Oneohtrix Point Never, electronic music’s most seasoned uncanny-valley explorer, is returning in November with his eighth and hardest-hitting album, Garden of Delete — a brave yet wholly idiosyncratic step towards a more “rock”-based sound. The sound-sculptor born Daniel Lopatin has spent nearly a decade making critically acclaimed, impressionistic, uneasy music that smears synthesizer globs between the lines of real and synthetic, nostalgic and cutting edge. But sometime after nine dates opening the Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden tour in 2014, Lopatin wandered towards what the diligent theorist calls “one-point perspective” and “antagonistic” — but ultimately sounds like abrasive electronic music stretched like Silly Putty.
Instead of the headphone-assisted home recording that has traditionally powered his work, Lopatin rented a hot, windowless studio underneath a natural-food supermarket in Brooklyn and blasted his music from amps.
“Yeah, it was like Maxell Tapes–guy style,” says Lopatin. “I got into it . . . . I had this dungeon reality and it was also kind of like I was uninhibited, like I would just get into the zone, work for like 17 hours. I was just, like, tweaking out in this windowless room and it encouraged this rock vibe.”
While maintaining his defiantly unsettling textures and harsh editing techniques, Garden of Delete really does have the feel of rock songs distended and malfunctioning — including sad-robot ballads (“No Good”), industrial-tinged kotostep (“Sticky Drama”) and Aphex-tweaked acid minimalism (“Mutant Standard”). First taste “I Bite Through It” feels like a quiet-verse, loud-chorus grunge song performed by a skipping CD. The song’s inhuman hook emerged after Lopatin typed words into voice synthesis plug-in Chipspeech and manipulated the results. Rolling Stone met with Lopatin in Brooklyn to discuss his move away from the murk.
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How did you approach this record differently than the previous stuff you’ve done?
The easiest way to put it is, I spent a lot of time writing at the piano with no kind of sound in mind. If I can construct a song and then deal with the arrangement and whatever abstraction I want to subject it to later, then even if all those decisions are wrong, I’ll have these songs. I so wanted the challenge of moving myself with these songs, to feel that they were worthy of other people. I just wanted them to be songs where if there was an MTV Unplugged version of 0PN, I could get a band together and play these fuckin’ songs.
Are there versions of these songs floating around where it’s just a piano?
Yeah, completely. Because I would start with MIDI in the piano roll and basically get a very raw arrangement together with whatever instrument felt like a good writing tool at that moment: organ, piano, Rhodes, whatever. And if I felt like the thing moves and flows through the parts in a way that feels like . . . a rock song, basically, to put it really bluntly. I try to imagine, like, “Okay, if David Gilmour were here, could he sing on this, or what? Is this a fuckin’ short Floyd song from, like, ’84 or whatever?”
What rock music in particular inspired it?
Well, just that they’re fully contained ideas that, for better or worse, never deviate from what they are. Okay, well, now how do I mutate that? How do I deviate that form? How do I combine the best things about that and introduce something that’s idiosyncratic, that’s me. Rock is one-point perspective music. It’s like a Stanley Kubrick shot or something. Here’s the monolith, here’s everything around it and we want to you think about this one really black-and-white thing and make your choice. Are you with us or against us? There’s something unfuckwithable about that. That anthemic approach to life, where, as naive as it is, it just kind of decides to be something. So I was like, well, how did I get so far away from that train of thought?
A lot of the record sounds like the electronic music that leans closest to rock music. Like Aphex Twin, the Prodigy, contemporary dubstep . . .
Even Daft Punk! They, to me, were kind of a rock band. I just call it this lineage of one-point-perspective bands that realize the epicness of what they’re doing [laughs]. And are like, “We’re down, dude! We’re gonna go for it!” Like The Wall or something like that. Also all that stuff, it’s like programmatic music, in the classical-music sense. It’s where you use music to affectively generate this message that’s extra-musical. At its cheesiest, it’s a rock opera or something, but at its best, it’s like . . . the best shit ever! You know when Queensrÿche got all concept album-ed out? There’s something about that that I’ve always done, but I never fully committed myself to an opinion or a point of view or a feeling. Like I’m always fucking around. What if I’m just pissed? What if I’m just horny? What if I’m just that?
Yeah, your music is definitely like, up to this point, very open to interpretation and very hazy.
Totally. And I was like, “There’s nothing about my life that feels hazy right now. Everything feels like it’s on edge, like a wire that’s as tense as it can be . . . .” Again, it’s so weird that things just happen in your life and you realize that you have a ways to go. Like, on tour with Nails and talking to Trent [Reznor] about real, practical aspects of making kick-ass music brought to surface some of the things I thought I was deficient in and needed to work on. And it also got me kind of pumped up to do some basic rock experiments that I hadn’t really fucked with since I was 16 or whatever.
Were you inspired just watching them play?
Completely, man. They just fucking tear it up.
What would we want to know about “I Bite Through It,” the first song to be released from Garden of Delete?
I want to make like three-minute songs, self-contained, kind of formally contrasting between what I regard as new electronic music that’s interesting and my need to rage. I’m exposed a lot to different, “cool” underground music when I’m on tour in Europe, that I usually hate it all. And the underlying theme in a lot of that music, without throwing anybody under the bus, is there’s this “dread.” But dread is affectively imprisoned in this one cliché that film uses all the time. Like if you watch True Detective or something, it sounds like a lot those dudes I see at festivals that are like . . . scary? I feel nothing from that stuff! I’m so dead! Dread to me is like the clown from It. It’s not like this foggy plume of black ink. Dread is a fucking psychotic, sour, yellow, bilious thing that gets under your skin and has a weird-ass voice. So, well, “How do I do that my style?” How do I take the best aspects of contemporary electronic-music formalism: weird sample truncation and my editing style, and things that I’ve been developing, but then also make it feel like a little bit like, I don’t know, like a psychotic clown or something?”
So is this your psychotic clown song?
Yeah, there’s a little bit of a psycho-clown vibe to it, in the A section.
“Oneohtrix Point Never makes his Slipknot record!”
It has a little bit of a Slipknot vibe. In fact, Slipknot has some masterful editing technique . . . . In watching some of their music videos, I was shocked by their crazy, tangential, like, “Pause the song, here’s some fucked up shit,” and that was inspiring. Because that’s a form. That’s a formal technique. . . . The other thing is, when I started slicing random some shit up for the song, I heard lyrics. It was the result of just coincidental splices that sounded like “I bite through it.”
So the title is a coincidence?
By coincidence, it sounded like “I bite through it,” which, in of itself, is a totemic one-point perspective. I could spend 180 pages on just what biting through something is, in terms of horror, the abject, fear, violence. To me it’s like making an anthem out of something that’s indexical.
Are you planning on playing this material as a band?
Yeah, in our way. So Nate Boyce, who’s a sculptor and he does video for 0PN live, is a fucking killer guitar player. He just got a Steinberg and he’s been practicing all the songs. We’re going to have 10 days of rehearsals and basically see which parts we can break out, what is he going to thrash on, and I’m going to do vocals. And we’ll try it out, because I feel like I can’t stop. I put so much of myself in the record, in terms of just physical input. It’s a physical record. It’s made it with my hands and my voice to some degree. And I want to see if I can do that onstage. We’ll see.