Pop Culture

Daniel Lopatin On Returning to His Roots as Oneohtrix Point Never and Working with The Weeknd

As Oneohtrix Point Never, Daniel Lopatin has cut a striking figure through the last decade of electronic music. The 38-year-old’s career began in the underground noise scene, when he released synth-laden new age abstractions, and has taken him down fascinating paths not often traveled by avant-garde musicians, like touring with Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails, scoring several critically-acclaimed films of the last decade, and working with pop music’s leading artists. As a new decade opens, Lopatin has reached the most unlikely of outcomes: he’s famous now.

“I see boys wearing OPN merch and I’d go ‘Hey, nice shirt!’ And they’d look up and see me and be shocked,” he laughs with a smidge of discomfort, recalling the encounters he’s endured in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint area, where he lived until recently. “They’re all graphic designers and cool people, and they all ogle me because they look specifically like me. It’s a little uncomfortable, but it’s not so bad. I think I thought about it a lot more when I wasn’t popular, to be honest.”

Lopatin’s perspective on his relative fame has been further altered by all the time he’s spent lately with Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd. While he worked on Tesfaye’s latest album, this year’s excellent After Hours, the two would grab coffee or go dog-walking in between sessions as Lopatin witnessed just how massive the power of celebrity can be. “He has people literally slowing down in cars for what they see as these life-changing celebrity encounters,” he recalls. “So what do I have to worry about?”

The two first came in contact after the Tesfaye watched Josh and Benny Safdie’s gritty 2017 crime drama Good Time, which Lopatin composed the nervy score for: “He was like, ‘I’d heard your music before, but now I understand.’” After Lopatin and Tesfaye both worked on the Safdie brothers’ Adam Sandler-starring adrenaline rush Uncut Gems from last year, Lopatin was brought into the After Hours sessions along with regular Weeknd collaborator Illangelo and even performed alongside Tesfaye on Saturday Night Live.

While After Hours was being completed in Los Angeles, Lopatin’s ninth album as Oneohtrix Point Never, the radiant Magic Oneohtrix Point Never, started to come together as well. “[Illangelo] would be in there doing arduous stuff at the eleventh hour, and I’m popping over there like Kramer saying, ‘Hey, I just fucked around with some synthesizers!’” he chuckles. After Lopatin returned to his NYC home they kept in touch, with Tesfaye giving his take on Magic Oneohtrix Point Never’s embryonic state. “We had some very fruitful conversations,” Lopatin explains, “and after I went and worked on the album on my own, the conversations kept on going.”

That’s why you’ll find Tesfaye’s name popping up in Magic Oneohtrix Point Never’s credits with “Executive Producer” billing: “At some point, he said, ‘If it makes sense for you, let’s do a co-exec thing,’” says Lopatin. Along with leftfield-pop auteur Caroline Polachek and avant-electronic icon Arca, Tesfaye also throws in as a contributor to Magic Oneohtrix Point Never on “No Nightmares,” a distorted duet that Lopatin refers to as a “deconstructed power ballad” inspired by Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin’s full-throated 1985 single “Separate Lives.” “It was obvious that he’s someone I can really rely on when it comes to honest feedback,” Lopatin beams while talking about the fruits of their collaborative process. “I love his perspective because it’s so wildly different from how he’s in the world musically, and that means a lot to me.”

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