In the terrifying future we find ourselves living in, Anno Domini 2014, there are no shortage of pundits weighing in to remind us of how much we’ve ‘lost it.’ As life goes from being dominated by computer technology until there is no life left to dominate but the machines continue piling up and out of factories in China for consumers in America we find ourselves in dizzying and unsettling existences. Some people even yearn for the simpler times of the – get this – early 2000s. Thus we have the many -wave genres and their accompanying theories and aesthetics. From this miasma rises Daniel Lopatin, known as Oneohtrix Point Never. All preceding hyperbole is the long way to describe that he makes electronic music which references computers a lot.
One of the most common criticisms against electronic music as a live performance is that it’s just “laptop music.” It’s not entirely unfounded, with a large portion of electronic acts electing to play to their strengths and play DJ sets rather than live performances of their music. Lopatin instead plays, or rather triggers, his music live from a setup that is unseen by the crowd. As he stands motionless (occasionally bobbing his head) and generates the music from his station on the right of the stage, a mesmerizing and at times deeply uncomfortable series of images and visual abstractions are projected onto a screen behind him. The visuals, created by Nate Boyce, function largely the same as the music. They form a type of noise that communicates feelings and vague ideas rather than concrete emotion or objects.
On record, Lopatin’s music is notable for the precision and careful composition of the tiniest details. It is all a carefully ordered disorder. In a live setting it’s hard to make this exciting and so Lopatin changes things up by reinterpreting and remixing his own works to the point where they are nearly unrecognizable. Trance arpeggios and heavy trap bass are brought in and layered over the drones and stuttering beats. Everything is mixed hot yet the sounds created are uniformly cold and somewhat menacing. Synths build and the beats get heavier and Lopatin processes and distorts his music until it is replaced by ear-piercing noise punctuated by bass hits that knock the breath from your lungs. The result is something that can only be described as EDM From Hell But In The Future. Over the course of his short set, Lopatin builds and releases tension by following the louder and more aggressive sections with short chillout passages of calm drones and loops.
OPN’s latest two records have functioned around vague theses about alienation from post-modern society. Replica was composed of stitched-together samples from infomercials cut up and processed to become unrecognizable. R Plus Seven was based around cheap midi sounds (most notably vocals) and ultra-crisp sounds of new age music and computer technology. The result of both is an experiment in communicating ideas that don’t quite have words, or at least no words the average person could understand. None of this matters to the average if they aren’t nice to listen to, but luckily they are. The OPN project stands then, at an interesting crossroads between experimentation and pop accessibility.
Despite starting his set late and finishing it a bit quick, Lopatin put on exactly the show his music demands. How to translate his music into a live environment is no easy task. How to communicate material so thick with ideas and messages to a crowd of drunk, high and/or tired festival goers at midnight in around 40 minutes is daunting. The experience of seeing Oneohtrix Point Never live is fascinating and definitely worth it for the reinterpretations of his fantastic material.