Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
OPN Possible exclusive

May You Live in Interesting Times

20 September 2023, 07:30

Photography by Andrew Strasser & Shawn Lovejoy / Joe Perri

As Daniel Lopatin prepares to release his tenth record as Oneohtrix Point Never, he tells Sophie L Walker about reconciling false memories of the past with uncomfortable prophecies of the future.

Daniel Lopatin is in the pursuit of a “potential then”. His tenure as electronic disruptor Oneohtrix Point Never has been a decade-spanning excavation of the subconscious; an uncomfortable provocation of the ghost in the machine. He is less a musician and more a builder of worlds, on an endless pilgrimage to the past while being an emissary of a far-flung future we can’t hope to fathom.

Time, for Lopatin, is just a plaything. With a sample or a calculated reference, you can evoke a memory – but it’s how he corrupts the familiar by forcing it to breathe in a new, volatile atmosphere that his particular magic makes itself known. What ought to be a benign suggestion of the past is maimed to such an extent that it awakens a kind of existential horror in your gut, the feeling that something is decidedly off. For that reason, Lopatin’s music doesn’t lend itself to words. He has built a language that has moved beyond them.

Not unlike time itself, Lopatin has no easily defined beginning. What we can be certain of is that somewhere around 2003, Oneohtrix Point Never emerged from the ether with a series of corruptible CD-R and cassette projects which culminated in 2009’s Rifts: a lifetime’s worth of musical wandering. Even in this early incarnation, Lopatin created what would be acclaimed as a masterpiece in hauntology, taking the outmoded bombast of 80s synth-pop and reshaping it into something unsettling and absent. Before, or after – or, perhaps at an undeterminable point between the two – came the anonymous account sunsetcorp. The track “nobody here” is canonical in the realm of vaporwave, perhaps the first genre to be born and abandoned by the internet. It’s a hollow outline of a dream doomed to repetition. Falling asleep in the car as a child; the muzak that echoes through the PA system while you’re lost in a shopping mall; MTV glaring on the screen: the comments are offerings at what has become a shrine to abstract, Proustian memories.


Chuck Person. Dania Shapes. KGB Man. These are only the manifestations of Lopatin’s music that we are aware of, but his inexhaustible output always leaves the lingering possibility of far more to be discovered. Oneohtrix Point Never, however, is the star around which everything else orbits. The name itself contains Lopatin’s mission: an uncanny distortion of the Boston FM radio station of his childhood, Magic 106.7. The litany of records that followed cemented Lopatin’s reputation as electronic trailblazer, each one seeking a new way to haunt an unexplored passageway in the labyrinth of our minds. It was this quality which compelled the Safdie brothers to approach Lopatin to compose the scores for Good Time (2017) and Uncut Gems (2019), elevating the dark, neurotic interiority of its protagonists.

This particular chain of events is what brought Lopatin’s idiosyncratic approach to the attention of The Weeknd – and so, one of the most unlikely and compelling creative alliances was born. Lopatin’s fingerprints can be found in the rearview-gazing sonics of Abel Tesfaye’s 2020 record After Hours, going on to become a musical master of ceremonies for his Super Bowl half-time show the following year. The pair concocted one of its most unsettling, theatrical editions in memory, holding the mirror up to our collective paranoia in a world upended by the pandemic: a gilded maze with no escape, a cyborg gospel choir and a legion of Weeknd doppelgangers, their blank eyes peering from bandaged faces. This folie à deux would result in 2022’s Dawn FM, a kind of creative duet which distinctly mirrored Lopatin’s retrofuturism, love affair with radio and taste for the uncanny. A career which started as an underground tremor would become a mainstream eruption.

OPN LOBF Exclusive 2

No longer a hermetic producer confined to a vaporous existence on the internet, Lopatin, intriguingly, has become a highly sought-after collaborator. Drawn to artists with a shared anarchic streak, Lopatin has lent his vision to the likes of Caroline Polachek, Arca, Charli XCX, FKA Twigs – and, most recently, Yung Lean for the Swedish rapper’s forthcoming album. “It was never at the forefront of my mind because I was so fixated on my own music and developing a musical language,” he tells me. “But you get to a certain point in your career where you feel like it’s time to maybe pass on some tricks.”

Even at the age of forty-one, he is still in an arms race with his own ambition. The release of the tenth Oneohtrix Point Never record, Again, marks a cosmic return and I wonder what compels him, even after all this time, to create so relentlessly. “A really good question…” he muses from the studio’s gardens, measuring his thoughts with almost academic care. “I’ve been thinking about that recently. I feel like I’ve lived a kind of interesting life, and so it makes it possible to make interesting things. Sometimes, when I’m in a trough of enchantment things get a little dangerous when I lose interest in myself or something like that – when I don’t feel any inclination to make my own music. But over the years, it has just been really great. That said,” he pauses, “there will be a time where I want to focus on something else for a long while, and I wouldn’t say that time is far away anymore. I’m starting to see the entirety of the OPN discography as a kind of interesting statement.”


Again is a record imbued with a certain wonder rarely retained past adolescence. Lopatin regards it as final instalment of a quasi-autobiographical trilogy, “an illogical time piece”. The first, in this tangled chronology, was 2020’s Magic Oneohtrix Point Never, a rumination on the spectral 80s synth-pop of his childhood; the second chapter was 2015’s Garden of Delete, a visceral lash-out of a record which sought to recapture the friction of puberty and replicate the collision of alternative rock and electronica that served as Lopatin’s perfect storm. Again, in that case, is his way of hacking into his motherboard of musical memories once more and respawning to the beginning of his career as a young man.

“I was really open, a sponge, delighted by possibility - and I had no idea what I was doing,” he recalls. Again is thrillingly bright, a wilful rekindling of an old spark; unlike his usual stylistic territory, it gleams with a feeling of genesis, as if a living, breathing organism had just whirred to life for the first time. Another beginning. “I was fascinated by these unbelievably abstract forms of music,” he explains. “To me, they were just like a dream. They just sounded absolutely insane. But the unavoidably sad part of growing older is that there is no sense of mystery; tricks are revealed, if you care to know how the tricks work, like I did. And so I had to, on some level, kill that part of me that was going to be blissed out. I didn’t really realise that the fan part of me remains incredibly strong to this day – it’s like my router. It’s how I determine the music I want to make, anyway, so it was only sensible to go back to that person and interrogate him, spiritually: ‘How do we become a fan again?’”

His tastes were a concoction of the “really pretentious kind of glitch stuff” and post-rock, “an introverted, nerdy conversion of trad-rock, but with an eye towards this history of minimalism.” The turn of the century felt like a summary of these important, deeply influential arcs that had been germinating as early as the 60s. It was “an incredibly explosive era for sharing music,” he notes. “I don’t think it has been matched. In terms of electronic music’s idiomatic development, I think we’re still in the shadows of the early 2000s. We’re still just cycling around the things people were pioneering back then. The record is a mixture of those forces,” he explains. “I loved these extremely lurid and intense forms of music that fight against the status quo mode of listening, and dilate time in interesting ways. It’s hypnotic, it’s a lot of different things you don’t get when you flip through radio stations. I just wanted to synthesise those things to see what I could come up with.”

OPN LOBF Profile

Lopatin’s reignited enchantment for these sounds started when he tumbled down a particular internet rabbit hole. “I was going deeper than I’d gone then, even,” he shares. These excavations of obscure post-rock records of the 90s led him to unearth a bespoke list on Rate Your Music called ‘Crescendocore’: “I thought it was an amazing art project to create a sub-genre of post-rock that doesn’t really exist which focuses on these climatic builds. I was listening to the shit out of all of this crescendocore, according to one person, and I caught myself world-building around this particular type of music.”

It started to bear a striking sonic parallel with Garden of Delete, the most conceptual of Lopatin’s works which acted as an experiment in mythology. He crafted its lore around a teenaged alien named Ezra (by whom he had been interviewed), a band who did not exist, and a breadcrumb trail of PDFs, Twitter accounts, videos and blogs to provoke intrigue. “There is a version of [Again] that could have gone that far,” he acknowledges. “I could have fictionalised to my heart’s content and created all kinds of distractions, ultimately. That’s how I feel about that stuff today, and that’s why, ironically - although this record is called Again – it’s impossible for me to re-tread that path because I’m a different person. I just don’t have the same instincts. The origin of my impulse to create often comes from some kind of confusion I have around memories of music; I always go to the endless wellspring of my false memories. I call them ‘false’ because I’m just speculating on what music did to me over the course of my life, and I love going there and thinking about that as a way of understanding myself today and be generative through wondering about the kinds of music I may or may not have pursued.”

The hallucinatory “Memories of Music” calls on the raw-nerved guitarwork of Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, a half-digested cud of rock music corrupted by synthesisers that mime its intensity. The unsettling “Nightmare Paint” indulges in fierce guitar riffs that Lopatin then liquifies beyond recognition, and “Krumville” is a disfigurement of plaintive Midwestern emo, swelled by a peculiar tenderness lent to it from experimental rock group Xiu Xiu. “Each song feels like a chapter that could have been a road through a musical career that I didn’t take – but could have,” he says. “But they’re also imbued with the specificity of all the things I am. I’ve never made a record where it’s really fun and jumps about it such an interesting way, yet it has this core to it that is ‘home’ and sounds like me. It’s a reflection of my personality."

Lopatin recalls the high-school tribalism of the 90s when teenagers were forced to subscribe to a particular typecast to be accepted and understood. “I never had that kind of thing, I was completely fluid,” he shares. “I was obsessed with being a wallflower, and sometimes I think about that detail and it explains so much about how I approach music. I don’t want to be part of any club that would have me as a member.”

"I surprise myself all the time... and it’s a very difficult choice to let it in. It’s exhausting, but it makes me a whole person."


Even for the well-initiated in the realms of experimental electronic music, Oneohtrix Point Never can be “challenging”. Meant with sincerity, and not with any indignation, he says, “I mean, that’s part of the plan. I’m very comfortable with their discomfort.” Again unnerves its audience not only on a sonic level, but on a visual one. The record heralded its arrival with a ‘trailer’: a reporter on the streets of New York challenges people to attempt to pronounce Lopatin’s tongue-twisting moniker with often absurd results – but what you may not notice are the glitches. A passer-by’s shirt changes colour, a man floats, people suddenly disappear and smiles stretch disconcertingly wide. But as equally as Lopatin manipulates unease on a subtle level, on this record he also toys with our modern anxieties on a macro level.

The potential of artificial intelligence and the Promethean threat it poses casts a long shadow over today’s society. Lopatin, however, approaches it with a kind of humour. Having studied archival science at in the late 2000s at New York’s Pratt Institute, his experiments with these primitive AI tools and the “hallucinatory poems” they churn out just as much an academic endeavour as they are a dimension to his music. The voices on “The Body Trail” garble nonsense, and the beginning of “Krumville” is a string of syllables that can only gesture towards significance - and yet among its embarrassments are moments of occasional brilliance, like the shoegaze-resembling guitar loop anchored to “On an Axis”. He remarks, “I was having a little bit of fun at the expensive of this AI music technology which is just laughable, in its current iteration.” But Lopatin entertains the idea of what comes after the laughter.

The visuals for “A Barely Lit Path” follow a pair of CPR dolls (“not crash test dummies, they’re CPR dolls”, Lopatin is quick to insist) strapped into a self-driving car taking them to a destination which may be their unavoidable destruction. “At first, they’re enjoying the fruits of this automated luxury lifestyle. They have extra time on their hands to read books, solve puzzles, play chess and take naps and stuff, but at some point, they realise they’re not enjoying the ride,” Lopatin explains. It’s a portent of AI’s future and how strapped in we are to wherever it takes us; the idea that our daily ease comes at an unfathomable price. In their lap is Samuel Butler’s 1872 novel Erewhon, one of the first works to explore the idea of artificial intelligence and machine consciousness.

OPN Lead shot

Again arrived at a stage in Lopatin’s life where he decidedly fell out of love with New York City, his home of fifteen years. “Every time I make a record, I tend to find myself leaving,” he says. “It’s not even about being bothered, it’s just the idea that someone can hear my humiliating process through the walls which is basically unavoidable in New York. I’m a little bit solipsistic anyway - and so I go, and the records are usually stronger for having left that environment.” I ask why he feels that way: “Its character has changed. It’s a little pasteurised. The class divide in the city makes it impossible for any real subculture to survive, and thus music scenes atrophy. It looks more and more like a millennial billboard, and being of that generation, I’m not proud to say we transformed the city in that way.”

The unique qualities of his environment have always reflected in his album: 2018’s Age Of was recorded in a glass house which heightened its violated sense of being watched. But with Again, Lopatin retreated to upstate to Accord, New York, immersing himself in the New England landscape that raised him. “I realised this was how I wanted to live, so the record has a kind of excitement to it – a sense of being energised and starting a new chapter, or whatever,” he says. “To me, it sounds like a highly animated version of myself, someone who is looking forward.” He rented what was once the house of Willem Defoe, a “black spaceship made of rubber” reached only by a bridge that served as a kind of “portal” from one realm to the next. Built for Defoe’s then-wife in mind, a choreographer, the house is complete with a dance studio that Lopatin adopted as his workspace. “That said, it’s a rubber house, which is obviously a horrible material to use in constructing a house. It was completely sweating and falling apart, an overpriced Airbnb rip-off – but in retrospect, it really did do the trick.”

Followers of Oneohtrix Point Never – and therefore acolytes of nostalgia - were delighted to see that Lopatin’s new burst of activity seemed to reawaken his vaporwave era. For the first time in thirteen years, the sunsetcorp YouTube channel was activated to post in the community tab, and he encouraged people to leave “a sound, a song, a message” on the sunsetcorp phone line. Not to mention his current X (formerly Twitter) bio: “there’s nobody here". While his X bio can be written off by the fact that “I just don’t fuck with it, so I’m just not there”, the evocation of that era is about his continued love of hypnotism. “There’s lots of ways to get at it: you can pulse your way into this hypnotism, you can drone your way into it, you can do all kinds of stuff. Hypnotic music is really where it’s at for me, these days, and the album explores these modalities between repetition and interference.”

OPN DSC01221 Hi Res

One way we might look at Chuck Person’s Eccojams, a defining vaporwave album, is through the lens of being an early iteration of that idea. The internet-born genre is on the one hand revered, particularly for being a precursor to cloud rap and as a formative example of the boundless creativity of an online community, and on the other, mocked as a short-lived trend. I wonder how Lopatin feels about his legacy being so inextricably tied to it: “I think it’s cool,” he tells me, recalling an observation made by the music journalist David Keen who was one of the first to document and coin the “hypnagogic pop” scene in The Wire. “I talked to him about Eccojams around the time the tape came out, and he described it as a form of folk music that pretty much anyone would be capable of making if they have a computer. I loved that, and it stuck, because my intuition about it was that it was a cathartic and subversive response to an overly anaesthetised, commercial music landscape. It was a way of making use of our debris in an individuated way; to express something personal with something extremely impersonal.”

Lopatin doesn’t feel any kind of ownership of it, however. “To me, it was a kind of reaction,” he explains. “It became a more formalised scene eventually, with distinct qualities that I’m not privy to because I wasn’t really part of it. But I dig it, I think it’s awesome. I hope it perseveres. But stylistically, it’s not something I take a tonne of credit for because I was just copying John Oswald and DJ Screw with my own take on it. But there was something gratifying about the practise of reclaiming chintzy sounds.”

OPN DSC01244 Hi Res

If these strands that converge to form Again make any definitive statement about Daniel Lopatin and Oneohtrix Point Never, it might be the miracle of his continued enchantment. “I surprise myself all the time,” he says. “Surprise is everywhere, all the time, and it’s a very difficult choice to let it in. It’s exhausting, but it makes me a whole person.” He references the futurist Robert Anton Wilson’s notion of ‘chaos magic’, a pragmatist religion whereby acting ‘as if’ something is true, you then make it so. “You have to prepare and practise for surprise,” he notes. “Once you’re open to it, it comes very easily.”

Through the communion of his music and his career devoted to the mutability of time and memory, it can feel as if Lopatin is a kind of oracle. I ask him what his gut tells him about the future. “I wish I had something else to say that was smart, but I’m just as confused as everyone else,” he admits. “There’s no denying we’re in some kind of paradigm shift. Really, I don’t know if we have a grasp on what we’re building as we’re build it, but it’s clear to me that there’s a lot of discomfort. Maybe it’s a growing pain, or maybe it’s a death knell – I don’t care to be smart enough to speculate on that. But the upshot of living through a disquieting period calls to mind the quote ‘May you live in interesting times’. Alternatively, it could all be quiet on the Western front, and we’re pacified, grazing cattle in the afternoon sun of history. If it gets any bleaker than it is right now, maybe I would prefer that. But currently, as an artist, it certainly is interesting - and I’m trying to find a way to spin it all positively. And so, for that, we should be grateful. At least it’s interesting.”

Again is released on 29 September via Warp Records and E|M|C

Share article

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next