list, she'd like to make a short film. "When I'm doing just music all the time it can get really overwhelming," she explains. "It's always challenging to switch it up a bit. And just because you're a musician it doesn't mean that music is your only creative outlet." She turns to Jon. "You cook, don't you?"

He laughs. "I'm very good at eating, though it's more toward destruction than creation."

Talk soon evolves into how to concentrate on making great music with so many distractions. Of course, they agree on that, too. "It's impossible," says Jon. "I went to work with this younger composer recently and he had got Logic on and he was buying stuff on Amazon at the same time. I thought, 'How are you getting anything done?' and the answer is very, very slowly. The human brain is not adapted to living with this amount of stimuli. In order to create, it needs space from all the bullshit and the endless opinions. I just love switching stuff off and going for a run, or sitting down and eating cake."

"Yeah, I wish that things could be less complicated," Natasha concurs. "I find the world pretty overwhelming, so I'm getting into meditation and doing lots of yoga. And I love my garden and I love nature and I feel like that grounds me and keeps my mind clear. I'm obsessed with New Girl and Girls, obviously. But apart from that I don't really get that involved with the buzz because it just seems mad."

They're into alternative therapies to aid the creative process, another thing they have in common. Natasha went to South America to take part in a Native American ayahuasca medicine ceremony before the making of The Haunted Man, and Hopkins partakes in daily autogenic training. "It's basically a form of self-hypnosis to relax different parts of the body," Jon explains. "The result is a deep, peaceful trance that, when emerged from, makes me way more productive." A lot of his music is concerned with encouraging a similar state. "It's one of the main obsessions I have," he continues. "Most of the key tracks on Immunity are examples of this. The process of repeating a rhythm while it gently evolves has an incredible effect on the brain, or on mine anyway. It's an idea that came to me in the trance." Jon hasn't experienced anything quite as extreme as an ayahuasca trip; not yet, anyway. "It does appeal, but having heard about the experience from Natasha, I would have to be feeling pretty amazing about everything before trying it. I've been to some beyond-sublime places trying equivalent, more accessible 'medicines' over here, and that's the place a lot of my music comes from."

In a good way, however, all this "buzz" forces them to pay attention to detail. Jon originally spent six weeks stitching together Open Eye Signal, one of Immunity's most intricate bangers. Natasha concurs: "It has raised my quality level because I feel like there's so much to wade through now. I want to add something worthwhile rather than just chucking loads of stuff into the world. I don't want to feel responsible for adding to the soup of mediocrity."

"That's funny, I had that for lunch," says Jon. They're joking, but it's frustrating because what I really want to do – what I think most people with ears would want to do – is prod them with sticks until they make a whole album. When will there be an album? "We haven't got anything specific but I'm sure if something came up … " Natasha begins, but Jon interrupts. He has spotted something on my lap, something scrawled in red pen. "I've just noticed a word on your piece of paper and I'm very curious. What is 'BAPKINS'?" This, I think, could be a moment, like all those great moments in music history, where something random inspires genius. "Oh, it's just, er … it's a portmanteau of your names," I stutter, "like Brangelina. It could be the title of your collaborative album, you know, if you did one."

"Well, that's one for my LinkedIn," groans Jon. Natasha gets up, heads towards the door, and then turns back to me. "What's LinkedIn?"

How I Live Now – Motion Picture Soundtrack by Jon Hopkins is out on 8 Oct (Just Music). How I Live Now is in cinemas nationwide now

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Clemencia Bogisich Ret

Last Updated: 05/03/2023

Views: 5975

Rating: 5 / 5 (80 voted)

Reviews: 95% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Clemencia Bogisich Ret

Birthday: 2001-07-17

Address: Suite 794 53887 Geri Spring, West Cristentown, KY 54855

Phone: +5934435460663

Job: Central Hospitality Director

Hobby: Yoga, Electronics, Rafting, Lockpicking, Inline skating, Puzzles, scrapbook

Introduction: My name is Clemencia Bogisich Ret, I am a super, outstanding, graceful, friendly, vast, comfortable, agreeable person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.