Oneohtrix Point Never on Garden of Delete
Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never, reminisces over alt metal adolescence, conjures up a parallel universe known as Garden of Delete and allows himself to be swept up in a messy cosmic fortune
Something’s in the air, but then again something always is. From the open confessionals of LiveJournal to the ‘one-left’ temptation on Facebook, only the most self-aware are carefully redacting their online history. But for most history no longers rots, it just lays inert on a server thousands of miles further than your parents’ dusty photo albums. The artefacts lend to an IRL muckiness that we sometimes can’t escape.
Oneohtrix Point Never, aka Daniel Lopatin alluded to this on his previous long player R Plus Seven, most notably the track Still Life; its yawning choir melodies, non-sequitur lappings of noise bludgeoned into submission by a vortexing trance pattern towards the end. Its sister video by Jon Rafman was removed from YouTube, the collage of food or fecal debris jammed into the keyboard, subterranean weirdos playing with guns and children’s underwear, and furries drowning in quicksand too graphic for viewers within virtual touching distance of a lurking community. With controversy surrounding the dispatch Lopatin slinked off into his own rabbit hole.
Then came a public press release, half an update for the fans and half an admission into a weird semi-fictional zone Lopatin had found himself in. His body is described to be both disintegrating and regressing into adolescence, his only marker of outside time being the ‘repugnant aroma of cumtrees’ in the Spring as he befriended Ezra, the perennially pubescent humanoid with a dog named Void.
Naturally, they started a band, coagulated and then Ezra left, leaving various millennium-marked curios. The release ends with ‘EZRA DITCHED ME TO SAVE MY LIFE.’ From the typography to the use of oblivious teenage language that flies in the face of astute emotional irony, Garden of Delete is set in a world where there is no escape from puberty and shame.
Revisiting metal and grunge
In a roundabout way the story isn’t too far from the truth. The genesis of G.o.D. comes from a crazy time between records for Lopatin, including creating a new soundtrack for sci-fi anime Magnetic Rose, and a rekindling of his obsession with drumming thanks to an exhibition by video artist Jacob Ciocci advancing Oneohtrix’s penchant for syncopated rhythms. An invitation to support Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden on an amphitheatre tour served to inspire both musically and psychologically. Despite Oneohtrix Point Never progressing on to new audiences and territory, Lopatin was sucked into nostalgia mode.
Along with listening to FM radio stations specialising in alternative metal and rock in order to “get it into my bones again, and regain the impulse,” the Nine Inch Nails tour opened up a rarely explored period in his life: “This was an opportunity to revisit my youth. When I started making my own decisions with buying music, grunge was mechanised in the worst way possible; I was in the process of being tricked or seduced. So while I was on this tour I was thinking about how I encountered both of those bands then.”
While NIN was a mutual appreciation between Lopatin and his older sister, “Soundgarden was something I was pummeled with by the industry. I remember that I returned one of their tapes at a store and swapped it for Rush’s Counterparts, which changed my life. I remember encountering this music realising ‘this is who I am.’” Subsequent to the invite from Trent Reznor, Lopatin began working on a new set that paid homage to his youth, in which he could best describe as "Cyberdrone," accompanied by a new tongue-in-cheek doctoring of Korn’s logo.
"The oppressive features of being a musician"
From then on, it was telling that he would be having a lot of fun with producing the new record. His home at Warp Records, home to resident jester Aphex Twin, gave Lopatin licence to ‘take the piss’ in anticipation of the record.
Presented to the fans was not only the story of Ezra, but ‘lost’ cybermetal group Kaoss Edge, complete with outdated website of broken hyperlinks and mall goth artwork that felt like the future two decades prior. The concepts were created to quench Lopatin’s boredom between completion and release of the record, as well as to serve as a “reference to the music industry, the oppressive features of being a musician and selling records in 2015. That also means that I’m allowed to make fun of myself, the label, managers... that’s part of G.o.D.; there are very dynamic and complex information trade routes at play these days.”
While most record releases feel like an impenetrable exercise in control of identity, Garden Of Delete found a new way to subvert the culture of leaks by releasing MIDI files for fans to reinterpret melodies before even hearing the final outcomes. However, this was no attempt to create a new model of dissemination before the inevitable leak; “I’m actually just trying to entertain myself, having them appropriate my melodies before anyone’s heard these songs I’ve slaved over. Instead of waiting for it, I’ve just actualised it so I can put it on display instead of being a victim of it… It’s not politics, it’s sadomasochism.”
And this is where the pain for pleasure comes full circle in Garden of Delete. No recent music has been so disdainfully assigned to the dustbin of history like alt.rock’s transition to nu metal, and it’s fascinating to see Oneohtrix dredge up the facets of vulnerability and angst found in outsider culture.
Arguably metallers, grungers, grebos – whatever you want to call them – were the last teenage tribe to come to fruition before we learnt how to curate our online identity through selfies, emotionally neutral statuses or checking-in with bae. If you’re feeling particularly sadomasochistic, try to find your old online journals and see how you handle your online activity now.
Similarly, revisiting some of the finer lyrics of the alternative metal era like ‘give me something to break; how about your fucking face?’ and the unintelligible squeals of pain from Korn’s Jonathan Davis, it’s easy to see why we recoil in disgust that nu metal was the soundtrack of many adolescences.
Oneohtrix on memories and digital media
Somewhat paradoxically to the nature of the internet’s permanence, trying to find your old profiles and aliases from obsolete social websites is a patchy struggle at best. Since Myspace revamped itself as a music-oriented platform, many memories have been lost, at least to the point of public use. Much like half-forgotten memories, the random amnesia from the data lake serves as a reflection of Lopatin’s state of mind as well as the compositional approach best described as vertical; in that sound designs are haphazardly smashed together as if two different songs were glitching upon each other.
Unsurprisingly the memories that float to the surface are “the potent ones involving some kind of trauma. I tend to think about ways to formalise my own perception a lot. So in terms of adolescence, what does a traumatic memory of music fermenting inside a corroded egg of time sound like?” Lopatin understands that nostalgia is nothing more than a reinterpretation of the past, and can serve up as an existential novelty of “all kinds of failures and hallucinations... it's best to just think of memories as interesting, life affirming newnesses.”
The way Daniel Lopatin deals with this trauma on the surface of Garden of Delete conjures up grotesque images in today’s sensibilities. Akin to the maximalist tendencies of Rustie and Evian Christ, Oneohtrix Point Never has a brash way with trancey arpeggiations, except they’re offset by MIDI acoustic basslines and melting guitar solos shown in Ezra and I Bite Through It. There’s double kick frenzies in Sticky Drama and a headbanger ending on SPDK, while the second half of Freaky Eyes conjures up Y2K’s forgotten euphoria, disintegrating before our ears. All these speculative visions left to the wayside 15 years into the future; optimism for the 21st century exacerbated by teenage angst feels like a distant joke.
Garden of Delete, and "letting thought become real"
But was this reality more grotesque than today’s sterile self-awareness? For some, including Lopatin, the confession and shame go hand in hand with a forgotten innocence where obsession meant sharing. Congratulating Lopatin on Kaoss Edge’s exhaustive website and the myth of Ezra as exciting marketing tools, Lopatin disagrees vehemently. “That’s just not marketing, it was for me and people as obsessive as I am, and it’s a way to collaborate with my friends who are all over the world,” including the sharing of the MIDI files Ezra developed with his mentor known as The Seurat System.
The dawn of broadband brought unlimited connection to the world where you felt like you could make a best friend on a chat service with someone on the other side of the world because you sent them a bootleg of a leaked album. Nowadays, the internet community’s operation of sharing is of cynicism, unrelenting yet platitudinal, totally self-mediated and way too tasteful.
Much like the internet in its liberating adolescence, the conception of Garden of Delete is deliberately and deliciously messy. In asking directly what the kernel of inspiration was for the record, Lopatin’s answer is obtuse yet telling: “I get really excited by something, and I memetically take that over.” Oneohtrix doesn’t seem led by concrete concepts, but perhaps concepts lead him into slowly forming sonic hallucinations where journalists try to put a pigeonhole on what he’s trying to say.
His music, even to the listener, has that way of exploring “what alchemical relationships happen if I let thought become more real.” Serendipitous happenings abound; returning from Ciocci’s exhibition Lopatin was inspired to start making his trademark Eccojam exercises using old rock tracks for interesting drum rhythms, including industrial metal group Fear Factory, an inspiration to Kaoss Edge. “That was when I got the email about the Nine Inch Nails tour and I thought to myself ‘What the fuck is going on? Is the collective unconsciousness so pervasive that when I think of anything crazy, things will appear?”