In 2014, Daniel Lopatin spent the summer living out an unlikely rock-'n'-roll fantasy. Tapped to open for Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden in amphitheaters across the Midwest, the avant-garde electronic producer known as Oneohtrix Point Never kicked off each show with 20-minute sets of noise, confounding audiences who'd come to worship at the altar of Trent Reznor.
"I wish I could point to one thing [revelatory] about the tour," Lopatin says. "But each day was weirdly repetitive. Wake up at a Holiday Inn Express. Travel for a long time, listen to a bunch of hesher jams on the radio, hopefully find a Chipotle…. There are things I picked up from those bands technique wise, but I think soaking up the American Midwest like that was also helpful."
Inspired—and funded—in part by the large-scale industrial sound design of the tour, Lopatin holed himself up in a windowless basement studio somewhere in Brooklyn last winter for up to 17 hours a day, working on his seventh studio album, and second for Warp Records, Garden of Delete.
Preceded by an elaborate PR campaign—including an "interview" with a humanoid adolescent alien named Ezra and the creation of a fictional "hyper-grunge" band known as Kaoss Edge—the record is nevertheless the most "human" of Lopatin's career. While his past compositions have generally specialized in a proggy ambient chill, Garden of Delete wound up sounding more like Slipknot than his New Age psychedelic tapestries of yore, full of staccato nu-metal MIDI drum rolls and piercing Auto-Tuned lyrics. After a decade of crafting instrumental soundscapes, Lopatin finally has something to emote—even though lyrics like "potassium/Dagger Prometheus" read like an Infinite Jest footnote for the rest of us.
"Having lyrics makes it easier to be clear on the meaning behind songs," he says. "Generally I feel like writing songs these days, and part of that means having something personal to say, which I'm excited about."
Composing with MIDI was also transformational for Lopatin. In the run-up to the album's release, he made some material available for the public to remix. It was a way to connect with his fans, but he says it was also cathartic to "acquiesce control."
In terms of his live show, Oneohtrix Point Never is also switching things up. His performances have always been a spectacle of audio-visual synchronicity, thanks in part to co-conspirator Nate Boyce, who is responsible for rendering Lopatin's sonic environments with 3-D animation. This time around, Boyce joins Lopatin as a musician, playing guitar while also doing the video for the show. Always a master iconoclast of electronica, Lopatin has reached a point of taking an arresting hold on synth-based music.
"It doesn't need to be any one thing or pander to lifestyle or genres," he says. "It can be what you want it to be."
SEE IT: Oneohtrix Point Never plays Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E Burnside St., with James Ferraro, on Wednesday, Nov. 25. 9 pm. $20. 21+.