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“Just Be Cool”: An Extremely Long Conversation with OPN

Nina Interviews

Dan Lopatin goes deep on generational identity, leaving the city, and the owl from ‘Twin Peaks.’

By Emilie Friedlander


Dan Lopatin is adulting. Or at least, when we log onto a call in early November, it’s a word he keeps using to describe this phase of his life, which seems to involve a pretty intensive schedule of leaf-raking, watching YouTube home repair tutorials, and taking trips to the dump. As we slip into a conversation about the “solipsistic” existence he’s been living, for artistic reasons but surely for personal ones too, the 41-year-old electronic musician known as Oneohtrix Point Never almost buries the lede: After 15 years in New York, an ever-more-pricey never-never land of ersatz luxury amenities and on-demand everything, he’s in the process of transitioning to a more solitary, self-reliant existence in a remote town a couple of hours outside of the city. He makes a point of noting that it isn’t in the Hudson Valley. “I did not feel good up there,” he says.

It’s a bit of a full-circle moment, for Dan but also kind of for me: Dan says that his recently released 10th album, Again, is a reflection on his young-adult years at Hampshire College, a small liberal arts college in the rambling green hills of Western Massachusetts, which is where I spent my college years, too. More specifically, he says that Again was inspired by a pair of old computer speakers that reminded him of his own musical coming-of-age in the mid-2000s—sitting in his dorm room, joyriding the on-campus iTunes network, vibing out on Soulseek, and building out his own idiosyncratic understanding of the history of alternative music, one electro and glitch track at a time.

In 2023, it’s clear that his attempts to experience “every single color of the rainbow from the great origin story of the consumer-level synth” have rendered him one of that story’s most visible present-day protagonists—just a week after we speak, The Curse, a cringey-but-mystical gentrification satire created by Nathan Fielder and Benny Safdie, premiered on Showtime, with a tripped-out soundtrack by John Medeski that Dan executive produced. But our conversation, which stretched on for nearly two hours and traversed subjects as wide-ranging as generational identity, the evolution of the music industry over the last two decades, the complicated legacy of post-rock, and his strange fascination with terrible, AI-generated techno tracks—is a reminder that no matter where we’re at in life, we’re always in the process of coming of age again.

The last time we saw each other was outside a Michael Haneke screening many years ago at Film Forum. Do you still engage in that ritual when you can—going out to the movies?

Well, I left the city and I’m living a kind of solipsistic life, so my choices for going to the movies are far and few between. Although if I was just a little bit more motivated, I would drive to the city and watch movies by myself, because I don’t think the solipsism is in conflict with movies.

These days [I’ve been] adulting [really] hard, so I’m just watching Twin Peaks at night. I’ve been projecting it really, really big, so the image is sort of dwarfing me and every little detail is vivid. I have owls and falcons where I live, so it’s kind of smell-o-vision, or sense-o-vision, or some kind of enhanced version of Twin Peaks, because I’ll go out and smoke a cigarette in the backyard and I’ll hear them hooting and hollering. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What made you decide that it was finally time to leave NYC?

Well, I put in 15 years of service. Having grown up the way I did, in the New England suburbs—while I did have some sort of libido for city life at some point in my young adult life, it ran out. I think I got sick of it around 2013.

That’s a long time. Ten years.

Yeah, I think I put in five years where I really liked it, and the other ten just felt obligatory. You do have to have some level of bravery to leave—it’s your friends, your community, the way that you function. For me, it was a big part of how I approached musical collaboration. It wasn’t that I fundamentally didn’t like living there and then put in ten more years, but spiritually, it just feels like I belong at some level of remove from the city, while still being able to access it.

Do you think this is a millennial thing—escaping from the city and leaving New York?

I mean, so I identify as a Gen X human being…

Like, spiritually?

I think a lot of it was influenced by my sister, who was nine years older than me and kind of raised me. I was absorbing so much of her life and her point of view that I got a kind of cultural head start. But I think spiritually, it’s a really good question, because how would you define the Gen X spirit? You could say it’s devoid of spirit, right? They were so in a mode of rejection.

It’s hard [for me] to identify with the kind of pop-nihilism that Gen X is associated with, but there was an eclecticism to their approach that I identified with a lot—a postmodern approach, for lack of a better term. My first real artistic hero was Quentin Tarantino, and I still think about him all the time. I went to see him read from his book. I had him sign a copy of his book. I don’t even necessarily feel that it’s about his films as much as the way he thinks—his sort of collecting mentality, his remixing mentality.

Forgive me if I’m wrong, but age-wise, I think technically you’re millennial. Is this a dis-identification with millennial culture in some way?

It’s so hard to talk about these things broadly, but there’s certain aspects of the millennial thing that I disidentify with, as hard as it is to believe. I think our generation—the millennials—are inclined towards self-absorption, whether we want to fess up to that or not. We’re inclined towards histrionic online behavior and narcissism at a degree to which I’m very uncomfortable. And I can already see the younger generation reacting accordingly and being very careful to not overexpose themselves online. And this is where the Gen Z generation reminds me more of Gen X, right? Because those are the two generations that understand on some level, like, “Just be cool.”

“Be cool” means you don’t have to be involved in every single conversation. You don’t have to have an opinion on every single [thing]. You don’t have to have a personal angle. You don’t have to have this sort of cultural competitiveness at all stages of existence, and you can just be cool. There’s this wallflower attitude that I think I see a little bit in Gen Z coming up, and I admire that, because that’s always sort of how I functioned. It may be a residual byproduct of a sort of Gen X attitude that I’m inclined to have.

If tranquility is what you seek, or some level of remove from this kind of cybernetic reality—or heavily industrialized reality— that you’re running from, then you truly do need to be uncomfortable with that quiet. Part of the quiet is the uncomfort of it. It is scary. It is the owl in ‘Twin Peaks.’

Yeah, I’ve been remembering sometimes when interacting with people from Gen Z that they are more often than not the children of Gen Xers, and it’s interesting to see certain attitudinal similarities there.

100 percent. I thought about that the other day, because I have a 16-year-old nephew and a 13-year-old niece, and every time I visit my sister, I’m trying to understand what’s going through their heads. But they just don’t have the same kind of addiction to social media, the way that our generation seems to have a little bit of an issue—like a dependency issue. I’m just happy to see that that’s not necessarily getting worse and worse.

It’s a shame how things panned out for the millennials. And it’s a curio for me—all the stuff that gets discussed, like burnout and how the recession affected us, how the Obama stuff played out on a sort of generational level. And I do have some compassion for millennials. I don’t think they’re all just pathologically afflicted with narcissism, and I don’t doubt that we’ve been affected negatively by the post-9/11 landscape that we’ve been becoming adults during. But yeah, I think that we’re into leasing, we’re into renting. We’re into paying people to bring us things.

Low interest rate culture.

Yes. It’s like all these things that we just think are normal...

…Were the product of the venture capital environment or something. Like the free money mentality.

Yeah, exactly. And to go back to what we were talking about before we started recording—that’s upstate New York. Upstate New York is the vista; it’s the horizon of that attitude in my opinion.

Can you explain that thought a bit more?

I just see a lot of people basically renting an idea of an existence outside the city, while still wanting all the accouterments and convenience of the city right there. And so, to me, it’s no different than boomers—the infancy of the suburbs for the boomers or something. Like, the way that my sister’s generation made fun of boomers and Levittown—say, somebody like Tim Burton, who mocks the suburbs in a certain kind of way, right? I would imagine that if I directed a film, I would attempt to do a kind of Edward Scissorhands, but Upstate.

Again, I hate to drive a stake through the heart of our generation, because I get it: at some point, you’re like, “I want my creature comforts, life has been hell, I just want it to be quieter.” But you can’t just conquest into some place; they’re doing some sort of weird millennial settler culture up there. To me, it’s a very shallow understanding of a place. And, weirdly, ironically, you are completely in denial about the realities of rural life and the generations of people who have been there with their own challenges.

The difference with the boomers is that millennials—we can just go on Instagram and look up all these different fantasy places or existences. And then you can go on Airbnb and pull up an image of a place and be like, “I want that fantasy.” And then you can just go there.

You’re right. But it’s all just a massive distraction from the project of actually being… you know, if tranquility is what you seek, or some level of remove from this kind of cybernetic reality—or heavily industrialized reality—that you’re running from, then you truly do need to be uncomfortable with that quiet. Part of the quiet is the uncomfort of it. It is scary. It is the owl in Twin Peaks.

But I just like having some limits. I don’t want antiquing. I don’t want coffee shops. I don’t want somebody else’s idea of a good time from Brooklyn. I just don’t care. I want solitude, and focus, and on some level the uncomfort of what happens to me as an artist when I undergo some kind of solipsistic project that is this phase in my life. And I think I’m benefiting greatly from it.

You said you’ve been focusing a lot on adulting. What is a typical day for you these days?

It’s a lot of learning how to do things that I thought I knew how to do, but I don’t. Like, I’m raking a lot, and there’s a method to the madness, because you don’t want to have to do it all the time. I’m bringing stuff to the dump a lot.

The dump! Yes.

I’m learning how to do little repairs, so I don’t have to rely on other people and freak out when things break down. I’m just learning about things that I probably just took for granted for many years—things that would just sort of magically work or not work or get replaced or whatever, or you’d have to wait for a landlord for months to do something. But it’s nice to have the freedom to actually invest yourself in the things around you. And so I try to just learn about the place I’m spending so much time in. It’s treating me well, and I want to treat it well, and then we have this kind of symbiotic thing going. But it does involve [watching] a lot of weird YouTube [videos].

Yeah, you can’t just call up Seamless. You can’t just go to the bodega at two in the morning to get something. You have to go into town when the store is open.

Yeah, you can’t just wing it. I’m not a good cook, and I’m not an extravagant eater, so I can actually have kind of a cool lifestyle where my meals are kind of minimalist. I don’t want a lot of things. I don’t like clutter. I don’t like buying stuff. So I am learning how to do this kind of well-planned, well-tasked existence. But yeah, I have my little market that I like to go to once a week, and I can pretty much subsist off of good produce, crackers, tinned fish… that’s pretty much all I need.

Tinned fish?

There’s a bit of that, definitely. But I’m staying away from the mercury, so I gotta avoid certain things. And lupins—that’s another enemy of middle age, for a guy. So you can’t just be going crazy on the tinned fish all the time. But there are some hacks.

Let’s talk a little bit about Western Mass, where we met. You brought your old professor, Christoph Cox, on Cool Protrusions, the radio show you did for NTS. And I’m just curious, because I know that your new album [was inspired by your young-adult years]: What about that place helped shape your thinking about the music you wanted to create?

That’s a really good question. [Western Mass] played in so much to some of the thinking about this record. Nobody has really identified the record as a kind of deconstructed post-rock record, which I think it is—but you know, OPN style. But I think what happened to me in Western Mass was… What years were you there?

2003 to 2007.

Okay, yeah, so you’re exactly the next generation of Western Mass after me.

Yeah. And I think Jack [Callahan] from Nina identifies as being from the class after that…

Yeah, we’re all together in the good fight. But I was up there pretty early compared to you guys. And so what I saw, and what you guys probably experienced waves of afterwards, was this kind of crunchy vibe that was getting enmeshed with free improvisation, aleatory music. And Wire  magazine called it New Weird America—maybe David Keenan came up with it, he was really good at naming stuff. Son of Earth - Flesh on Bone was one of these bands that I was always kind of aware of at the time. Sunburned Hand of the Man. Jackie-O Motherfucker. Magik Markers, to some degree. No Neck Blues Band.

They all had their own thing going on. But I saw these bands, and I had, like, an allergic reaction to it, basically. I didn’t feel like it was something I could involve myself with, because I had grown up in this super crunchy suburb in New England where the idea of an alternative lifestyle was essentially wearing a Phish shirt and dreading your hair as a white person. I was mortified at that—and then I went to Western Mass, and I saw just kind of a pretentious version of it.

Well, it was another “escape to the country” moment. It was more Gen X people, but they were LARPing a hippie, back-to-the-land kind of thing. They were trying to look like they were on the cover of an old 70s psych record. I thought it was cool when I was young.

Yeah. The icon of that era in the Pioneer Valley was a really interesting guy named Matt Krefting. He had the look. He was different, though; he had something else that kinda augmented that whole thing. There were people in that scene I admired and thought were absolutely excellent. But like any kind of scene, it has dynamics, and it has rules, and either you’re in or you’re out based on a certain kind vibe you’re giving off, what your music taste is like.

We were in this world of cliques, of pretentiousness, of musos. I was starting to do some kind of experimental synth stuff that didn’t really fit in, and they didn’t really have me at the shows; they didn’t really want me there. That was okay, because I had barely any idea of what was going on; I was just trying to experiment with music, but I didn’t feel bonded to that community whatsoever.

It wasn’t until I left and got to Boston, which had more of an eclectic approach to experimental music, [that I felt a bit more of a community]. You would see the same kids at the punk shows as you would at the Major Stars show—they were a psych band in Boston. And you would see a bunch of people you saw at the Major Stars show at the Howard Stelzer, Greg Kelley, experimental tape music show. And if you wanted to educate yourself, there were a number of record stores with really interesting, friendly people. I loved going to Weirdo Records. But before Weirdo, you know, it was meeting Keith Fullerton Whitman and him being really inviting and open and sharing a lot of information. I felt it was a nerdier and more exciting place to be.

I still love Boston for that reason—the people that are there doing some kind of alternative lifestyle, they stick out like a sore thumb. There was just such a fun kind of collapse of genre in this extremely localized scene, and a collapse of backgrounds. It bolstered my sense of style, and it made me want to go to New York and be in that mode times ten.

If the record is a reflection on your young-adult years, which physical place do you associate that with?

I associate it with the internal, private world of the dormitories at Hampshire. I had a computer that was networked. We were sharing a lot of music, me and my friends—and we would go into each other’s weird little cubes and smoke dope and listen to each other’s music collections. And jam, too.

Was this the dorm at Hampshire that’s supposed to be like the “city,” like an apartment building? Or the dorm that was supposed to feel like you were living in the country, or the suburbs? Remember that?

[Laughs]. It really goes with our conversation. I only lived in the city dorms. They were called Prescott, but I didn’t make it over to Prescott until halfway through my second year. But the long and short of it is, I had my dumb little mind blown by some of the coolest people I ever met. My first year in college I had a friend named Pepe Lopez who was obsessed with electro and Legowelt. I always find it weird when people [use “electro” as a shorthand for] electronic music or something, but this was literally electro—extremely funky, cybernetic music from the late 70s, 80s. And then I had Christoph, my professor who burned me Basinski’s Disintegration Loops on CDR; he gave me a bunch of lovely records, and one thing led to another, and suddenly I was listening to a ton of glitch—like Mille Plateaux, Editions Mego, which was a label I would eventually put a record on.

I was absorbing a ton of nerdy, hardcore, really out-there electronic music—all while soaking in the eclecticism of everybody’s networked shared folders of crazy shit. And I started generating a picture of alternative music to date; like, there was a little map that I was creating in my mind [starting at] the height of the phonograph recording in the 1960s, when people were doing the most experimental shit possible, experimenting with drugs, and being creative. I just had this really fun ride through a particular history of alternative music because of the people I was around, because of my professor, and I was really lucky to have that experience. It changed my life.

When I started working on this record, I was thinking a lot about these computer speakers that I had seen at a thrift store that were taped together. And I was like, man, I never had computer speakers, but I wanted them so badly, because I was constantly listening to music on shitty headphones. (My records are imaged in a really particular way for headphones because of that circumstance.) [But] I was staring at the computer speakers and I was like, These things are archetypally linked to the origin of my excitement about electronic music, even though I didn’t have them there.

I just started meditating on that time, and I thought, Wouldn’t it be fun to make some sort of psychobiographical [study] of who is this person that had his little antennae up and was soaking up all this stuff that felt so new? And how sad is it to get far away from that—naturally in life, you just do. You learn how things work, you become better at things from a craftsmanship perspective, [but] you lose that initial confusion and mystery. And I thought it would be fun to make a record that was a reflection of the person I was when I had a kind of openness and naivete about that stuff.

I felt like it would be cool to sit around and listen to those records from the early 00s and see how they were gonna affect my writing. I stuck with it, and it felt really good. But at some point in the writing process, I stopped caring about having some kind of highfalutin concept for the record. The germ of the whole thing was that, but it’s not an overly defined relationship, the way that Garden of Delete had a really defined relationship to the concept.

I’m not crazy about [post-rock]. I don’t like it that much. But I like what it stands for quite a bit.

So it wasn’t Western Mass itself. It was this experience of getting all this music and then being connected to servers…

Yeah, it’s being networked. The internal network on-campus—well, the iTunes network on campus. And the discovery of Soulseek was instrumental in me developing a kind of musical language.

It sounds like you were listening to deeper cuts than post-rock, though. How do you define post-rock? What do you find amusing or interesting about it?

So if anyone’s curious, if this question is interesting to them and they’re reading this, they should listen to the post-rock episode of Cool Protrusions. Because Christoph Cox waxes poetically about post-rock in a really, really interesting way. But I would say, for me… I’m not crazy about [post-rock]. I don’t like it that much. But I like what it stands for quite a bit.

Who is a quintessential post-rock artist for you?

Stereolab is some kind of inflection point of post-rock, whether they agree or not. But basically, the greater thing we’re talking about is just rock history, and how in electronic music, and hip-hop, and rock, and all these genres, what happens after a period of time is people get bored, and they start doing this weird thing, which is trying to reduce things to smaller and smaller parts. It’s like this weird instinct to break things down and define yourself by some small difference, and that’s where you get all these subgenres.

Post-rock is this field of musical inquiry around these small differences around rock. So the way that punk rock was like, “Hey, the music isn’t gonna make any sense, I don’t want to be good at it,” post rock says, “The music is going to make a lot of sense, but there’s not going to be any kind of machismo to it.” You could argue that punk rock had a lot of machismo, that it was a completely valid extension of classic rock—maybe even a true return to 50s rock. But post rock is different. It’s a nerdy move. And it takes a stance that cock-rock, butt-rock, all these sort of overly masculinized versions of rock are invalid. That rock doesn’t need to have a vocalist—it can be a [purely] instrumental form of music. It can be extremely rhythmic, without being narrative. It can borrow from tons and tons of different influences, particularly jazz.

And orchestral. It can be bombastic sometimes.

Yeah, totally. Then you get into that whole thing: crescendocore, the Mogwais, the Comets on Fires. But post rock has all these interesting formal principles. So if my record has any post-rock-ness to it, it’s that I’m doing certain kinds of moves at times that idiomatically sound post-rock to me, like crescendoing really hard. Or there’s a part at the end of “Nightmare Paint” that’s literally just me as every single member of a Chicago post rock band—I’m playing the drums, I’m playing the bass, I’m playing the synth. And I had to manifest this shit because I wanted to have that little fantasy come true.

I see that. Do you think post-rock was a reaction to the Woodstock 99, rap rock, alternative radio thing?

I think so. But post-rock goes back pretty far. By the time post rock is being discussed the way that Simon Reynolds started discussing it as such, you’re well into the 90s, and you can see it as a reaction—a geeky reaction. Weezer is a geeky reaction. Nirvana is a geeky reaction even though they’re very, very cool. But I do think that Woodstock 99 coming at the end of the decade—it’s this huge buildup of the long tail of 90s culture. There’s fucking garbage everywhere, literally in the culture and on the grounds of the festival, right? Because what was considered popular culture in the 90s was so crass. It was Beavis and Butthead. It was Howard Stern. It was dirty jokes and being an asshole. And post-rock is saying, No, no, no, like, actually shyness, and like concern, and nerdiness and….

Being intellectual. Like, it’s cool to be intellectual, a little bit.

Yeah. We’re not here to have a lead singer who’s cool. We’re just a band, you know, for people that are all equally participating in creating this weird rhythmic turbine. [Laughs] Like obviously, I’m subtweeting Tortoise, but it means really well. And that’s the really nice thing about it: They felt that they were trying to open themselves and their audiences up to a history of really interesting music via their own specific interests—the way that I think a lot of Gen X artists did. You know, “Here’s my library of influences. Let me let you in on it.”

I was actually talking about this earlier—how for me it was Radiohead. I’d be reading an interview with Thom Yorke where he talks about, like, “The thing I’m really listening to these days is Can,” and then I would go out and buy the record.

Yeah, it was fun. And then you have the opposite, super hipster, cosmopolitan reaction from James Murphy, right? Who literally writes a song about like, “Oh, my God, all my trade secrets are out there now because of Soulseek or whatever.” He literally has a fucking song about how he’s worried that he’s going to be washed up, because everyone knows all these records that he’s been so proud to have been gatekeeping for so long. So, you know, it’s not all rosy that way—being pretentious and gatekeepy about this stuff was exactly the vibe that I was running away from Western Mass.

I want to talk about another David Keenan piece—his big article about hypnagogic pop, which discusses your work alongside artists like James Ferraro and Emeralds and Zola Jesus. It was 2009. It’s 2023 now. And it’s interesting to look back on it because the framing of the article was that these artists were responding to the big digital turn of the last decade precisely by looking back to older musical technologies. There was something almost like Luddite about it, though I guess you could say the same thing about New Weird America. Do you resonate with that at all?

Yeah. It was cottagecore. It was the patient zero for that kind of thing, where you have this kind of regressive, comfy mentality. “I wish it was 1967, is what I really want, so I’m just gonna make my whole personality around that.” I mean, I always thought it was really weird—like, pathologically weird behavior. Like, what the fuck?

Do you agree that you were a part of this moment? Or did you feel that it was more nuanced for you?

I mean, yeah, of course. It was nuanced on some level, but at the same time, I knew what I liked. Everyone always forgets that the Beatles were hauntological. They were obsessed with the 40s and the 50s. But everyone kind of started zeroing in on how cool the sort of forgotten long tail part of the 1980s was when I had already been fucking with that for a while. So I greatly benefited from that, because my knives were already sharp. It was too cringe to like Italo disco in 2003 or 2002. But by 09, it’s on, because people are DJing this shit at Enid’s and stuff.

I have a lot of Gen Z fans, and when I get lucky enough to meet them and hear about their lives, they always ask me, like, “What am I supposed to do?” The one thing I’ll say about Gen Z is they’re always switching it up. Which is cool, but for me, the formula that really works is, “Just stick with one fucking thing for so long that everyone else, they’re chasing some trend, and you’re developing and honing your skill in this one department.” I [never] limited my interests to the music of the 80s, but I was dedicated to it. I felt that it was a renaissance period for the instrument I was obsessed with, and I wanted to hear every single color of the rainbow from the great origin story of the consumer-level synth.

Was there an anxiety about technology that you felt at all?

Definitely, for me, by 2013 I’m becoming aware of how volatile and insane everyone’s behavior on the internet is. And so that becomes a topic of my music for the next four or five years—arguably it still is. I think the recent couple of records have stepped away from that. But everything R Plus 7 through Age Of is 100 percent me trying to document everyone’s afflictions and addictions online.

Garden of Delete, in a way, was about the music of alienated rural America taking on a cybernetic form. And that’s exactly what played out in the culture. With Age Of, instead of just looking at America, I was kind of looking at Big History and saying like, “Oh, maybe it’s always been fucked up, on this, like, Hobbesian level.” I was very much looking around and seeing a kind of a collapse. And I was trying to give a musical form to what I was witnessing—you know, people’s anxieties and stuff. But doing that for four albums, I wanted to take a look at myself instead of the outside world. And so I put two records out that were more personal that way.

Is there any new music coming out from the younger generation that you really relate to?

Yes. You know what’s good? When you hear something and you’re like, I don’t know what the fuck is going on. And that’s kind of how I feel about Nourished By Time. It’s one guy. And there’s kind of like an Arthur Russell streak to it, I guess. At times, it can be pretty techno-y; at other times, it’s just like a very, very free and loose kind of r&b. Sometimes it’s both at once. To me, he’s just really free, and that’s been kind of inspiring.

I must admit, I played this show in Texas recently with Yeule. And I have to sit with it a bit longer, but there was a particular piece of music she played that was insane and made me think of, like, Hole. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I also was so visually stimulated by the entire band. They had this crazy checkered goth thing going on, and I was just so tripped out by how ornate and sophisticated their style of dress was. What else do I like? Do you know all the fake music on Spotify that’s AI generated? I end up favoriting, like, so many of them.


Yes, and I will listen to them. Like, they’ll come on, and I’ll just completely…  They’re making me smile as we speak.

Well, you did use some AI on your album, right? I’m very steeped in the discourse around why these tools have the potential to be harmful for musicians from an economic perspective. But I’m curious: What do you find interesting about them aesthetically?

I’ve been a longtime advocate of failure pop, so for me, it’s like, “Oh, here’s this failure pop machine.” But I tire of it so easily when I’m not deploying it as part of a larger canvas. As a main course, it’s just shockingly bad. But that’s the pleasure of it, too: When I favorite those things on Spotify, I feel like I’m being attacked. How did my algorithm get so demented that I ended up here? And then, “What if I just kind of forced myself to stay?” It’s masochistic, but I also just find them to be funny pieces of music. They’re just deeply broken and stupid. The stupidity of it is exciting for me, artistically.

What are you favoriting exactly? Just someone making an AI track and putting it up?

I can’t even tell you. I don’t know if someone’s sitting there and fucking making this shit for Spotify, or if they’re experimenting with AI-generated music and populating the app with it to see if any of it has some sort of effect or impact on people. It’s like a psyop.

The album art is always really random and generic, like stock images. And the titles and band names are fake, and the music sounds like horrible techno—that’s what it is, most of the time. That’s the only music that they can actually try to pull a fast one with, because there’s no voice. And it sounds like fucking Lorenzo Senni half the time. It sounds like abstract trance music, or like extremely broken techno music, and I find it to be so funny.

Because the people who make the AI tools or make pronouncements about it, They say, “Oh, everyone’s gonna be able to make a really great track.”

No they won’t.

The argument is that AI is democratizing music—that everyone can make good music without any training, without any practice. And then it’s funny that you’re finding amusement in the result, which is the opposite of that, basically.

You can democratize the tool set. There was an unbelievably high learning curve for electronic music in the mid part of the century. You had to be a fucking scientist. And then, by the 80s, you have consumer-level synthesizers that are hitting the market made by Casio and other companies, and that’s changing how people access those types of timbres and sounds.

So look: that will change, I totally agree. But do we look back on the 1980s and say that because of this incredible sort of democratic force of the market, that generated a swathe of geniuses that otherwise [would not have existed?] No! Depeche Mode had some kind of genius to them, period. Their libido took them in the direction of the synthesizer, but they’re the thing we love, not the instrument. The machine doth not make the band.

I feel like if you have everything at your disposal, you actually end up doing nothing. Like, the object petit a of watching Netflix is the choosing of the thing, and not the watching. The object a of Spotify is collecting titles and then forgetting about them.

Looking back, do you ever feel like our generation lived through a unique and sort of exceptional moment in the music industry—you know, where people were able to make crazy-sounding music and actually earn a living doing it?

I do think about it a lot. You know the cliché thing in an action movie where you’re on the run from some bad thing, and you slide underneath this closing gate at the last second? That’s what I think our generation was lucky enough to do. At least on the indie level, there was an efficacy to the way that information was disseminated about bands and artists. And I felt like we lived through a really good period for music journalism, which I personally was invested in—there was a time where I thought that’s what I would end up doing.

Oh really?

I was writing reviews of shows in the Weekly Dig in Boston. I reviewed a Boredoms show. I’ve written about the band Candlebox. I’ve written about a few things. But anyway, I appreciated what good music writing meant, for me in my life. And I’m definitely seeing a sea change there. I think there’s just a general distractedness to the culture-making apparatus. People get over stuff really fast; they expect everything right away. And that combination is very, very daunting for young musicians, who I would imagine spend a lot of time trying to figure out how they’re going to stand out, what they’re going to do. And then you deploy this thing out there, and you’re lucky if you get 48 hours of retention on something.

Where we were lucky is that, when you have these trusted sources that provide some sort of place to hang out and talk about what’s happening and what we like, what we don’t like—some sort of community around talking about music and experiencing music together—then you listen deeper and you cherish those things, perhaps sometimes more than you would otherwise. People’s energy rubs off on each other, and when they care, you start caring.

And I guess it’s pretty cool how decentralized everything is, and how you can just kind of get in the mix right away. But I would struggle in that kind of environment, because I always… I wanted to make music, but I wanted to do this other step of expressing something about music verbally, and being in conversation with other people that felt the same way. So that seemingly becomes more of a private kind of thing that people do in smaller groups, but that’s not really good for building a career. You need to reach some boiling point and you need the excitement of real human beings. So I do feel like we benefited from maybe the final period of some of the more traditional models for communicating in and around art—and I’m grateful for that, personally.

When I used to work at The FADER in the 10s, we had this joke that the person who’s on the cover of The FADER now… someone they mentioned, someone who appeared in that story, is going to be on the cover two cycles from now or something. And there’s a form of nepotism to that, but it was a culture of people putting each other on. And it was more based on the trust in the one person, and how that helps the next person, helps the next person, helps the next person… which is very different from trying to growth-hack on attention economy platforms.

Yeah, it was more just like, “All right, we’re moving this way together.” It seems like that was pretty healthy for a while. For all the shit that I’ll talk about getting older and losing that kind of naive spirit, it was really nice to have some sort of infrastructure. But there is some sense that these things could return in some new form as younger people get more serious about their professional relationship to art. It must. It has to. I think it’s just human instinct. But at the moment, it does feel kind of weird.

The vision that the technologists had of how everything would be infinitely accessible, and we would have this democratization of fame and all that—it didn’t really pan out.

It’s just so odd, to me—even just financially. There was this thing called an MP3, and that MP3 was somehow priced at $1. Maybe a record has 13 songs, and you’re paying 13 bucks per record or something like that. But you could decide that you wanted only a couple of those songs—you wanted the ones you liked—but you still paid a buck. And you were showing some level of care for the thing you were into by paying that buck.

I really do think that it’s batshit crazy that labels lend out their entire roster’s worth of catalog, cut a deal with the streamers, and then have a completely unrelated royalty framework for the artists. It’s nuts! It doesn’t make sense. It’s like, they have their own thing going, and then we have our own thing going with the guys they’re in bed with. And it’s pretty tragic for young acts that don’t already have the momentum of a catalog or whatever. It’s really, really, really tragic. It’s really crazy to me, what happened with this sort of push towards thinking about things as catalogs, as vast libraries. And just spiritually, putting the economics of it aside—do you remember how the millennials had this, like, slow movement? Slow this, slow that…

Oh yeah, I do.

Maybe we should have a little return to that—we should champion that somehow. Because I feel like if you have everything at your disposal, you actually end up doing nothing. Like, the object petit a of watching Netflix is the choosing of the thing, and not the watching. The object a of Spotify is collecting titles and then forgetting about them, and maybe, someday, it randomly comes up.

But the fun of music to me is the addiction level of a record, or a song. But specifically, for me, a record—the durability and the lasting power and the addiction level. When you go back, and you fucking go back, and you go back, and you go back. To get into that trance state is really, really fun. In an anodyne, anesthetized, careless music economy where you have [everything at] your disposal, you probably are not prone to having that kind of relationship with music. I could not survive that. I don’t like it. It stresses me out.

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