CAN YOU MAKE GOD-TIER MUSIC ON KETAMINE?
A very druggie convo with Jon Hopkins about 'Music For Psychedelic Therapy'
Jon Hopkins just dropped his paradigm-shifting new album Music For Psychedelic Therapy on Domino, and I’ve basked in it three ways: the first time, in a hot tub under the full moon on ketamine (highly recommend). The second, at a “ceremonial concert” in Austin where I kept sneaking into the bathroom to hit my DMT vape lol. And most recently, stoned in a dark movie theater in LA equipped with three-dimensional spatial sound, where it felt like I stepped through a yawning portal into the album’s ethereal cosmos—rising into this bodiless realm as a struck crystal bowl in the opening song ascends in tone and twists into synthetic alien frequencies. (If you’ve ever smoked DMT, you know exactly what that eerie ringing sounds like.)
The ambient album takes you on a journey through synesthetic landscapes—spelunking into the tropical caves of Ecuador (where Hopkins spent three days in total darkness taping field recordings with a group of psychedelic researchers), then emerging into topiary speckled with distant birdsong. The second half feels like floating off into some gauzy angelic ether, as cascading washes of gentle tones and glistening synths wrap you in a warm blanket as you dissolve further into the unconscious. There is no “correct” way to make music for psychedelic experiences, but Hopkins’ approach leans towards the palliative and profound—it is soothing and sublime, without crossing into New Age sentimentality (except maybe on the last track, featuring spiritual guru Ram Dass entreating us to “quit the mind and open the heart”—critics seems to love this but I can’t help but cringe).
Recently I sat down with Jon in a hotel lobby in Austin, and the question leaping off my tongue was: how the fuck do you make music on ketamine? I’d read in some PR memo that he’d produced the album during the pandemic on ketamine, a dissociative drug that I’d never associated with creativity or artistic process. Our conversation ended up spiraling into Jon’s evolving relationship with psychedelics, and it turns out the answer to my question was even weirder than I imagined: ketamine—and DMT—had completely revolutionized the way he made music, moving it into the realm of intuition and metaphysics.
Below is our convo, which also touches on themes like: translating music from plants, why DMT elves love synths, the forensic listening experience of ketamine, and why we might be on the precipice of a new genre of music. It might sound crazy if you’ve yet to explore these deeply weird and ineffable spaces, but just hear us out, man.
MICHELLE LHOOQ: Music For Psychedelic Therapy… that’s an Eno reference, right?
JON HOPKINS: Well, it’s a format. I think Eno started it, but I didn’t choose it consciously. In order to write this record, I would go into the psychedelic space every few weeks to experience it, usually through ketamine. One of those times, it was just written in my head: you have to call it this. It wasn't up to me. There's a lot of weird stuff that happens when you enter into the zone—you switch from thinking you're the creator to realizing you’re a channel. So the title is part of that.
You speak about psychedelics as if you really understand them. I'm curious what your relationship with drugs was growing up.
It all began in my teenage years. One of my friends started growing cannabis, really pure Northern Lights, and I ended up looking after the plants. I wasn't having a good time in life as a 15-year-old in a boy’s school—I didn’t identify with these traditional masculine activities—the army, finance, rugby. I was looking for escapes. My brother showed me how to smoke cannabis and I ended up lying down in the dark, listening to ambient music, and I started having crazy visions and body highs that were so extraordinary, I didn't want to do anything else. Cannabis became like my whole world for a very short lifespan.
Then the magic left me, but in its place was this knowledge of other planes of existence where you didn't need a body, you moved energetically, and used music to navigate. It’s that thing where you’re showed heaven, but you keep coming out of it, and you don't understand anything because no one's giving you any framework for what those realms might be or the safety that needs to go around those medicines. It became quite a negative experience in the end, so I didn't take any drugs at all for 10 years. In that time, I was going back to the drawing board: I'm gonna learn to meditate instead. There's another route to this.
When I was 21, I found Kundalini yoga. The breathing exercises, in particular, start to generate what I now realize is probably endogenous DMT bursts. It became clear this route was more sustainable. So I left the cannabis era with the desire to make the music I dreamt of back then, but didn't have the equipment or the expertise to make. It was like seeds had been sown in my head, and I needed to make something that guides me and people in this mysterious space.