Oneohtrix Point Never's Daniel Lopatin Builds an Empire
Daniel Lopatin is bummed. It's not that his drone set last night under his unwieldy alias Oneohtrix Point Never at warehouse space 285 Kent in Williamsburg wasn't a success; it looks like he's still dealing with the fun the afternoon after. It's that the NBA has just announced another round of cancellations, meaning no basketball for the Boston native. "It's my only guy activity," he says, sounding more glum than tired.
His long brown hair is tangled, and his eyelids droop. He's a disheveled presence, in contrast to the tidy white walls of the Mexican Summer offices in Greenpoint. Earlier this summer, the label announced that they had signed the breakout noise artist and given him the keys to their studio and facilities as well. In addition to releasing both abstract soundscapes as OPN and slick pop with his roommate Joel Ford (as Ford & Lopatin)—not to mention recording friends from Brooklyn and Los Angeles in-house—he also has the Software record label to run. "Having three jobs in tandem is tough," he says as Ford, nearby, boxes up shrink-wrapped copies of Lopatin's latest album, Replica. "In the future, I'll have a better idea on how my time is broken up, but now it's really hectic and weird."
For years, Oneohtrix Point Never released a visceral yet stirring strain of electronic music that was part of yet slightly removed from the hermetic U.S. noise scene that often favored the hectic and weird. "But people gave up on their tape labels. Some people grow out of it, some people graduate college and get a job," Lopatin says, noting that his own label also fell by the wayside. "I'm trying to do something similar with Software now, while keeping that vibe." Upcoming on the label are releases from friends like the Bushwick techno act Slava and the S&M nu-romantics Autre Ne Veut, as well as a seedy piano-laced 12 inch from Carlos Giffoni, who released some of OPN's earliest efforts.
What made Lopatin's albums break out of the noise ghetto was his uncanny knack for staking out space between the exfoliating blasts of acts like Wolf Eyes and the limpid synth washes of disavowed new-age artists. On albums like the two-CD compilation Rifts and last year's Returnal, Lopatin conjoined the two extremes, revealing an interest in "how you could take something smooth like new age and make it more striated via synthesizers and samplers." An ambient track like "Submersible" continues that trend, while Replica's title track features a sumptuous piano line befitting of Antony Hegarty.
Having a sense of humor and a taste for the absurd no doubt helped make it all stick. Alien as the name Oneohtrix Point Never can read, it's a riff on a Boston soft-rock station. And while Replica looks foreboding, its cover a grim sketch of a skeleton regarding itself in the mirror, Lopatin laughs at the image. He explains that it's a rendering of a vampire looking at itself in the mirror, but "he's wearing a hoity-toity bowtie, and his hair looks like pasta. It's morbid, but funny."
Lopatin spent years making his music alone in his bedroom, using only one stereo input into his computer at a time. The studio space gave him a more organic way to build up Replica. "It was really rewarding being able to have everything set up at once. It still had the lone-wolf quality of just me and my stuff, but . . ." he trails off mid thought. "You know that Herbie Hancock record Sunlight, where it shows all his keyboards? I grew up looking at that cover and thinking: 'Oh my god, I just want a battleship!'" He cites the fidgety "Nassau," wherein he was able to helm both the Wurlitzer and mono-synth lines atop a percolating bed of what he said were "opening, fizzing, gulping, and drinking sounds" extracted from an old soda pop commercial.
Such commercial sounds crop up often in Replica. They stem from a fantasy Lopatin had for the album's theme, "wherein there's this anthropological work in the future where we don't know what commercials are, and there's just these little tidbits of shit left. The record is this Frankenstein of what commercials were like in our time." Later in the album, more kinetic tracks like "Child Soldier" and "Up" also use such samples, hiccupping and looping. But whether you can reference the sounds is beside the point; the end result is playful, yet melancholic, polyrhythmic and meditative as well.
"The anonymity of electronic music is trumped a lot, where people wear masks and shit, but I couldn't dislike that aspect of it more," Lopatin explained. "Electronic music can be a happy, human exercise that brings people together. It doesn't have to make people feel like you're in an S&M dungeon the whole time."
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