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What’s in Your Bag, Jon Hopkins?

A curation of tiny rituals

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What’s in Your Bag? is a recurring feature in which we ask people to tell us a bit more about their everyday gadgets by opening their bags and hearts to us. This week, we’re featuring electronica musician Jon Hopkins.

The Verge meets acclaimed British musician Jon Hopkins in the middle of Moogfest. Hopkins is headlining the arts, music, and technology festival held in the quaint nooks and crannies of Durham, North Carolina, and he has agreed to dump out the contents of his bag for us. Our meeting spot is the penthouse suite of Unscripted, a delightfully retro hotel that pops with the rich goldenrod and crimson of the ‘60s at every turn.

Hopkins arrives clad in all black, with a slim Porter-Yoshida & Co. bag (also in black). A trend is spotted when we delve into his things, which are, by and large, all black. “Everything in my bag is dark so you can’t see what’s in it,” Hopkins says, surprised by several things he pulls out. Squinting at an eye mask with faint recognition, he surmises the item “could have been in there for months.”

It’s no wonder Hopkins is a bit unaware of some belongings that have burrowed their way into the bottom of his bag. He tours constantly, hopping from country to country at a pace that’s only intensified with the release of his new album Singularity. A slow burn that fuses techno with pop, Singularity is packed full of tracks that wander and evolve, standing adjacent to traditional structure and songwriting with a focus on groove.

Not everything is a drifting thought for Hopkins, however. He’s mindful and astutely observant of the need for tiny rituals in order to stay centered through the chaos. This is why he carries a ceramic mug from home, for example, as well as tea from a shop by his house. See what else Hopkins brings with while on the road, below.

Jon: Everything in this bag — passport, wallet, headphones — they’re the most important things wherever I am.

That eye mask could have been in there for months. Everything in my bag is dark so you can’t see what’s in it. But I think it’s useful to have those eye masks in every possible container so if you need to have a nap somewhere, you have access to one. It’s an important thing. They give them to you on flights so they always appear. If you’re a traveling artist, you probably experience insomnia at some point. You need things to be the right temperature, the right light... it’s essential. My house is completely blacked out. Not permanently. [Laughs]

I bought the glasses when I lived in LA for a year. A year was enough. It was amazing, and I do dream of it sometimes, particularly in the middle of the English winter. Socially, it was incredible. But after a while, I found the city itself to be a little too strange to feel grounded in. It’s so vast and endless, and seeing fires on the horizon for five months with black smoke was quite apocalyptic. I did have a great experience, though. I’d go back for the whole of January and February.

The glasses are from some fancy shop there. I never allow myself fancy shades because I lose them, but I’ve managed to not lose these. I think it’s because they stay in this box all the time.

Those are my earplugs. I don’t know what the tube is, I assume that’s some sort of thing to clean them with. They reduce sound by 25 decibels. [Looks at the tube of comfort cream] They seem pretty comfortable anyway. I’ve never opened that.

After about 10 years of live shows, it was time to notice the damage. I’ve actually gotten so used to wearing the earplugs that I turn up the monitors really loud with these in. You can physically feel the bass, so you’re not missing out on any of the experience. But there’s no chance of damage. I have to have them in for any kind of gig situation because there’s extreme sensitivity otherwise.

My ears kind of let me know after a while that I needed them because I had... I think the word is hyperacusis, which is extreme sensitivity, and it’s the stage before tinnitus. It’s almost like a warning, and you can recover from that. I’m now more or less okay. I feel there’s very little education about that. There’s no one in charge of looking after the physical and mental health of musicians who are starting out. No one’s going to say, “You need to wear these.” We didn’t evolve to deal with 100-decibel volume every night.

These headphones make you feel like you’re in a music video. Really, they completely cut all the rumble out of any transport. Really good, really accurate, really comfortable. You can sleep with them in a plane.

The earbuds are for when I’m running. They’re exercise-specific ones. I tend to listen to podcasts while running. I don’t like to listen to music because my brain would try to get me to run in time with it. There’s a great American podcast called the Aubrey Marcus Podcast, and an English one called the Adam Buxton Podcast. I also recommend this one called The Astral Hustle, which is about meditation and a modern approach to spirituality.

Meditation is a regular part of my day, every day. Touring is the most fun job in the world, but at the same time, it’s not particularly healthy so you lose sleep, you get tired, you get stressed. Learning how to be calm and centered in any situation is a skill for life, whatever you do. And, it allows you to have a greater scope for enjoying everything else as well.

That’s an iPod. I wanted to keep my music separate from my contact ability. I don’t want to be contacted on the thing that plays music.

The mug is a little thing that I keep with to make any place feel like home. I also have a little portable kettle in my suitcase as well. It’s a big case. It’s not very hard to carry these things around, and despite being small, they make quite a big difference. To be able to get up in the morning wherever you are in the world and have exactly the same drink you’d have at home, it just brings in a minor comfort. A ritual. The tea is Barry’s Tea Gold. It’s Irish breakfast tea, technically. It’s a really exceptional tea. There’s a shop near my house that sells it, and I’m a big fan.

I’ve been keeping a journal for 17 years now. It’s been a great thing. I started when I was 21 when I had an illness called chronic fatigue syndrome, which is very vague and very hard to diagnose and quite hard to recover from. It improves so gradually that you don’t really notice that it’s improving over time.

So, the doctor told me to give each day a score, and maybe write a couple of sentences about how I feel. I recovered a few months later, and I realized that I had really gotten into the habit of just making little notes about what the day was like. It developed into this deep-seated sense that I wanted to remember something about every day because it makes life seem richer, but also longer. If you don’t write anything down... think about the whole of last month. How many details, how many separate days can you pick out? Even if you just write who you saw or what you ate or how you felt about a particular thing, it will place you back there. And it makes you feel like it was.

It also gives you a great perspective on things. For example, we tend to romanticize our past relationships. I find it a great way of grounding. Also the past five years, with this album and the one before, there have been a lot of crazy experiences, and I would like to go and look back at those in some detail.

Psychologists would argue that there are certain things you omit from a diary. What dictates which things you write? Maybe there are things you are choosing not to remember as well, so I quite like trying to work out what’s motivating me when I choose what sentences to put in there. It’s like curating your own memories.

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