You know that feeling you get when you talk about the Internet to someone who’s over 40? Oneohtrix Point Never (aka Daniel Lopatin)
knows that feeling. He knows that for all the articles on websites like The Huffington
Post and BuzzFeed that try to explain stupid doge memes to those who don’t “get
it,” there are indeed parts of the Internet experience that no one really “gets.” He’s seen them—the tentacle porn, the snuff videos. He has probably reeled in horror as computer screens
have become windows into a collective, terrible unconscious. This isn’t to say
that Lopatin is part of some silly inner circle of people who have visited
4chan; it’s to say that he’s got a pretty good sense of what digital alienation
means in the 21st century.
Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. It can be all too easy
to intellectualize a guy like Oneohtrix without giving him credit for his music,
and when I saw him live last Friday at the Echoplex in Los Angeles, I wasn’t
pummeled by ideas. I was pummeled by art.
Since this was my first time at the Echoplex, I feel
compelled to provide a sense of the environment. Despite the comical
division of space that put the soundboard uncomfortably close to the stage, the
cramped spacing wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Instead of the LA hipsters I expected, the crowd turned out to be other music heads who were there for reasons other
than Instagramming the show. And to be honest, those oddly placed sound guys were
doing their job that night, as everything sounded properly massive. All around, the atmosphere was great.
The opening act, by Brooklyn-based three-piece Dawn of Midi, was
something like a highly percussive mix of Steve Reich, Can, and Aphex Twin. The
moment you latched onto something that resembled a 4/4 groove, it’d be pulled
out from under you like a malevolent rug, and the band’s polyrhythmic toying would
continue. When some annoying drunk dude behind me screamed, “Come on people, dance! Don’t you have any soul?” I’m pretty sure no one responded—not because
they didn’t want to, but because they just couldn’t. That said, the set was
great in that hypnotic “Man, these guys are so much more talented than me”
kind of way, and I (along with a whole host of music publications) highly recommend their 2013 record Dysnomia.
The first thing to get out of the way about Oneohtrix Point Never is
that his set was not a typical live show. Instead, it consisted of Lopatin sitting behind an impressive array of computers and
controllers on one side of the stage, and a visual artist on the other side controlling projections on a
screen that was placed in the middle.
Lopatin was in top form, dropping tracks from last year’s
critically acclaimed R Plus Seven
that were butchered into oblivion alongside cuts that seemed entirely new to
everyone in my group. He played an
intense collage of digitally synthesized sounds that ranged from factory
drills to new age pads, and then smashed them all together. It truly was a marvelous performance. The sheer amount of bass in the set made the whole show feel
like sitting comfortably in a sonic womb, enveloping you instead of punching you.
Oneohtrix Point Never’s work was especially striking in combination with the visuals, many of which seemed
to be designed by Nate Boyce, who has collaborated with Lopatin before.
The visuals achieved the level of the
uncanny—that which seems recognizable at first, but upon further
inspection becomes alien and disturbing. The screen displayed images of clean,
hypermodern industrial objects that were unrecognizable as distinct items; one had
characteristics of a turbine, a piano, a gun, and a table all at once. All the while, the objects morphed in and out of each other, strobing and pulsating and twitching, in the
same way that Lopatin’s sound collages mutated. Attempting to photograph the
projections would have robbed them of their immediacy; it was art at its
For the final track, the projection
showed a robotic creature dissolving into itself as it struggled to escape a
permeable mirror. It gave me the inescapable feeling that Lopatin finds modern living
creepy, and he just wants you to know that. In the same way that his sounds and
visuals are familiar but unrecognizable, he wants you to know that it’s OK to
feel alienated in a world of screens and interfaces, because he’ll be there to
sift through the digital ash for those things that are immediate, visceral, and