Daniel Lopatin’s recently released album, Replica, recorded under his stage name Oneohtrix Point Never, touches on many of the canonized tropes of contemporary classical music, while simultaneously pushing away from a circumscribed route, adding punchy ideas and a lot of crude percussion and samples. The songs are short, though, often feeling as much like kernels as complete thoughts. Is that the point? Much of Lopatin’s previously releases music has been about long journeys that he now thinks did not go anywhere. Replica covers greater distances in a lot less time, seemingly as much a product of restlessness as efficiency. Replica is exciting to listen to for many reasons, primarily viscerally, but also as a conceptual nerd: it feels like progress. But is it a new direction for the experimental world or the pop one? Is there a difference? As he continues to record, at bare minimum, Oneohtrix Point Never will be the forum for the plethora of stuff churning in Lopatin’s brain, while at best it will change what we consider new music to be. We spoke with him over the phone last week. He had a cold.
Why are Replica‘s songs so short? The type of music you are making has a lineage of coming from composers making longer “pieces,” not songs. So are these songs just the genesis for longer ideas? I wanted it to feel like a song, a cycle of songs, but, um, that idea came not initially but when I started sort of categorizing these different sounds/tones that I was sampling. I found myself using conventional pop or rock metaphors to organize sounds, and I was like, Well, here’s a rhythm section or something that I can characterize as such or is symbolic of that, and here’s a lead guitar type thing or here’s the vocals or whatever. Although it’s not really one to one relationship, I wanted those things to be the innuendo of songs, to be like the innuendo of band responsibilities to be within the way that I construct these songs. The short format is just appealing to me because I guess I didn’t want to make another record that was an extremely dense, long form, sort of expansive thing that grows in time. I wanted [the songs] to be really streamlined and fit and spacious in a way that was like listening to club music or pop jams on the radio in taxi cabs like in New York or on tour or whatever. Just like being exposed to music for the first time cause I was traveling so much. I was hearing like a lot of contemporary music that I’m not usually privy to, just cause my lifestyle is such that I don’t like really check stuff out like that. I’ll get kind of into like a cocoon of old music a lot of the time. But then I check out contemporary music and I’m like, Wow it’s so interesting how The-Dream’s track operates. There’s really three to four fundamental, core sonic things that are happening at any moment. Or like a Dr. Luke jam or even like somebody like James Blake who I kind of have mixed opinions about musically, but I think is really brilliant in his the way he structures music and the decisions he makes and how he uses silence. So yeah, that’s basically it.
James Blake is a guy who is playing all the music he heard growing up at once, classical piano music and British dance music. For you, that context seems like it maybe ran from Morton Feldman to Silver Apples. But listening to Replica, I hear DJ Nate, too, music that might not typically be a part of an experimental composer’s background. I like definitely like grime, different versions of British dance music and footwork stuff, Chicago stuff. All of it is fundamentally to me the big break from the past, how the producer can pretty much be anybody and there’s a Spartan approach to things where it’s like you just have very few elements that carry the whole thing and bass becomes really important and basic core elements of sound become important and like one sample that captures an emotion becomes really important. It’s very dramatic. It’s dramatic music. Something I got discouraged about was like, here I am making this music, and I’ve been refining it for awhile, but a lot of the other music that I listen to all the time, that I listen to as a fan, is not really making its way into my music and I was questioning whether or not that was because I was being shy or was I just not like being courageous enough to just go for it or what was it exactly?
I love the other records I’ve made and I feel like they haven’t gone anywhere. There’s a place for my old sound that‘s in the new record too, but I had refined it to the degree that Returnal is just like, just a better version of the record prior to it. At that point, you’re just like, Well, I’m making these statutes to an idea of something, I’m memorializing this thing, this starting point, but I’m not really moving forward. I also wanted to shed a lot of the baggage of having been pigeonholed with other artists that were reportedly into certain things or ideas, certain zeitgeist-y ideas, hypnagogic pop type of ideas. There’s good stuff there, but what was always fun for me was deconstructing it and playing the role of the joker and being like, Here’s what you think you understand, or here’s this style of music or reality that is supposed to manipulate you this way, but I’m going to manipulate it and make you feel this way. I just wanted to get away from all that and then it was, the joke is on me. Everybody knows what I do.