On Tuesday morning while grazing social media, I stumbled across an article detailing the apparent release of nearly 18 hours of old Radiohead demos, rumored to have be recorded during the band’s 1997 album OK Computer’s studio sessions. If you know me, or know me well, you’ll get that this is a very big deal. It was reported that someone had stolen Thom Yorke’s minidiscs containing the recordings, and threatened to leak them online unless a $150,000 ransom was paid. You can’t make this shit up. So as a sort of “fuck you” to the perpetrator, the band decided to release it on their own. Via the music website Bandcamp, where you are now able to purchase the demos in their entirety, Thom Yorke issued the following statement:
"we've been hacked
my archived mini discs from 1995-1998(?)
it's not v interesting
there's a lot of it
if you want it, you can buy the whole lot here
18 minidisks for £18
the proceeds will go to Extinction Rebellion
as it's out there
it may as well be out there
until we all get bored
and move on
To any diehard Radiohead fan, this was huge. To be gifted a never before heard glimpse into the band’s early recordings, which spawned not only one of the most important albums of the past 30 years, but an intimate view of a group of pals simply fucking around, is truly special. Granted, these were not moments the band initially intended to share with the world. The fact that they released it themselves somewhat removed the sting of prying eyes. We weren’t perverts ogling stolen celebrity nudes. We’re simply fans hurling at the treat the band was kind enough to wave in front of our noses. And I am here for it.
Listening to these tracks, labeled only by number, it becomes clear just how remarkable this band is. Even in their most stripped down, they exude an energy that’s downright intoxicating. They’re a group of musicians who have always tested themselves, exploring new sounds, techniques, even studio recording time, which they exhibited with 2003’s Hail To The Thief, recording most of the album in a mere two weeks. Over a decades long career, Radiohead have practically created their own genre of music, which I’ve always believed is what allows them to dip their toes in other genres while still very much sounding like them.
It’s easy to get lost in their progression. From the guitar crunching ballad of 1993’s Creep, a song Thom Yorke for years refused to play live (I finally heard it during their 2004 Coachella set) to the electronic meddling of 2000’s stunning Kid A, their career has travelled to places no one could have expected. No matter a person’s take on their music, denying the significance of their existence is impossible. No two albums of theirs are alike. Love them or hate them, they’re a wholly unique entity. And while this collection of demos may illustrate a band’s growing prowess, it also displays all the typical mistakes artists are destined, if not required to make in order to create art. Radiohead is not perfect, nor have they ever been. They’re just fearless, endlessly curious, and at times utterly fucking bonkers.
Hearing rough cuts of songs such as Karma Police, Paranoid Android and Nude (included on 2007’s In Rainbows) takes me back to the moment I first heard OK Computer. Of course, these renditions are far less polished than the studio versions to which I was first introduced, but in a strange way, it made me feel like I was discovering them all over again. And in today’s black hole of gross over-consumption, that’s a very special thing. At the time of this writing, having barely started disc/track 9, I can’t help but feel like I’m listening to a band sharing with its fans where they are in the album’s progress. I’m romanticizing it, yes. But isn’t that what music deserves?
Studio demos aren’t a new thing for a band to release. Bands have been including them on LPs for decades as bonus tracks. But something like this, with weird starts and stops, near comical approaches and brief discussions of band members between takes, invite the listener to the “cool kids” party for which you pretend to have been invited to from the beginning. There’s even a shared doc to which fans have contributed with the timestamps of each disc to make searching far more easy, even with the element of surprise being kind of the point.
Either way, we’re here. Radiohead fans, unite! This is all for us. Enjoy it.