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Zero out the pollution in your fits
Oneohtrix Point Never on dressing clean, almost scoring Ferrari for Michael Mann, the greatest work of art about 9/11, his great new album & more
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Oneohtrix Point Never — not only is he a brilliant musical king posted up high in the modern electronic-chune pantheon and a true madman at concocting these beautiful & heady avant-garde sounds … not only has he composed slapper synthed-out scores for Uncut Gems and Good Time … not only does he have a new NTS radio show where cool buds like Caroline Polachek and Kurt Vile come through to hang …. and not only has he made jams with the Weeknd and clothes with the Spyfriends at Online Ceramics … he’s also a longtime Spyplane appreciator … because true visionaries f**k with the vision™ !!
O yes, man has been known to DM yr boy (Jonah) about, e.g., how much he loves Mephistos, zip-up shirts, and this one colorway of the Puma Suede that he owns ~15 pairs of, among other dope topics pertaining to swag & culture. We agreed that whenever he put out his next release we’d hop on the Spyphone to chop it up in an official capacity — on the condition that the s**t was fantastic.
Well, this coming Friday, 9/29, OPN, a.k.a. Daniel Lopatin, will drop his newest album, Again, and it is fantastic. So the other day I was pumped to get on an encrypted Spyvideo transmission with him to talk about crafting beautifully distorted musical memories, doing the backstroke through toxic pools of sonic garbage, why Paul Schrader feels like the homie, how he almost did the score for Michael Mann’s Ferrari, keeping your art cacophonous and your fits muted, his unlikely souvenir from the making of the best-ever work of art about 9/11 — and more.
Let’s get to it —
Blackbird Spyplane: Oh d*mn, tapping in live and direct from the Chateau?
Oneohtrix Point Never: “Yeah, I’m in a cottage here, pacing around like a maniac because my album leaked last night and I only slept 4 hours and I drank a lot of coffee in preparation for this call. So I’m wired.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Why are you in L.A.?
Oneohtrix Point Never: “I’m in the studio, working with the Weeknd. It’s really chill here, the cottages are totally quaint — I feel like I’m in Cape Cod. Like, there’s an old refrigerator in my room with a built-in mold for eggs? F**king awesome.”
Blackbird Spyplane: New fridges are so stupid. They got rid of the built-in egg molds and put flatscreen TVs in the d*mn doors instead.
So your new album is fantastic. You often build elaborate backstories and organizing themes and meta-narratives around your albums — is there one of those at play here?
Oneohtrix Point Never: “There is and there isn’t. What I wanted to do initially was, there’s three records of mine that feel roughly autobiographical. Garden of Delete is dealing with puberty and having alternative commercial rock foisted onto me as a pubescent boy. Magic was kind of a weird, pre-semiotic, radio-waves, infancy thing. And this one is young adulthood — like the Milan Kundera Life is Elsewhere chapter. So I wanted to set it in the early 2000s and have an idiomatic quality of that time, which for me was this mishmash of listening to different sides of post-rock but also I was in this crazy Soulseek-a** discovery mode, finally able to voraciously procure old film soundtracks and stuff. So I set out to do that, but as I actually started composing, I realized, I don’t care about this concept whatsoever. I didn’t feel the need to meticulously world-build or anything — to make it an amusement park ride.”
Blackbird Spyplane: One thing I love about your music is how you blur the line between the alien and the familiar, between the destabilizing and the comforting. There are lots of moments on the new album that feel like a memory I’m right on the edge of placing, but it’s a memory that’s been distorted, or imperfectly re-created, or situated in some new context that denatures it. All in a way that’s very fun to listen to. The music is dense and it travels to some crazy places, but somehow the whole time it flows, in the way a slowly turned radio dial might flow…
Oneohtrix Point Never: “I liken it a lot to Paul Schrader’s idea of Transcendental Cinema. What works really good in a Paul Schrader or, I’d argue, a David Lynch film is you have a very tidy or simple story, but then, as you prolong or dilate certain cinematic aspects — using the camera, using editing, using time itself as a kind of modifier or modulator — you brighten the story with its own vitality. There’s this other layer that’s interacting with the formula or the idiom and it gives it a true brightness and life. Paul has a whole f**king chart about it. The chart rocks, it’s so on point. The first time I saw it I felt like warm, like, ‘He’s the homie.’”
Blackbird Spyplane: You mentioned having music “foisted” on you. We’re inundated with all kinds of visual and sonic garbage — these trash stimuli that our culture generates like pollution. I think of you, along with another musician I love, James Ferraro, as a connoisseur of contemporary garbage sounds — sometimes in the sense of finding beauty in a seemingly soulless computer sound-effect, or finding something ill in some déclassé New Age reference, but also just in the sense of letting garbage flood into your songs totally unredeemed. To where it sounds like the pollution is almost threatening to overwhelm the track. That resonates in a really exciting way with what it feels like to be alive today, when we’re constantly besieged from all sides by trash.
Oneohtrix Point Never: “There’s a lack of choice. There’s a deterministic path that capitalism takes, and to me, I’m just reacting to the environment — there’s this kind of Toxic Avenger thing of, ‘You’ve made me this. I’m a byproduct of this pollution.’ I’m not necessarily putting any value judgment on that. Like, this form of pollution isn’t going to kill you, but it might make you mentally ill in these subtle ways, and I think it has, in general.
“There’s so many amazing artists and thinkers that have explored these things — McLuhan, Žižek, artists like Mike Kelley do it all the time. These other garbagesmiths or whatever. Even Terence McKenna, through mushrooms, opened himself to understanding a more true picture of reality as he was experiencing it, on the bleeding edge of time as a midcentury, postmodern guy. So yeah, I’m trying to paint an honest picture, but I’m also trying to titillate myself in all kinds of musical ways. Whether I think a sound is beautiful or overwhelming or grotesque, it just emerges, and I try to capture it and accentuate it.”
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Blackbird Spyplane: Real quick, last year you told me you were about to meet with Michael Mann about doing the score for his Ferrari movie. No disrespect to whoever got the gig instead of you, but I’m bummed your score didn’t happen! What would the Oneohtrix Point Never Ferrari have sounded like?
Oneohtrix Point Never: “I don’t know what happened there, but yeah, in my brief to Mann I was talking about how the car itself, the excitement of the Ferrari engine, could be traced and contoured out and used as a kind of formal element in the score — that there was a kind of built-in modality of excitement to the car that could be exploited in a really interesting way. And then he hired someone else, and I read in Indiewire that apparently that’s what they did.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Whoa!
Oneohtrix Point Never: “I think he liked me, though, he sent me a nice letter, like, ‘From the Offices of Michael Mann, thank you so much, hope we can do something in the future.’ Basically I wanted to be completely sublimated by the hotness of Ferraris and the sounds of the engines — the quality of revving, it’s kind of like dubstep or something, these transient peaks. I wanted to formally trace some of those things and see if I could write around them. I thought that would be a swagged-up score, but maybe some other time.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Shout out to being completely sublimated by hotness. Speaking of swag, I want to give you props because you’ve been a champion of the Puma Suede for a minute — a wave more and more people are hopping on every day!
Oneohtrix Point Never: “Oh man, these are my soul. I’ve probably owned over 15 pairs of these — most of them are in storage, waiting for the exact shelf life of my current pair to expire. They’re not special, they’re priced like any other Puma, they cost me, like, $50, but they don’t make them any more.
“But yeah, the grey with a slightly green tinge, the fact that the logo is the same color as the shoe — it’s more neutral and introverted, that’s what I like about them. When all is said and done, I’m practical. I don’t like to draw a lot of attention to myself. But at the same time I’m really formally inclined, so I like the purity of the design. If the sole was any thicker, if the laces were a different color, if the logo was brighter, I’d be bummed out. I think producers fancy themselves as craftsmen, and they want to be surrounded by other finely crafted things.”
Blackbird Spyplane: You have enough pollution in your music, you want zero pollution in your fits.
Oneohtrix Point Never: “I’m going for a uniform vibe that I don’t have to think about too hard. So I basically only wear these Pumas, this pair of very lightweight Asics Gels (above left), and a pair of Mephistos I got secondhand. Buying Mephistos is like buying a Volvo or something — they’ll take you really far and they just keep ticking. Ed Davis, formerly of Brain Dead, and I, we’re actually looking to do a run of custom OPN Mephistos. Which would be fun because I don’t know how you improve upon a perfect shoe.”
Blackbird Spyplane: Finally, you sent over a little shard of wood from the chair William Basinski sat in when he made The Disintegration Loops — which is among other things probably the best work of art ever made about 9/11, but I haven’t seen the Adam Sandler movie so the jury’s out.
Oneohtrix Point Never: “Haha! Me either.”
Blackbird Spyplane: For people who aren’t familiar, I’d love for you to describe Basinski and The Disintegration Loops real quick.
Oneohtrix Point Never: “So he’s one of the greatest electronic composers ever, and it’s this beautiful suite of sonorous vignettes — shards themselves, kind of. As the story goes, he was digitizing old recordings on the day of 9/11, transferring them from magnetic tape to his computer, and as these old crusty tapes played back, they were oxidized or something, so they fell apart, and he captures all of this. There’s a material quality to the recordings, and it’s amazing. No plug-in can ever re-create that. It’s one of the best records I’ve ever heard in my life.”
Blackbird Spyplane: It’s so beautiful, and it contains so much ambiguity and unknowability that it’s strong enough to withstand the insane burden of its association with 9/11.
Oneohtrix Point Never: “It’s so pure and so incredibly sad — thank g-d we have it.”
Blackbird Spyplane: I’ve listened to Disintegration Loops a bunch, and I have another great record of Basinski’s called 92982 — what other music of his do you love?
Oneohtrix Point Never: The River, that’s the one. It’s a late 2002 recording, it comes out after 9/11 but it’s an old recording, so it’s Basinski as a young man, figuring out his thing. I guess you could compare it to Eno, where you have this kind of dilated time. You could call it ambient but it has these very ghostly radio-wave transmission things that I think he was sourcing from ham radio, CB radio, maybe just AM radio. I have no idea exactly what his process was but, but it’s basically ambient music made of abstracted shortwave sounds.”
Blackbird Spyplane: So it was Anohni who gave you this shard of wood?
Oneohtrix Point Never: “Yeah, they’re old pals. She gave it to me unsolicited — I was putting on my shoes to leave her apartment one day when we were working on Hopelessness, and she was like, ‘Oh, here’s this thing. I have one, too.’ I think maybe Billy broke up the chair and gave pieces to his friends. So it was such a generous thing to get this little chunk.”
“It fits in my wallet, in this little pocket, which is where I keep it. There’s not a day I’m without it. It’s like a little sword.”
The B.L.I.S.S. List — our comprehensive guide to Beautiful Life-Improving Spyplane Staples — is here.
The Global Intel Travel Chat Room is here, featuring earth-spanning GOAT-locale recommendations.
Peep our list of the world’s 35 slappiest shops, where Spyfriends have added a ton of gems in the comments.
Our Profound Essays, Mindsets and “Unbeatably Spicy Takes” are all here.