When Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor tapped Daniel Lopatin, an experimental sound collagist known for his project Oneohtrix Point Never's ambient dronescapes and mind-bendingly abstract visuals, to replace the now-defunct Death Grips as his tour opener, Lopatin had decided not to play amphitheaters anymore. "Ninety percent of the time an opener is last-minute," he tells Billboard over the phone. "It's just like, 'Here's this money, figure it out.' [Headliners] are sleeping on the bus and waking up at the venue but you're driving all night. It's a weird scenario."
But Reznor, who featured OPN's subdued remix of "Find My Way" on last year's deluxe edition of "Hesitation Marks," made sure Lopatin was set up to feel welcome on the tour. "Trent's a music-first kind of guy," he says. "It's not just business as usual for him."
Nor is it for Lopatin. At the time of Reznor's call, he was planning a departure from last year's pop-informed Warp Records debut "R Plus Seven," a mélange of New Age-y synth lines, ornate melodies, and repurposed '80s computer sounds that was in itself a shift away from his hypnotic earlier material.
"I was listening to guitar music for the first time in years," he says. "A lot of cybermetal, like Fear Factory. I dug up my chord book for guitars, and I was learning chords again. I looked up every single picture of whammy bars I could find. Then Trent was like, 'Yo, you want to do this tour?' and I was like, 'This is the most perfect extension of stuff I was already really into.'"
The uncanny timing wasn't the only coincidence on this tour, which for Lopatin starts July 19 at Las Vegas' Planet Hollywood and wraps Aug. 1 at New York's Nikon at Jones Beach. At one point in his career as an experimental musician, Lopatin had been asked to play keyboards on tour with "beastly, virtuosic" Death Grips drummer Zach Hill's previous band. "I had a job or something," he says, laughing. "It was so lame and I totally regret not doing it!"
Rather than relying on his relatively more accessible pseudo-songs to reach a broader audience, Lopatin is planning a half hour of so-called "cyberdrone" -- similar to his first OPN shows in Brooklyn basements and far different from his last stadium tour opening for Sigur Ros, where he performed concealed behind a sheet -- to mesmerize thousands of NIN fans (or at least do something "that won't feel like being naked in front of a classroom"). "It's more about power," he says. "Sculpting the energy rather than sculpting the music. It's kind of like a mental exercise for me."
Accompanying the viscerally affecting noise will be OPN's signature tripped-out, Dali-esque, old-school CGI visuals, designed by frequent collaborator Nate Boyce. Lopatin doesn't know what they'll entail yet but envisions "metal, mashed up, kind of swimming around" and "slimescapes."
"I'm pretty pumped on it," he says. "What's the worst case scenario? People are going to be like, 'Whoa, what was that?'"