"Yo, I'm Making These Choices": A Conversation with Oneohtrix Point Never



"Yo, I'm Making These Choices": A Conversation with Oneohtrix Point Never


A healthy number of people will hear Oneohtrix Point Never for the first time when they grab Warp's latest release, R Plus 7. They will listen, feeling awestruck when awe is induced and relieved when the music allows it. I was drinking beer with a friend the other night and she asked if she should put on the new Oneohtrix Point Never album, if it was any good. I said, "Sure, it's good. It's probably great." Greatness was Dan Lopatin's intent it seems, or at least grandiosity, spectacle, and psychological subsumption. You'll find the same intent driving Apocalypse Now and Der Ring des Nibelungen and Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark. To be frank, I used to jam Betrayed In The Octagon while getting roasted as a butterball freshman year, but then Games came along, and I very loudly said, "Snooze." Figured his stuff was no longer for me, at least until the rad/radical Replica came along. By the time I hopped back aboard his chromium monorail, he was gaining strong command of a vision which was irresistable to many, running pop culture through the same "new aesthetic" rigors as many concurrently rising internet artists. Apparently, his retro-pop work with Joel Ford sprouted from the same consumer culture infatuation that inspired his Youtube channel. R Plus 7 sees Lopatin shedding his more overt futurism while still crafting a distinct and unrelenting album experience with no small amount of artistic flexing. What follows is the man's own take the hows and whys of the R Plus 7 ride.
Ad Hoc: Warp is home to some of the boldest, most unique statements in elecronic music. How did you end up on the label for R Plus 7?
Dan Lopatin: Well, I’ve been working with them for a while. They look over my publishing account, my back catalog. So it was just kind of hooking up at the right time. I know those guys really well, and we go back a bunch of years now at this point. I think we were both looking for the right record and the right opportunity to hook up. Pretty natural.
Ad Hoc: Was there a conceptual underpinning for R Plus 7 in the same way that there was for Replica?
DL: I think it’s more open. I usually try to deploy some kind of procedural stuff to generate work for a record, to cull from. But that wasn’t really central to this at all. I think the record is pretty ambivialent in terms of concept or anything like that. I just wanted to keep it as open as possible.
Ad  Hoc: What do you mean by open?
DL: It’s not an open experience when you listen to the record necessarily; it’s guided. I was thinking about the Terminator game for Sega CD in which there's an "on rails" experience, You can destroy stuff in the frame, but you’re not walking around-- you’re on this virtual, guided thing. So this record was more like that than it was like an open-ended drone record. But I think what I mean is that open is-- everything else is really non-specific or non-purposeful. You can take it for what you want. This is not something I usually do. But there could easily be five different aesthetic prerogatives to the record that I don’t really care about. I don’t really have any desire or reason to explain much about it other than technical things that may have helped create it. There are things I’ve been doing and I have this experience, and I know that this kind of piece is allegorical to something else. But if anybody really catches my little buried things to begin with… if they do then, why do they want a walk-through?
Ad Hoc: Church organ is massively prevalent on this album. It's this big, monolithic sound, but it's also tied to religious ceremony and Western classical music. Is this all loaded into your utilization of it?
DL: I would like to say that it’s loaded. What appeals to me about it is that it’s loaded. I also like it texturally, when I’m writing, since I was just kind of writing from the head, which is not necessarily a thing that I’ve been doing a lot. When I was writing I would just sit down at the keyboard and play instead of just piecing and cobbling things together. I was kind of just writing, seeing if I could come up with a song. The pipe organ was the first thing that would come on when I turned everything on. Then, after a while, I felt comfortable writing for the organ. Then the instrument itself was very simple-- very specific counter-point ideas, little things that I wouldn’t necesarilly play if I was writing on a Wurlitzer or a piano even. So it was having a certain weird influence on me.
Ad Hoc: How great is your sense of how people experience your music? To what extent do you try to dictate it?
DL: This record is deeply manipulative-- maybe moreso than records before it. I have an idea in my brain of how I want the ride to go. It’s not like a super vertical drone record or whatever, where there's this post-modern sense of authorless experience. I’m not deeply interested in that. What I wanted to do a lot of the time, on the macro level, is [make] choices like that: authorless vs. authored or whatever. And then I try not to take a side and I try to see what can happen if I can design an experience and draw a tension between the kinds of experiences. So there are overt moments when you break away from the frame, moments when it’s guided.
What I’m happy about is no matter how specific I get with it, people-- my friends, my family, whatever-- will point out certain things that stuck out to them, that hit them personally. A weird detail they noticed, a little varied thing. They rarely ever are consistent with each other. It seems that either I’m ultimately trapped to do one thing and still kind of with this ambiguous [project]. Or perhaps [the project is] totally mine and [the manipulation] is working. I work through these moments of power. As a listener, either where you’re in control or you’re sublimated [by the music] or whatever. But in general, I do put a lot of thought into it, because when you’re sitting there and you’re like, “Yo I’m making these choices”-- and you make choices every day, whether it’s like a record you make, or what you put in your body, or where we’re going to live or the air we breathe or anything. So you have to take some level of responsiblity over those choices. I don’t think art is really outside of that. If you’re doing it just for yourself, and you’re not sharing it with other people, then sure, but there’s this kind of rhetoric that artistic license means not giving a fuck about what people think. On one hand, I understand what that’s about, but I think a lot of people are lying to themselves, because I think they do practice that license so completely, it's delusional.
Ad Hoc: If you’re talking about the forms of art that are the most ubiquitous right now-- music and film-- so much of it boils down to how it is experienced, what people think about it. Success is often contingent on an artist's ability to communicate an intent, or perhaps control the conception of that intent. 
DL: That’s the reality-- within that I definitely don’t feel that I'll play to what people are going to think. I just want to create, feel like I’m responsible over my decisions, because they affect the people. At least at the end of the day if I’ve done something, even if everyone says, "Whatever you’re communicating isn’t working,” I can say, “Well I communicated it the way I intended to and I wished that it would have worked on me.” Then I can sleep at night. 
Ad Hoc: This guided, almost limited experience-- does that account for the very forward momentum on the record? There are a lot of fast-paced arpeggios, brisk tempos. It can be overwhelming.
DL: I wanted to extend things that I always do and always did. I wanted to make a record that was more about syncopation in a way, and really just create discrete experiences, like really naked. I was just exposed to so much European electronic music over the past couple of years, like whatever was happening on tour. And everything’s so maudlin and everything is the same. It bummed me out super hard, but then, like, who cares? What are you gonna do about it? You can be bummed out by this moment where everyone is making bang-it-all trap music or you can just focus on the things you want to do musically and be happy. This record, to me, is about joy. I wanted to make something that was rich and complex-- for me anyway. I wanted to characterize different states, and I wanted to make something personal. That’s pretty consistent. I really just wanted to make something that had a clarity, a sense of joy, and a sense of becoming, and not something that felt like smoke and mirrors-- like just drum machines and reverb. I had a kind of personal reaction to what I was hearing. I had a clear sense of wanting to making something clear, because it felt closer to home for me, closer to my personality. When I really think about what has been going on in my head, it's, "I’ve been on tour for a long time, interfacing with the world in this very specific way, and I’m seeing trends, and I tend to react to trends."
Ad Hoc: When you say "interfaced in a specific way," do you mean as a performer, or what?
DL: Yeah, sure. When I’m placed on these shows where I’ll be stuck between a DJ-- like a screwed trap dude, dubstep dude, slow trap dude-- and like some dance-y dude, or like really, really "fuck off’ highbrow shit. The easiest way to explain this is like: night after night of hearing the same shit, it sounds like people were just jacking Burial, all over the world. It boils down to that. A landscape lit with this sort of weird, godlike devotional towards Burial’s music that has created this legion of homogenized, pasteurized, smoke and mirrors music. It so bums me out. It's depressing and it's like a third generation version of it, where it's only one dimension of what makes Burial so interesting.
Ad Hoc: It's this generational thing, the sound of our times. In the '60s and '70s, everything was pretty upbeat, and in the '80s things we’re generally nihilistic. Now it's like dark minimal everything.
DL: Yeah, it's just really funny. It’s increasingly hard for me to understand what, if any, reason there is to be sad. That’s what I’m trying to address. I’m like, "Oh, what I have to do is work on a record to characterize what I think is a kind of difficult thing," which is: [as beings] we don’t just do one thing all the time. The ways we converse and the way we think [are more complex]-- If you listen to the rhythms of your conversations or your internal mood, it doesn’t just sound like a 17-second-long reverb with a kick drum on it. It’s a lot more interesting than that.

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