IN THIS PHOTO: Radiohead captured in 1997/PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Clinch
Radiohead’s Victory Against Hackers Raises Some Interesting Questions and Possibilities
THERE are not many musical events…
IMAGE CREDIT: Radiohead
that turn the head and get you standing to attention! The normal daily news consists of album releases and the odd bit of gossip but, when Radiohead announced they had a lot of material stolen from their OK Computer sessions, it shocked people. Not only did hackers take the material but they held the band to ransom! If you did not hear about it, The Guardian have provided the details:
“Radiohead have released a vast collection of unreleased tracks made during the sessions for 1997 album OK Computer, after a MiniDisc archive owned by frontman Thom Yorke was hacked last week by an unnamed person, who reportedly asked for a $150,000 ransom to return the recordings.
The band have now made the 18 MiniDisc recordings, most of them around an hour in length, available on Bandcamp for £18. Proceeds will go to climate activists Extinction Rebellion.
The band’s guitarist Jonny Greenwood confirmed the hack, and said: “Instead of complaining – much – or ignoring it, we’re releasing all 18 hours on Bandcamp in aid of Extinction Rebellion. Just for the next 18 days. So for £18 you can find out if we should have paid that ransom. Never intended for public consumption (though some clips did reach the cassette in the OK Computer reissue) it’s only tangentially interesting. And very, very long. Not a phone download.”
Thom Yorke wrote of the 1.8 gigabyte collection: “It’s not v interesting. There’s a lot of it … as it’s out there it may as well be out there until we all get bored and move on.”
The hack was first discussed on a Radiohead page on website Reddit a week ago, where a user described being offered the files for sale. “We originally considered pooling our money together, as our enthusiasm over the rare opportunity to share material of such high historical interest for a band we love peaked, but were concerned about the ethics of the situation,” they wrote. “According to [the leaker], they got the whole 18 hours of material by trading some other rare/unreleased material for it”.
It is egregious and downright outrageous for anyone to hold a band to ransom like this. The fact the hackers stole some hardware makes the story both shocking and oddly old-fashioned. Now, we assume – if there is hacking to be done – people will have data stolen online but, in a strange way, the fact music hardware was involved makes it kind of odd. It is no surprise but I love the fact Radiohead would not be held and cornered. A lot of artists might pay the money or not know what to do but Radiohead, knowing the full spread of material is not all 100% gold, relented and just put the music out there. I do not think we realise how much material is recorded during an album’s session. We assume there is one or two outtakes and B-sides but, when it came to 1997’s OK Computer, there is this wealth of other material.
Radiohead tried longer versions of some songs; acoustic renditions of others and there are these rare cuts that only saw the light of day a few years ago. In 2017, Radiohead put out OKNOTOK - that celebrated twenty years of OK Computer but allowed fans the chance to discover songs that had been, until then, in the vaults. Now, with everything on Bandcamp, it is wonderful to see people react and get behind the band. Not only have the hackers been foiled but, actually, there are some realty great tracks in the sprawl. I would urge people to spend the money on Bandcamp (I have paid over twenty pounds for the material so, in case anyone is wondering whether I am embedding tracks without paying, I have already made the purchase) – the link is in the quoted feature above – and dive into OK Computer’s heart and bones. If you want to separate the gold from the bronze, Pitchfork selected a few songs that are worth serious investigation:
“Lift (Alternate Version)” [MD125; starts at 9:46]
The fabled “Lift”—the song Radiohead chose not to release as the first single from OK Computer because it would have made them “too big,” the song with a story longer than this leak—was finally heard in studio-recorded form on 2017’s 20th-anniversary reissue, OKNOTOK. This alternate version is even better. It’s not mixed very carefully, but it sounds scrappy and untamed, like the band is pushing it into the red unselfconsciously. It lives up to the myth. –Jeremy D. Larson
“Hurts to Walk” [MD112; 52:23]
This previously unreleased track is pure yearbook-photo material, equal parts embarrassingly awkward and sweet. A simple, near-Britpop strummer, it sounds very nearly like Del Amitri’s inescapable 1995 hit “Roll to Me,” slowed down to half-tempo. Polished up in a studio, it could have soundtracked a late-’90s teen comedy, and you wouldn’t have blinked. –JG
“Airbag (Mellow Version)” [MD111; 38:00]
This version removes the big old Tommy Iommi-style riff as well as the DJ Shadow-influenced stuttering beat from the center of OK Computer’s monolithic opener, and lo and behold, it becomes airy, sweet, nearly weightless—something an alternate-universe Radiohead could have performed on another MTV Spring Break. –JG”.
Instead of using a difficult situation to make money for themselves, Radiohead are donating all of the money to Extinction Rebellion. There are a few things that come out of this spectacle/controversy that have made me think and question. The first concerns protecting and making sure artists are not put in this situation again. I guess, if one steals a laptop or external hard drives then there is little way of getting them back. Back in the 1990s, one did not quite have the security we have now but, even in 2019, are artists vulnerable to hackers? The short answer would be ‘yes’, but I think there should be ways of ensuring recording material is safe and, if it falls into the wrong hands, artists are not blackmailed.
IN THIS PHOTO: Thom Yorke at Glasgow Barrowlands in November 1995/PHOTO CREDIT: Murdo Macleod/The Guardian
Radiohead are a rare case but what if a big band/artist steps into the studio to record an album and, from the sessions, material falls into the wrong hands and then is used to blackmail? There are few cases of this happening…but I do feel like Radiohead were put in an impossible situation. If they paid the blackmailers then that would have been awful and the material would, I guess, still have had to be put out due to curiosity and pressure. I guess there was no real intent to release what they did before this all happened but, actually, it does give fans a chance to discover something that would have passed them by ordinarily. I do wonder how many other artists have this trove of material from album sessions that are yet to see the light of day. Many argue that, as Radiohead have sort of said themselves, the quality is not always there so there are few gems in the trove. That said, I am interested in the big albums and hold them dear. What if there are rarities and alternate versions from artists such as Oasis, Paul Simon and Madonna that would provide fascinating insight? Maybe a Radiohead-like banquet might only allure the die-hard fans but you never know what you’d find when all that material is out there. Some might say (this approach) is over-exposure but the songs have been recorded and it seems senseless keeping them secret.
COVER CREDIT: Stanley Donwood
Even if an artist is ultimately unhappy with various versions of a song, fans might feel differently. I have checked out some of the songs on the Radiohead Bandcamp link and, yeah, there are some really good tracks. I like these special edition releases that have studio conversation and outtakes because they give fans a deeper insight into an alum’s creation and, I think, that means the material hits harder and stays with you longer. The as-God-intended album is wonderful - but I am always curious what was recorded at the same time and what was left on the cutting room floor. The Beatles put out fiftieth anniversary editions of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beatles in 2017 and 2018 respectively - and it gave people an opportunity to hear these cool outtakes and embryonic versions. Maybe only the proper-big artists will get this sort of attention and would one realistically want a smaller artist to put everything out into the world? I think there is a lot to be said for giving people extra material and stuff that might otherwise have been scrapped. There are going to be people that are asking whether other classic Radiohead albums – such as 2000’s Kid A and 2007’s In Rainbows – are going to get the OK Computer treatment. I would happily pay money to hear all the off-shots and scraps from the Kid A sessions because, as I said, I think it does provide context and paints a more variegated picture.
IN THIS PHOTO: Colin and Johnny Greenwood in 1997/PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Clinch
Another thing that impressed me about Radiohead’s rebellion is the fact that, ironically, the money raised from this released material is going to Extinction Rebellion. I think it is funny that the words ‘extinction’ and ‘rebellion’ could be applied to the blackmail situation and the rebellious Radiohead are giving their earnings to ecological rebels. One might feel a tad uneasy if Radiohead had put the music out and all the money went to them but, rather than do that, they are giving it to an organisation that are doing great work. Radiohead have always been innovative regarding their work and promotions. We all remember their pay-what-you-like strategy for In Rainbows: fans could pay what they wanted for the record and had no complaints regarding the high prices of C.D.s and vinyl. Now, for under twenty quid, people can get hours of unheard material and can make their own playlists from the songs. One way of justifying artists releasing albums of rare material might be to tie it in with charity. I genuinely believe fans would buy this rare material because it does give you something unexpected and wonderful. Not all the songs are going to be great but the process of listening to everything and deciding what is great and what is not has its own pleasures. I am writing a feature about Prince tomorrow because, three years after his death, more and more material is coming out.
PHOTO CREDIT: @iamjiroe/Unsplash
He recorded so much in his life and there is so much music we have not heard yet. One has to believe other established artists have these vaults and it would be great to see them explored. We all have a list of artists we adore and would like to hear more from. From the classic Hip-Hop albums of the late-‘80s to the classic Beatles albums, it is exciting to think what might be out there we have not yet heard. I do think Radiohead’s charity angle is great and they did something genuinely classy. Not only does it mean fans are doing something great but awareness is raised and there is that ethical dynamic. I love the sound of that and think it should be a way forward for bands. There is a lot of chatter regarding Radiohead’s latest move and how significant the archives are; whether what we have is a work of genius or mere curiosity. I have listened to a lot of the material and I love all the in-studio interactions and the false-starts. It is a window into, debatably, one of the best albums of the 1990s. I think Radiohead’s hacked MiniDisc opus expands OK Computer and provides new context and nuance. You already know the studio album but, with what is out now, you get more background and reveal regarding how these near-perfect songs ended up how they did.
The Guardian have written a short review and recommended a couple of other tracks to seek out – just in case you needed more convincing!
“Yorke and Greenwood are absolutely wrong though. This is the holy grail – or perhaps Ark of the Covenant – for hardcore Radiohead disciples, and even has merit for less nerdish fans. It reveals the inner workings of what is regarded by many as the greatest album of the 1990s, showing how they walked alongside and then turned away from the brash Britpop that surrounded them. Here are some of the songs to look out for.
Unknown title (57:01 on MD113)
A peculiar jam that – truth be told – needs a lot more time in the oven. But it’s notable for the bright, crude synths, recalling Vangelis’s synthetic brass lines for the Blade Runner soundtrack, and there’s something seductive about its constant loping gait: it hints at the more purely electronic experiments that eventually ended up at Idioteque. This track comes off the back of what fans have called Thom’s Screechy Song, a pleasingly rough, ill-disciplined and noisy unreleased track with shades of Sonic Youth.
I Need a Job (22:10 on MD117)
There’s shades of 90s alt-rockers like Sebadoh to this choppy, strikingly straightforward tune – the kind of thing a conservative subset of Radiohead fans wish the band had continued to make instead of broadening out into OK Computer and Kid A. And to be fair, Yorke’s high, girlish voice does pair strongly with rather more knuckle-drugging guitars. Similar but not so good is MD115’s When I Get Bored Give Me One of Those, which, could easily have ended up as a bad Oasis imitation – but it equally could have been a National Anthem-sized experimental rocker”.
Not only have Radiohead bested the hackers but they have caused a stir! I love this new wave of OK Computer material but it makes me wonder how much more Radiohead have in the cupboard regarding all their other landmark records. Not that we all demand every album be stripped and available on Bandcamp but one wonders what an expanded Kid A or Amnesiac might contain. Radiohead have also raised awareness regarding privacy, protection and security when it comes to files and music – are artists safe and, if they are in a similar predicament, do they succumb to a ransom demand or release the material? Radiohead pulled a huge power-move and stymied the hackers but I do feel concerned about modern artists and whether, in an age where hacking is known and we are all vulnerable, more music will be kidnapped. Also, there will be calls and queries aimed at artists as to whether they will release rare material from their big albums; maybe not to the same extent as Radiohead but something along these lines. Maybe, with a charity tie-in, they could get people interested and it would start a new revolution. Others fear that giving too much away is excessive and unnecessary. I do not think that is the case and I for one welcome what Radiohead have put out there. Get onto Bandcamp and get their new crop of material because there is only sixteen days or so to go. The band might be a little jokey regarding the consistency and quality of all they have put out but, as an accompaniment and addition to one of the finest albums of my generation, their salvaged and hacked nuggets of sonic gold are…
IN THIS PHOTO: Radiohead circa 1997/PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Clinch
WORTH every penny!