I have seen Oneohtrix Point Never play twice. The first was in the pit of XOYO in London last October, the second on ATP’s dank centre stage at Butlins in Minefield in May. Both times made a huge impression on me, took me beyond where I was standing, removed from the physical moment yet at the same time absolutely within it. His is a music that demands patience and faith, even more so at a festival with a thousand surrounding distractions. But the reward is great. For Oneohtrix Point Never builds a wall with his music – not to divide or to overcome but to lift the audience up on, to provide a higher vantage point, a sense of scale.
Scale is an integral part of Oneohtrix Point Never’s being. It starts with that strange and stately name that Brooklyn-via-Boston electronic music artist Daniel Lopatin chose to frame his strange and stately music. It’s a play on 106.7, the frequency of a radio station called Magic that would always be playing in the background when he visited the dentist as a kid. (It played “really bad muzak” he says over email.) His twist on it simultaneously suggests and rejects an idea of foreverness; some infinite, something finite. Then there’s the sheer volume of work he’s produced: between 2007 and 2010 he released five albums in various formats, and more than eight additional tapes, CDs and 7”s. The most recent of those albums is 2010’s triumphant ‘Returnal’ on Austria’s Editions Mego label, also responsible for bringing fellow noise explorers Emeralds and Jim O’Rourke to our ears.
The landscape Oneohtrix Point Never creates is rich in scale. A place in which ancient and future worlds collide: a silvery world reclaimed by nature, where strange creatures scurry through a shady undergrowth and ancient dusty firs ascend through the shattered cockpits of moss-ridden space vessels. It’s a recognisable theme: a celluloid dream about life everlasting in which resilient nature at once overcomes and survives us – forever unsettling, ever soothing.
But more than anything, the real scale – and skill – of Oneohtrix Point Never is the pure physicality of his music. The overwhelming bigness of it that provides the relief of self-irrelevance, an attention to the smallest detail that makes you focus in sharp, a flow of sound that breaks down the passage of time. By turn that flow is a challenge and a comfort; the two states battling it out to dominate, the one being subsumed by the other, over and over in a circling eternity. At its most irritant, there’s a hacksawed roar of distortion as some vast electronic panel explodes, sending scorched screws and bolts cascading to a cold concrete floor. Yet at its most sublime – and it’s mostly sublime – it rolls like water, waves of synths that caress and carry the sharpness far away.