It was a loaded night: two titans of the popular experimental, hagiographies in development. Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never, returned to Vancouver on the heel of two 2014 performances, each of which earned some criticism for a soporific presence. James Ferraro, whose artistry could be unfairly categorized as kitsch, may have been another lame-duck. It is a credit to each that night remained faithful to conceptual premises while substantiating the vitality of Lopatin and Ferraro as live performers.
For my money, Skid Row, fusing Ferraro’s longtime fascination with the consumer culture of late capitalism and his adopted home, Los Angeles, comes off a bit as if he’s just now caught onto Baudrillard’s America. Whether Ferraro is being knowing, or a bit straightforward, is unclear. Being straightforward, Ferraro’s poetic voice is, for an ostensible prankster, potent: dispassionate and deadened precisely to his ends — worthwhile live.
The set, riffing on palettes from Skid Row, had the character of acerbic noise more than beatmaking, though swatches of song would gather form. Ferraro put out ambiguity, face hidden behind a cowboy hat and dense lighting; and the sound was equally ambiguous, often appealing primarily to the fetish of Ferraro’s tonal collage: car crashes and robot slogans. However, when the smoke cleared, and Ferraro began to mutter lyrics into his microphone, the sense of purpose became stronger. The set dressing was vital. And at its best, Ferraro’s set had the impression of off-kilter Americana: truck-stop karaoke and outsider truths.
Speaking of Baudrillard, simulation, a concept which has wormed its way throughout Lopatin’s referential compositions, operates in a gleeful mode with new album Garden of Delete. Borrowing from time spent touring with Nine Inch Nails, Lopatin “came back haunted,” not sharing Trent Reznor’s talent for melody and pop hooks, but simulating the affect: Garden of Delete rarefies the beauty and strain belonging to that curious period of Suburban male adolescence wherein one typically gets into NIN, nü metal, etc.
The influence reorganized Lopatin’s live conceits. With that NIN influence, Lopatin is more rockist than ever. Joined onstage by Boyce on guitar controller, the duo was set between two screens and beaming white light, authoritarian in staging. This was pronounced with Lopatin’s vocal contributions, pushed through a modulator which transformed every sound broadcast into an alarming shrillness. The opening assault of “I Bite Through It” with yips and shrieks, Lopatin’s insistent repetition of “I,” approached power electronics hysteria and prog grandiloquence. For the remainder of the night, Lopatin’s voice had this hyper-childish tenor that, between his handbanging and head-rolling, rendered the “thank yous” comic and the banter unintelligible.
This voice spoke for the now-characteristic Oneohtrix paroxysm of junk and sublimity, accompanied by visuals of VHS, Boyce’s artwork, a panoply of nostalgia and ‘junk’ collaged and montaged. A breathtaking rendition of “Ezra” utilized the clarity of Venue’s speakers to push through the vocoder motif, a beautiful melody distinct amid an arpeggiated bullet hell. However, between intensity and the emergent sublime, Lopatin’s ambient heritage and compositional noodling, rewarding on album, dulled the momentum of a night which needed more flashing lights, more noise and fury: this Lopatin needs a mosh-pit, not a monday night.
An anti-intellectual request? At its best, Oneohtrix Point Never exceeded the Garden of Delete theoretical exercise and produced a somatic experience worthy of its inspirators. Skittering lights ran as the stage vacated, cueing the audience to cheer for an encore.
Lopatin returned, rock star at last, all black everything. But as simulation, Oneohtrix’s new persona may be more real than the authentic thing. “I’m just a copy of a copy of a copy.” That’s how the NIN song goes, right?