Senior Spotlight – O’Neal Johnson

Covering class of 2023 Senior DIM student O’Neal Johnson, his music, and what he has brought to the school.


Reuben Danyali, Editor

No, his last name is not O’Neal, that’s his first name. Don’t worry. I thought that too when I first met him. Everything about O’Neal is like that; uncommon, surprising, but utterly authentic. Most people who know O’Neal by not much more than his face and a cursory placement beside him in class would likely describe him as being reserved or shy, and maybe a little quirky. But what underlies his reserved mien is a deep passion for his own vision of music, an expressive willingness to help his peers through sharing that passion, and a constant slight tinge of sarcasm that plays off his quirkiness in a typically atypical way.

As described by Mr. Bassett, O’Neal’s music feels like you are taking part in a “relentless, bombastic, 8-bit boss fight.” He is known for a characteristic style which combines traditional electronic compositional tactics in different stylistic combinations, to a constantly driving effect. “The variety of styles he has [worked in] have really grown [since I first met him],” said fellow DIM senior Reed Yeager. “More EDM, Swing, Rock, always with the foundation of 8-bit music. That foundation really built up his sonic profile… And he’s really good at taking feedback too; You’ll tell him something and then next time you hear a piece you’ll find that the thing you mentioned is now in there.” “His production quality has skyrocketed,” commented Mr. Bassett again, with Yeager agreeing “A lot of his current stuff sounds professional, like he [couldn’t have written] it in class.”

Always in tandem with this skill is O’Neal’s generally quiet demeanor. Even older friends of his commented on how he was “Always quiet sitting in the sax section in sixth grade band.” But after every time someone mentioned O’Neal being quiet, they would follow by saying, “but always very helpful,” or “seriously dedicated to his music,” or the like. “He’s the type of dude that will pick up an instrument and play it incredibly, but will then say ‘I don’t really know what I’m doing’,” said senior Sofia Paffenback , “He always makes you go ‘wait…’ [and do a double take]. He’s very silly, he’ll make you die of laughter, but also he produces some very serious [work].”

If I may relate my own experience here, I was once having some technical difficulties before a show for a digital music performance I was going to be presenting. Even in a cranky state, having worked on debugging for upwards of a couple hours at that point, O’Neal readily stepped up to help after casually sauntering on to stage, and very calmly offered some deep technical advice before joking about some stupid way I could try and get it to work as well. O’Neal is always like that: Always analytical, but never in a way that isn’t helpful or at least a little bit joking. It is a real pleasure to work with him, even as much as he can be a bit reserved about it.