The musician and producer aka Oneohtrix Point Never on how headlining this weekend’s Haunted Dancehall festival in Dublin has helped kick-start his creativity
Daniel Lopatin is in that curious netherworld between albums. Ideas for a new one are percolating, but the vision is still fuzzy. Instead, the New Yorker — better known by his tongue-twisting nom-de-plume Oneohtrix Point Never — is enjoying a bit of creative downtime by listening to 3,000 albums reviewed by a guy on YouTube.
It was the smart appraisal of a handful of Oneohtrix Point Never albums on Dan's Mini Album Reviews that got Lopatin’s attention in the first place and now he is down a sonic rabbit hole.
“I’ve just been obsessed with this one person’s 3,000 albums,” says Lopatin, speaking via Zoom from his home in Brooklyn. “A friend sent me a video of him in which he very succinctly described one of my records, R Plus Seven. He said, ‘I have this theory about how it was made’. And it was just a wonderful video and now I’m completely fascinated with this guy.”
If Lopatin’s own name or that of his stage act — which he refers to, abbreviated, as OPN — means nothing to you, you will probably still have heard his music or his work on tracks and albums you love. He was the executive producer on Dawn FM, the exceptional latest album from one of the globe’s biggest pop stars, the Weeknd, and if you were enthralled by Uncut Gems, the best film Adam Sandler has ever starred in, you will have certainly noticed the urgent, anxiety-inducing soundtrack that was Lopatin’s creation.
Lo-fi indie aficionados may have heard his production work on the latest album from emerging US troubadour Soccer Mommy and fans of a once enormously popular American band will soon get to hear what he has been dreaming up with them in the studio. He mentions who the group is — there are unlikely to be many readers who haven’t heard of them — but after the interview, an associate sitting in on the Zoom call asks that the name not be revealed as it might breach a non-disclosure agreement.
Lopatin says he has to find the balance between working for other artists and making his own music. It’s not always easy to say no when a veritable behemoth such as the Weeknd comes calling. “I’ve just started working on my own music again, but I don’t know yet if it’s for an album or what-not,” he says.
This weekend, he is in Dublin to headline an intriguing new festival at the National Concert Hall. Haunted Dancehall brings together 40 Irish and international artists from the worlds of dance, electronica, experimental indie and classical. It is a shot in the arm for those to decry Dublin’s now lamentable clubbing and nightlife culture and an exciting new addition to the country’s festival landscape.
Lopatin has not played many live shows lately and the prospect of performing in Dublin excites him. Preparing for the show, he says, has helped kick-start his own creativity.
“I’m tinkering with new stuff now,” he says, enthusiastically. “I’ve a miniaturised version of my studio at home — it takes up a third of my dining room table. I didn’t go into my actual studio all week — I’ve just been enjoying sitting here and working on new things. That’s generally how I made Magic.”
That most recent album is a love letter to music radio. Lopatin says he wanted to capture the special sort of community that comes when listening to DJs and live radio programmes — something that has been diluted in this era of on-demand streaming and podcasts.
Although his daring brand of electronica has been acclaimed from the off, it was his soundtrack work for the auteur director brothers Josh and Benny Safdie that made a whole new audience sit up and take notice.
Lopatin created an extraordinary sonic palate for their first movie, Good Time, a knotty thriller starring Robert Pattinson, playing against type — and it won the Soundtrack Award at the Cannes Film Festival. But it was his score for the US brothers’ follow-up, Uncut Gems, that truly marked his arrival as one of the most innovative soundtrack composers of his generation.
The soundtrack is unsettling and pluse-quickingly stressful, and the business of fashioning it sounds just as challenging. “I got grey hair during it,” he jokes, gesturing to his long hair. “I was like the dad in Twin Peaks — I woke up one day and it was grey.
“The film and working with those guys [the Safdies] really does raise your blood pressure. They’re quite demanding and really interesting people. They always want to add more and more and more, and it’s not just of the sake of making a lot of noise, it’s because that’s the world they believe that many of us live in. But to honour that is to walk a fine line between total musical bedlam, a sheer cacophony, and yet something quite spiritual — music that has the character’s spirit in it.
“But,” he adds, somewhat soberly, “it’s arduous work. Even when you’re playing [the tracks] back, they want it really loud. When they’re in the studio with you, it’s almost dangerous, like somebody’s going to go deaf.”
If the experience of working with maverick directors was stressful, but hugely rewarding, the same can also be said of Lopatin’s role as director of the Weeknd’s Super Bowl half-time show last year.
It’s easy in this part of the world not to appreciate just what big a deal gridiron’s giant jamboree is, but the interval performance has become one of the biggest TV events of the year globally. If it’s not anything other than brilliant, questions are asked of the A-list act and those charged with making it awesome.
Lopatin describes his willingness to take on the gig as “foolishly brave — doing this thing that I’ve no idea how to do”. The result was a very well received show. The New York Times raved about it.
“I think the lesson here,” Lopatin says with a smile, “is to do things you don’t know how to do or don’t like, get all of the nerves out of your system, fail if you need to and then — guess what? — you’ll learn some really interesting lessons along the way and you’ll be able to do new things.”
He turned to the producer Brendan O’Brien — a veteran director of Super Bowl performances — to show him the ropes. “He’s such a legendary producer and mixer, having done tonnes of records during that grunge era. I got to sit next to him in the studio to see how he put things together. We tracked a choir together. I learned so much from him.”
Lopatin got to know the Weeknd — real name Abel Tesfaye — during the making of Uncut Gems: Tesfaye had a cameo in the movie. Lopatin says work on Dawn FM — which came out in January — is likely to rub off on to his own music. “I can’t separate them. Everything I work on rubs off on the music I create myself. My albums are like a record of what I was absorbing during that time and who I was around and who was influencing me. I see the records as a referendum on my relationships and collaborations that happen upon the way.”
Magic is a case in point. “Although it came before Dawn FM, those two records are really linked to me,” he says. “Abel and I had been working on his album for two-and-a-half years. I had been in this mindset of thinking about music his way, arrangements his way, and what it would be like to bring different pop conventions to the OPN world.”
And with that, it’s back to throwing himself into another man’s 3,000-strong album collection. “There’s always new music to discover!”
Oneohtrix Point Never headlines the first Haunted Dancehall festival at the National Concert Hall, Dublin, on Sunday, October 2. The event takes place on October 1 and 2 with acts spread out over five spaces at the venue
This article was amended on September 30, 2022