An Alien in Brooklyn: Talking to Daniel Lopatin AKA Oneohtrix Point Never
By Jeff Klingman
photo by Andrew Strasser
Arguably the most acclaimed figure in experimental electronic music over the past decade, Daniel Lopatin’s records as Oneohtrix Point Never have not only earned him punk rock credibility but also a truly impressive level of high-brow access. To wit: There have been museum performances at The Barbican in London and at MoMA here in New York and he’s collaborated with Antony Hegarty and worked on film scores for Sofia Coppola. This is a very warm reception for a type of music that’s frequently—understandably—seen as strange and cold (Lopatin himself first drew attention making bleary computer drones and compact loops of vocal fragments echoed to abstraction). Lopatin’s work has never been impersonal, but it’s often been inscrutable. The last few OPN albums have cut up obsolete digitized sounds, or audio from VHS tapes full of ancient TV advertisements, turning awkward raw material into uncanny, yet beautifully baroque music.
Garden of Delete, his eighth record, hinges on signifiers that feel a bit different; it evokes vintage horror film scores and sci-fi paperback plots and contains traces of both heavy metal and pop radio—all relatably adolescent touchpoints. “There’s a reason why teenagers love horror,” he jokes. “It’s because their bodies are a site of biological horror.” He concocted a dodgy narrative to accompany the album after he finished it this summer, telling the story of “Ezra,” a teenage alien adapting to Earth. Listening to it, there’s at least an illusion of getting to know Lopatin a bit better, too.
There was some small bit of karmic harmony when Oneohtrix Point Never was picked by Trent Reznor to be an unlikely opener for Nine Inch Nails’ arena tour with Soundgarden last year. He says his own formative teen listening taste favored dark, emotional alt-rock over the avant-garde. “I was really lucky because I had a sister who was nine years older than me. She was really into helping me understand what was going on. She’d buy every copy of Spin in the late 80s, early 90s. We’d watch 120 Minutes together, Headbanger’s Ball.” (“She was in a Faith No More cover band,” he says, delighted. “They were called The Red Sox!”)
He clearly recalls tracking MTV’s brief mind-bending drift in the mid-90s, stumbling from Alternative Nation to Aeon Flux, marveling at its exotic animation and ominous synthetic score. He credits that show as a nudge toward the Japanese anime music and Italian horror soundtracks that have provided a more direct influence to his work. With Reznor’s blessing, Lopatin played a nightly set of very aggressive noise music, blasting thousands of alt-rockers waiting for the more familiar provocations of their own youth.
He doesn’t consider his latest record a direct result of that arena rock experience. Still, Garden of Delete is more beat-centric, assaultive, and ultimately ecstatic than any of OPN’s previous albums. Even his early experiments in ambient music veered far from Brian Eno’s gentle piano idles, little glitches and contradictions confusing a listener’s ear, but this new work is much less dependent on tense repetitions or prolonged stasis, more likely to jolt you awake than gradually numb you. For once, OPN songs erupt into cathartic release.
“I was just feeling a little sick of smearing everything out into these big… smearscapes,” he says. “I wanted to make something that sounded a little bit more like songs.” As odd as his music remains, he kind of did and they sort of do. ♦
Garden of Delete will be released on November 13th, via Warp Records.