In summer 2014, Daniel Lopatin found himself unexpectedly living the rock and roll lifestyle by proxy on a tour opening for Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden.
Far from being the hedonistic experience you might expect, Lopatin would wake at 5:30am every morning for soundcheck at whatever identical amphitheatre he arrived at that day, and spend much of the rest of his time on tour staring out the window looking at “repetitive, brutal and ubiquitous” landscapes. As a self-enforced rule, Lopatin would only listen to hard rock stations Lithium and Ozzy’s Boneyard in the car to embrace a specific mindset that seems the antithesis of the strange and striking electronic music he’s made his name with over the past 10 years.
Watching Lopatin perform his new album Garden Of Delete live in London recently, it became clear how much of this experience has seeped into his Oneohtrix Point Never persona. Not only is he accompanied by longtime visual collaborator Nate Boyce on guitar, he’s framed by two vertical screens that look like smaller versions of those you’d see at corporate arena venues – albeit hacked by an alien intelligence to display a combination of otherworldly CGI images and subliminal messages. I felt like I could have been watching a prog metal band that slipped through the cracks somewhere in the pre-internet era, and it’s probably not by accident that it reminds me of Kaoss Edge, the fake “hypergrunge” band Lopatin created as part of a viral marketing campaign for the record.
Garden Of Delete is an electronic album, but it’s also the most rock thing Lopatin’s ever done. The hypergrunge movement of Kaoss Edge might be fiction, but it accurately depicts the synthesis of cybernetics and heavy metal that makes up the record. It’s full of lurid electronic presets that sound like a guitar blasting out of a wall of amplifiers and palm-muted note runs that sound like painstakingly sequenced MIDI, a grotesque, sinewy collection of sounds that evokes the intertwined sensation of curiosity and disgust I felt browsing the horror section of my local video rental store as a child in the early 1990s. It revels in its juxtaposition of intense, pallid noise and moments of chilling pin-drop calm, and if it was a movie, it would meld the body horror of David Cronenberg’s The Fly with the bad taste schlock of Leprechaun.
When Lopatin announced the album in August, he did so with a PDF that told the story of a humanoid alien with “an extreme case of acne” called Ezra, who hung around his windowless studio and sent him a USB stick filled with MIDI files containing “the most heartwrenching, futuristic kords ever”. A disjointed interview between Lopatin and Kaoss Edge superfan Ezra added to the mythos, as did an unsettling Kaoss Edge website full of hyperlink dead ends, two tracks on the SoundCloud page of a fake record label and Twitter accounts for the primary cast members.
In the months that followed the fiction took on new dimensions. Fans have played along and accused Lopatin of plagiarism, spotted Ezra in spectograms and trawled the source code of Kaoss Edge’s site for hidden messages. Lopatin even offered up the MIDI files hidden in Kaoss Edge’s website to the fans to create whatever they wanted, and the whole thing quickly went from being a simple viral marketing campaign to a dialog with his fans where the lines between fiction and reality started to blur. Lopatin met with me because he wanted to “disambiguate” Kaoss Edge and Ezra, but even after talking to him the fiction remains as compelling as the album itself.
The first time I really became aware of Kaoss Edge was seeing a person on SoundCloud who’d taken one of the two tracks, ripped it and uploaded it to his own profile with the heading “Kaoss Edge – Lopatin ripped them off?”
Yeah, I saw that.
I have no idea if that was him playing along with the game you’d created or if that was him genuinely fooled.
I think he’s playing along. If he’s smart enough to do that to begin with, I think he gets it. The idea in the original PDF was that I was out of musical ideas and this kid helped me out by showing me Kaoss Edge. Everyone has that moment in their adolescence when they meet the dude that’s cooler than them – the Neal Cassidy that shows you this record you’ve never heard, and I thought it would be funny to fictionalise that sort of experience. The notion that I’m out of ideas and I’m unoriginal at this stage of my career but holy shit there’s this fucking crazy band, and I’ll rip them off and I’ll take the credit for it. Some other things were not as fully thought through as others and were more just weird experiments to acquiesce my control over the stuff I made and allow it to originate from strangers and not be super territorial, which is usually the instinct.
Was the idea of hiding these MIDI files in a website and letting people do what they want with them part of this idea of not being territorial?
Yeah, it was the first time anybody had heard any of the riffs or the progressions from the record, and they got to hear them the way they wanted to skin them. It’s like a Winamp skin. So while I hope it was exciting for people to hear it, for me it’s actually a very disturbing thing. It reminds me of the feeling of having your apartment broken into. This happened to me once and I remember coming home and seeing all my stuff all over the place and feeling so fucked with. This is nothing like that, but there is this little element of “it’s not mine anymore”. And it was the first time anyone heard it, so it was as if they authored it before me. It creates a lot of interesting dissonance. It’s a little bit of an experiment in just letting things blow out into the wind and get mixed in with everything else because that’s what’s going to happen anyway.
So why did you encourage people to make their own versions? You said you wanted to make an archive, was that the main reason?
I wanted to flex some of my archive skills from school! Nah, I just thought it would be nice to have this big repository. For the most part it’s my fans that want to do this stuff, so it’s just to have that as a little tribute to them but also a tribute to the time when I was kind of obsessed with DOS tracker competitions. In my early 20s I would go on all these websites where all these DOS tracker dudes were competing to have the best track and there were these huge repositories where there’d be one theme and everybody would try to create a track, so this is a little bit like that. I also just like indexes and long lists where’s there’s an over-abundance of things that are probably unnecessary.
The whole thing seems to have taken on a life of its own now – there’s a lot of stuff out there, and I’m not sure what’s yours and what was made by the fans.
There’s a lot of people claiming to be making a lot of the stuff that aren’t. There’s a lot of people posting YouTubes as Kaoss Edge – like the Kaoss Edge guitars for instance is a fascinating YouTube. I didn’t make that, but everyone thinks that was some kind of ploy or tease that I did. That piece of music is so interesting – first of all I like it but that’s a speculative piece of music made before the MIDI was released that someone did who had a picture of what they thought this record would sound like. What they thought it would sound like is actually like the Omnisphere fake choirs from R Plus Seven and weird cuts and stuff – it’s so funny and cool – it’s somebody’s interpretation of a slice of an R Plus Seven tune.
“Kaoss Edge is that moment right between the shittiness of society and the beauty of some kind of ineffable zone.”
So where did the idea for Kaoss Edge come from? Was it based on a real band?
No it wasn’t. The beginning of it was a Google Hangouts conversation I had on a plane with my best friend who is also the designer of the Kaoss Edge website and makes a lot of the content for it. I think we were just shooting the shit and I don’t really remember what we were talking about, but Kaoss Edge was mentioned as describing some kind of liminal environment – like a Freddy Kreuger-type environment – something on the edge of an ineffable thing and something you think is real.
It’s interesting you mention Freddy Krueger – you recently said to Rolling Stone that dread was like the clown from It, and now I can’t think of anything but 80s video nasties when I listen to Garden Of Delete. As R Plus Seven stretched the boundaries of taste in a saccharine way, this feels the same in a…
A vulgar way.
Was that the intention?
Yeah, to me they’re very much part and parcel of a similar attitude that emerged at some point, after Replica. I started getting really specific about the ways in which I ingest things in the world and become hyperaware of the inputs I’m receiving, and the ways in which that can influence form. I feel like I’ve developed a vague technique now where I can deal with the inputs I get from things that I either fetishise or are interesting or confusing or gross me out or stimulate me on whatever level. So yeah, it’s similar techniques applied to a different area of inquiry.
So what kind of inputs went into R Plus Seven compared to Garden Of Delete?
I made that record in my home, so to me it’s a really domestic record, it’s a record of interiors. I’d been in an apartment that I’d lived in previously that my girlfriend moved into and made really lovable and beautiful, decorated nicely. She was always around and so the record has this sort of floral quality to it, I think because I was letting that environment seep in. But while writing Garden Of Delete I specifically made it in the little studio room in the basement of this building that I had to travel to. I’d take the bus to work and when I was there I was really committed to being in this hypnotic work trance for 12 hours or whatever with no windows, so I just get into this “me, myself and I” kind of mentality. Weird ideas start approaching when my girlfriend isn’t around! [laughs]
Weird ideas, I’m assuming, like Ezra. Is he based on a real person, or is he a total fabrication?
It’s a fantasy construction of a kind of vague recollection of my childhood, a composite of traumatic memories. I always had acne right here on my chin, and it was like this crazy fucking cyst after a while, this red splotchy thing. So with Ezra’s character and appearance I was exaggerating certain traumatic memories that I had of myself. In high school I had always really wanted to write films – I put a lot of energy into getting into this screenwriting program at NYU and I didn’t get in, and after that things really flipped and I went in a different direction – y’know, hallucinogenic drugs, William S. Burroughs, listening to records all day and that was it. I so badly wanted to be like Richard Meltzer or something. So making Ezra a blogger was part of that, but I also thought that was a way that I could use the character to interview myself to kick off information about the record coming out, because I really wanted to talk about it without any outside intervention. I thought it would more fun because I could do some weird cut up stuff with the questions – Ezra’s blog is made up of recalibrated text from stuff that I’ve found – there’s stuff from archives of BBS message boards, or diaries about going to Lollapalooza. There’s tons of stuff pulled from archives of Rush interviews. At the very end of the Ezra interview you see thank you and a list of participants and it’s just scrambled names of actual people that sent in Rush questions.
The further back the posts go, the more garbled it gets – like it’s in code or something. What was the significance to that?
It just helps me imagine Ezra as an alien – like his writing progresses from some ineffable language towards the language of being a teenage American as he’s learning to be that. I think Ezra’s similar to how Google’s Deep Dream algorithm tries to composite an object by looking at other objects. Like this alien civilisation has sent some intelligence to go and understand puberty that’s running a program that composites information on teenagehood, certain things don’t look right because the program doesn’t work that well. The same way that Deep Dream attaches human flesh to an object just because every picture of an object has a hand on it. But yeah, he’s like a fairly beta version teenager.
So is puberty a theme of the album?
I was a heterosexual white teenage boy, and boys learn to be all the awful things they become from all of these inputs they get when they’re kids – all this stuff about games, sports, movies that are geared towards toys geared towards boys with all these violent, competitive tendencies, and in music as well. So aggression, competitiveness, the sort of “us vs them” mentality, that sort of black and white way in which you see the world when you’re young is something that became very apparent to me – when whatever memories that were left were the traumatic ones and they all seemed to have this edge to them. So I just kind of ran with that sourness, because I thought it would be appropriate to work with that type of source material, because it was already rich with those kinds of problematics. They were already built into it.
The Kaoss Edge website links to a PDF of Julie Kristeva’s Powers Of Horror. You mentioned her in the interview with Ezra too – is there a significance to that?
Yeah, totally. For me her whole thing in Powers Of Horror is that she’s pointing out this amazing thing about society, which is that although we try to constantly cover up the things that we find grotesque – abjection, excrement, our organs, whatever – we tend to put those in a category of morbid things. They don’t really necessarily have a productive place in society and yet we still have this thing that connects us, we still have this fascination with them. The example I always think about is when you blow your nose or sneeze and there’s that moment where you kind of want to look at the napkin or you do – everybody does it. So in a lot of ways for me this record is about that moment where you just look at the napkin and check it out for a second before you throw it in the trash. You’re kind of told in various stages of your life that you shouldn’t do that in different ways, but that primal feeling is who we are, it’s what the universe is, it’s a factor of life, and she just writes so poetically about that, the confusion between this ineffable, deeply expressive state that we’re bound to and this kind of boring one that we fall into line with, and how they kind of play with each other. That’s what I always imagined the Kaoss Edge to be – it’s that moment right between the shittiness of society and the beauty of some kind of ineffable zone.
So that moment where you blow your nose, that idea of looking at yourself as well – is that tied to the character of Ezra and how he represents your younger self?
Yeah, Ezra’s so primal, he’s in a state of constant mutation, he never stops changing, so he’s like a really true version of the universe. He’s like entropy. But on this planet it just causes all kind of dissonance for him. He can’t blend in very well with that mentality, he can’t go get a job at the bank if his fucking face is melting every second of the day. So there’s that, there’s also when you’re going through puberty and checking out your body you’re like: “What? That’s so fucking crazy, I have hair now?” So it doesn’t surprise me that teens watch a lot of horror – there’s a very clear connection between your body changing and your fascination for gore. They’re not that far apart from each other.
So what is Ezra doing now?
He’s just on Twitter now unfortunately. He’s relegated to just occasional tweets by me and my friends. A couple of people have access to that account, so we just kind of play around. I’m usually reading, getting stuff on the timeline and something will strike me as a very Flow Kranium thing. The difference between these three Twitter accounts is that Ezra is naive. He’s hopeful, he’s young. Flow Kranium is a tribute account [to the deceased lyricist of Kaoss Edge], and his whole perspective is very cynical. He’s exactly like Ezra but old. He’s bitter. Then there’s the actual Kaoss Edge Twitter – which is really “them” – is really corporate, the things they follow are Russell Simmons and stuff like that. They’re a rock band. Those three personalities are to me the pyramid of fucking things that happen in the course of a music career. [laughs] It’s kind of sad but true.
One last thing. The two Kaoss Edge tracks I assumed were offcuts that didn’t make the album – is that correct?
No. Composed by Nate Boyce. They’re fucking fantastic. Nate is a fucking crazy musician who has never put anything out for as long as I’ve known him. He’s been making tracks since he was 16 and recording them, so he’s gonna play guitar with MIDI pickups for OPN live which I’m really excited about. He had all these tracks he was sending me because he’s been more active making tracks recently and those Kaoss Edge tracks aren’t even his best – those are his throwaways. I think they’re fucking amazing so I said: “Hey, if you really think they’re mediocre can I use them for Kaoss Edge?”
Do you think we’d see an album of his music on Software?
I fucking hope so.
Garden Of Delete is released on Warp on November 13.