Words by:
Photography: Joe Perri
Styling: Dominick Barcelona

Throughout the 90s, every 15 minutes or so, a sticky, cloying jingle oozed out from radios across Greater Boston. You’d hear it in grocery stores and pharmacies, back when retail locations still piped FM stations, not digital streams, through their overhead speakers, lubricating the consumer experience with the likes of Don Henley and Sting. This particular jingle belonged to Magic 106.7, which sang its own name – “magic one-oh-six point seven” – in a jubilant chorus amid endless hours of soft rock, stretching the last two syllables like taffy whipped at the sun.

On his first album, Daniel Lopatin christened himself with a corruption of the jingle he heard growing up in Winthrop, Massachusetts, across the harbour from downtown Boston. He stamped the name Magic Oneohtrix Point Never on a woozy new age record called Betrayed in the Octagon, first released on cassette in 2007. Before long, he’d drop the “magic”, leaving a string of syllables that danced on the edge of meaning – a dislocated tag for a radio station that never was.

ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVER wears: Jacket: Adidas, Pants: Stylist’s own, Shoes: Prada

“Here, you’ll like this,” Lopatin promises, steering me over to a huge, glossy photograph of a saxophone on a glass table with blue smoke pouring out of its bell. I’m peering into his Brooklyn loft studio through the camera of his phone, which splashes his surroundings onto my computer screen in choppy, pixelated smears. He’s in the studio’s living room; an industrial “dungeon door” separates it from the adjacent workspace. The saxophone photo, he explains, was a recent 40th birthday gift from Josh Safdie, who, alongside his brother Benny, directed the mystical thrillers Good Time and Uncut Gems. Lopatin scored both films, teasing out their tense, tragicomic moods with sublime synthesiser arrangements. “You know how sometimes you get a birthday present you really don’t want? Even the person who gives it to you, they’re fucking with you?” he smirks. “Josh was like, ‘What are you gonna do about it?’ Now it just chills here.”

Both Good Time and Uncut Gems follow protagonists who have dug themselves into deep pits and are on the hunt for an arbitrary, magical object they’re sure will offer a ladder of escape. Lopatin’s compositions lend a prismatic dimension to their sour plights. His Oneohtrix Point Never albums similarly course across planes of futility, disappointment and neurotic hope. From his early improvisational work on the Roland Juno-60 to the mutilated easy listening he’s toyed with over the past few years, Lopatin thrives in the spot where a seemingly straightforward or comfortable story unravels. A buoyant hook deflates into a silty puddle; a crescendo collapses, leaving you alone with your own hunger for its conclusion. And then, from the rubble, unruly new organisms bloom.

ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVER wears Jacket: Y/Project, Shirt: Stylist’s own

Lopatin’s knack for a warped anticlimax and rebirth – an ability to drill down into what people want from music, thwart that desire, and then reroute it up dizzying passageways – has made him a prized collaborator among some of contemporary pop’s most adventurous artists. He’s worked with nonconformists like ArcaCharli XCX and Caroline Polachek. The most recent Soccer Mommy album, 2022’s Sometimes, Forever, took a steely shoegaze turn with Lopatin behind the boards. After they both worked on Uncut Gems, he teamed with The Weeknd, producing a couple of tracks on the blockbuster 2020 LP After Hours. In early 2021, Lopatin served as musical director for one of the darkest, most paranoid Super Bowl half-time shows in working memory: a production complete with a cyborg gospel choir, a mirrored labyrinth, and a field full of dancing Weeknd body doubles with bandaged faces.

Most recently, Lopatin executive produced The Weeknd’s 2022 album Dawn FM, a radio-inspired work that touched on plenty of OPN’s recurring themes. Full of garbled, pitch-shifted vocals and retrofuturist synths, Dawn FM serves as a companion of sorts to the 2020 OPN LP, Magic Oneohtrix Point Never, whose title looped back to the project’s roots with a tracklist that boasts a Weeknd feature on the elegiac ballad No Nightmares. Both albums denature the sounds of palliative radio: the kind of quasi-ambient station people seek out for comfort, its music heavy with uncomplicated memories. In the Weeknd and Lopatin’s hands, of course, this balm curdles and melts away to reveal an existential terror beneath.

ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVER wears: Jacket: Adidas, Pants: Stylist’s own, Shoes: Prada

When we speak, Lopatin is fresh from putting the finishing touches on the LP inserts for his tenth OPN album, Again, due later this year. This record, he explains, completes a semi-autobiographical trilogy. If Magic tuned into “a really weird infancy”, ruminating on the music that hung around his childhood, then his 2015 project Garden of Delete rendered a feral, half-remembered puberty, soundtracked by a different strain of radio. “I was patient zero for the bullshitification of alternative rock,” Lopatin says, savouring every syllable of the neologism. “I was the perfect victim. I always thought it was really funny that the very thing that was actually oppressing me as a kid was commercial rock radio, which appeared to be the thing that was going to let me be transgressive and rebellious.”

“When ChatGPT tells you stuff that’s completely incorrect, it’s ‘hallucinating’. They are giving us an embarrassment of surrealism. So much of the comedy of the record is located within these tools”

At the end of his teens, in the first years of the new millennium, Lopatin crawled out of the post-grunge bog. He left the Boston area and started attending Hampshire College, a tiny liberal arts college deep in the woods of Amherst, western Massachusetts. There, aided by nascent file-sharing networks, he started unearthing music that was richer, braver and more bizarre than what dripped off mainstream radio’s long spoon.

“There was nothing to do, nowhere to go and a ton of time to go really hard on music,” Lopatin says of that time. “We’d always find an abandoned dorm room – there’d always be somebody that dropped out – and there’d be ten days where it would turn into this hypercube for me and my friends. We’d go in there with typewriters, listen to music and write poetry. One of my professors – who I still talk to every time I make a record – wrapped his head around my personality, and he burned me a bunch of lovely CDs, like David Berman [of Silver Jews] and [William] Basinski. That really cranked it up for me. I was like, ‘Oh my god, I love these weird little ditties. They’re so stretched and striated, they could never be considered songs.’ From there, everything came alive.”

ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVER wears: Jacket: Stylist’s own, Shirt: Needles, Pants: Needles, Shoes: Mephisto

The floodgates opened, and in streamed post-rock, “pretentious” glitch, film scores, Aphex Twin and “all kinds of oddities”. Lopatin also discovered the Austrian ambient artist Fennesz, whose sparse, glacial sound designs blew open his conceptual framework for what music could be and do. It didn’t have to hand you a story; it could leave enough space for a listener to fill in the sketch. “I was embracing music that wasn’t so far away from the kind of person I was, and was around,” he explains. “Music that nourished me and made me feel like maybe I wanted to be an artist myself. That is a very defined experience for me: the freedom to express things in the dark, to glow in the dark, to animate the scary woods with all of this newfound excitement.”

Usually, once an OPN song approaches what might be perceived as typical pop structure, it buries itself in distortion or flings itself off a cliff. Lopatin sang full verses and choruses on 2010’s chilly Returnal and the 2018 AI-inspired concept album Age Of, then entombed them in a corroded metalscape, only letting a few recognisable words seep through the cracks. Again, by contrast, is a more direct address. More than any other OPN album, it spills with generous, uncynical beauty. Strings performed by the Berlin-based NOMAD ensemble flourish across the opener Elseware; piano from weirdo pop stalwart Jim O’Rourke darts across the title track; and Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo laces hot, bright electric guitar into the impressionistic Memories of Music. In Lopatin’s corner, synth arpeggios bubble and overflow; playful beats pirouette, clatter and stomp. Voices hang close to the ear, occasionally perfectly comprehensible. “But isn’t the view so amazing?” Lopatin sings on the wide-eyed World Outside, as sincere as if he were sweeping his arm across a painterly vista. On Krumville, the closest OPN might ever come to Midwestern emo, Lopatin and the dark art-rock band Xiu Xiu ululate together, mournful and open-throated, about someone who “was a friend and now he’s gone”.

ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVER wears: Jacket: Adidas, Pants: Stylist’s own, Shoes: Prada

Alongside Lopatin and his guests, computer voices stutter throughout Again. He’s used artificial vocals before – notably the nasally Vocaloid that warbled throughout Garden of Delete – but this time, he turned to the AI tools that have been making hyperbolic headlines lately. OpenAI’s Jukebox, a “neural net that generates music”, according to its brief, spat out a wobbly shoegaze loop for On an Axis (“we got really lucky with that one moment, it was just banging”). Krumville begins with the childlike glossolalia that tumbled out of Adobe Enhanced Speech, a tool designed to improve audio quality on podcasts. Lopatin used the same program to create The Body Trail, a “hallucinatory poem” full of words dreamed up from nowhere. “If you make a recording, and it comes out low quality, you can bring out the language,” he says of the program. “But when you feed it music with no language, it’s still looking for language.” And so it turns strictly instrumental audio into scattered, tuneful babbling.

From 2007 to 2009, Lopatin studied archival science as a grad student at New York’s Pratt Institute. Working with AI gave him a new opportunity to flex that old skillset, to see how compiled descriptions of music might correspond to how a machine thinks it should sound. “I was really interested in the metadata aspect of Jukebox because you can address things in a library sciences way, combining all kinds of tags,” he says. “But it just sucked. There’s this entire index of tags you can use, but it doesn’t work out. So we gave up and started feeding it demos from the record.”

“Whenever I start a transformative period of my life, that’s when I start asking: what were my values then? Who was that person?

Rather than drop the AI thread, Lopatin seized the opportunity to tease out its failures. “I’m looking around at those tools, as we all are, and I’m really titillated by the idea that they’re so medieval right now,” he says. “When ChatGPT tells you stuff in a confident manner that’s completely incorrect, it’s ‘hallucinating’. That’s all I needed to hear. I like these tools because they’re hallucinating. They are giving us an embarrassment of surrealism. So much of the comedy of the record, to me, is located within these tools. I find it so broken and humorous. I really want to do an entire opera with it.”

ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVER wears: Jacket: Vintage, Shirt: Needles, Pants: Needles, Shoes: Mephisto

In a way, those fumbling computer brains supply a perfect analogue to the younger self Lopatin summoned for Again. They’re totally open, ravenous for input, eager to trace connections among everything they’re learning. Again delights in that same flavour of early adulthood wonder, but Lopatin is careful to clarify he’s not aiming to simply reminisce. “I’m not a nostalgic person, but I do fundamentally love to use the past as a gift that’s been given to me,” he says. “This vague recollection of myself seems like a gift I can use to make new work. I don’t have any desire to go back, but whenever I start a transformative period of my life, where I feel like there needs to be a referendum on my values, that’s when I start asking: what were the other moments like that? What were my values then? Who was that person?

Lopatin holds a lot of affection for who he was when he first awoke to the possibilities of making weird, convention-blurring music. “That person was a really gregarious, curious, interesting part of me,” he notes. “I wanted to paint that person again, take the good stuff and see where I’m at now.” That urge for connection, creation and play floods Again, filling the half-intelligible AI vocals, Lopatin’s own effects-streaked voice, and the staggering arpeggios that spiral through the album’s closer, A Barely Lit Path. Through a chain of digital effects, Lopatin whispers something almost unintelligible about “a barely lit path from your house to mine”. Then the vocals quiet. NOMAD’s strings swoop in. Electronic bristles and orchestral plumes grapple together in one of the most gorgeous send-offs Lopatin has composed to date. In its unguarded prettiness, the song glows like a porchlight through heavy New England darkness: a beacon piercing the trees from one consciousness to another

ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVER wears: Jacket: Stylist’s own, Shirt: Needles, Pants: Needles, Shoes: Mephisto

Now that he’s gone back and reinhabited his formative years, Lopatin’s content to file that version of himself away; to integrate what he can remember of the past with the immediate experience of the present. “I’m killing those people off, letting them go,” he says of the former selves he revisited for his latest work. “I don’t want them to be hungry ghosts. I just wanted to check in and see what made that period of time so potent. It feels like I’ve finally caught up to myself, and that feels really freeing. Even calling the album Again feels freeing – it means I don’t have to feel this bizarre pressure to constantly iterate and reiterate. I can just actually be myself, again.”

Again is out on 29 September via Warp