20 things Radiohead have done since OK Computer
As part of 6 Music Celebrates Radiohead, we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of the group's game-changing album, OK Computer.
On Thursday 22 June, a day before the band headline Glastonbury's Pyramid Stage, OK Computer will be 6 Music's Classic Album of the Day, with tracks featured on shows throughout the day. Steve Lamacq will be revisiting his 1997 Radio 1 Evening Session interview with all five members of the band, and Radcliffe and Maconie are speaking to unofficial 6th member Nigel Godrich who produced OK Computer.
But what have the band been up to since OK Computer was released? We take a look at 20 of the innovative and intriguing things Radiohead have done since the release of OK Computer.
In June 1997, just a few weeks after OK Computer came out, Radiohead headlined Glastonbury's Pyramid Stage for the first time. The festival is famed for its mud, but that year there was so much bad weather that Worthy Farm became a veritable quagmire.
The rain fell and the sound system failed during Radiohead's set, so the band couldn't actually hear what they were doing. But many of those who were there that night (and plenty of those who weren't) still talk about it as one of the greatest gigs of all time.
In 2003 Radiohead hit the Pyramid Stage for another headline performance, while some lucky festival goers caught their secret set at the festival in 2011.
This year they're set to headline the festival on Friday night. Whether you’re there in the flesh, listening on 6 Music, or watching on TV or on the BBC Glastonbury website, it’s sure to be one of the most talked-about sets of the weekend.
2. A ground-breaking website
In 1997 the ever-innovative Radiohead became one of the first music acts in the world to have a website.
To celebrate the OK Computer reissue OKNOTOK 1997-2017, the band recently restored their website to its 1997 glory - sort of.
The site now features a sparse, inter-looping series of pages filled with what is supposedly the discarded ephemera from the broken 1990s hard drives of "Donwood and Tchock" (aka Radiohead's long term artistic partner Stanley Donwood and Thom Yorke.)
3. Kid A
The 1990s defining OK Computer may have tested boundaries, but its 2000 follow up Kid A took off in radical new directions. Guitars were largely ditched, in favour of experimental meditations in electronica, krautrock, free jazz, avant-garde classical and juddering rhythms.
There was no single, no music video and almost no traditional press or promotion, with Radiohead becoming one of the first acts to instead use the web as a direct promotional tool.
Radiohead took the first of many big leaps in the art of music release by coming out with the iBlip, a proto-app allowing fans to preorder and stream Kid A.
None of that stopped the record shooting straight to the top of the UK charts, and becoming the band’s first No.1 album in the US.
4. Stanley Donwood's innovative art
Radiohead have worked with graphic artist Stanley Donwood on all their record sleeves and artwork, as has Thom Yorke on his solo albums (including The Eraser, pictured above). Like the rest of the gang, he’s no snooze when it comes to creative innovation.
For 2001 album Amnesiac, recorded during the same sessions as Kid A, Stanley and Thom created a special limited edition of the album which transformed the CD case into a lost library book. The design won them a Grammy Award for Best Recording Package.
5. Jonny Greenwood's solo work and soundtracks
Radiohead’s lead guitarist, chief arranger and keyboardist Jonny Greenwood is also a talented multi-instrumentalist and a highly respected composer.
He first composed for an orchestra during the recording of Kid A, and subsequent Radiohead albums have gone onto feature his string and brass arrangements – particularly last year’s A Moon Shaped Pool. In 2004, Jonny was crowned composer-in-residence for the BBC Concert Orchestra.
But away from Radiohead it’s for his film soundtracks which Jonny is best known. His first was for 2003’s Bodysong, a movie about human life and the human condition. He has worked with director Paul Thomas Anderson several times, including on 2007’s much applauded soundtrack for There Will Be Blood.
Perhaps impressed by Jonny's antics, Thom has taken his first steps in the world of film scoring too. He told 6 Music's Matt Everitt about looking to Vangelis for inspiration.
6. The world's biggest unsigned band
In 2003 Radiohead released Hail To The Thief, a record mixing alt rock with electronics and criticising George Bush and the War on Terror. It marked the last album to be released with their record company, with Thom first mentioning they would be departing EMI in a 6 Music interview with Tom Robinson.
Questioning whether bands actually needed a record company in the evolving music industry landscape, Radiohead would go on to experiment with bold new ways to get music to their fans. In 2006 The New York Times called them "by far the world's most popular unsigned band."
7. The Eraser
In 2006 Thom Yorke released his first solo album, The Eraser, working with Radiohead's long term producer Nigel Godrich as well as Stanley Donwood. The electronic leaning album expressed his political fears and feelings, and was nominated for the Mercury Prize.
In 2014 he released his second solo record, Tomorrow's Modern Boxes, via BitTorrent.
8. Atoms For Peace
In 2009 Thom pulled together a supergroup for the live performance of his debut solo material. Nigel Godrich, the Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, Beck and R.E.M. drummer Joey Waronker and Forro In the Dark’s percussionist Mauro Refosco went on tour with Thom under the name Atoms for Peace.
The collective would go on to release Amok, an album of original material, in 2013.
9. In Rainbows
In October 2007 Radiohead released their seventh album, In Rainbows, as a pay-what-you-like download, becoming the first major act to ever do such a thing.
The pay-what-you-like opportunity ended in December, and the album was given a physical release on XL Recordings. Now eligible for the charts of the day, it went straight to No.1.
By autumn the next year, In Rainbows had sold over three million copies across the world.
Among the album’s tracks was House of Cards, which featured a ground-breaking video where no cameras or lights were used. Instead, 3D plotting technologies collected information about the shapes and relative distances of objects. The video was created entirely with visualizations of that data.
10. A carbon neutral light forest
Radiohead have been long term anti climate change activists, and have expressed worries about the environmental impact of touring.
During their 2008 tour for In Rainbows they worked with environmental specialists to try to ensure they stayed as carbon neutral as possible, and successfully encouraged their fans to travel to gigs on public transport, car shares or on foot.
Most memorably they used next-level technology to create a stunning, 100% LED light forest, which their lighting designer Andi Watson said, “took the ecology concept to the nth degree.”
11. W.A.S.T.E. Central
In 2008 Radiohead launched W.A.S.T.E. Central, a social networking site where their fans can share photos and news, watch videos and connect. The site is still up and thriving today.
12. Harry Patch (In Memory Of) and more idiosyncratic single releases
In 2009 Radiohead released Harry Patch (In Memory Of), a string and vocal arranged tribute to the last surviving British soldier to have fought in World War I, who had died the month before. Proceeds were donated to the British Legion.
Another new song, These Are My Twisted Words, was leaked via torrent shortly afterwards, before being released as a free download on the Radiohead website. By this point it was clear that the band felt free to release music as and when they chose, without pointing towards an album or following any of the normal music industry structures.
13. Phil Selway goes his own way
Radiohead drummer Philip Selway released his first solo album, Familial, in 2010, and follow up Weatherhouse in 2014. He has also provided backing vocals, along with a spot of guitar, for charity music project 7 Worlds Collide (alongside bandmate Ed O'Brien.)
You might just have spotted Phil – alongside his Radiohead bandmate Jonny, as well as Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker – cameoing as magical band The Weird Sisters in the movie Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
14. The King of Limbs
In 2011, Radiohead released their eighth album The King of Limbs, which featured a move into sampling, looping and complex rhythms – and was rumoured to have been recorded at Drew Barrymore’s house. A special collector’s ‘newspaper edition’ of the album followed.
The black and white video for single Lotus Flower, featuring Thom dancing in a groovy but erratic manner, became a viral internet hit.
By 2014, Radiohead still had more innovative technological tricks up their sleeves. They launched Polyfauna, an exploratory audiovisual app based on images and audio from 2011's The King of Limbs album, in cooperation with creative studio Universal Everything.
16. Colin Greenwood's first solo steps
Bassist Colin Greenwood (brother to Jonny) is yet to release a solo album, but in 2013 he made his first ever solo performance at Paris Fashion week, playing in a giant warehouse while models walked down a runway.
Colin joined Steve Lamacq during Indie Venues Week 2017 to talk about the importance of small venues to the band.
‘Without those places to support us we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere’ - Colin Greenwood on how indie venues helped Radiohead
Colin explains how small venues enabled the band to learn the craft of playing live.
While we’ve never quite been able to envisage Thom Yorke and 007 sitting down for a martini, the idea of a Radiohead penned James Bond theme was a thrilling prospect.
While Radiohead did write a song for 2015's Spectre, starring Daniel Craig, it was ultimately rejected in favour of Sam Smith’s Writing’s On The Wall.
Spectre was eventually released as a free download.
18. A Moon Shaped Pool
In spring 2016, loyal Radiohead fans began to receive mysterious embossed postcards with song lyrics on, before the band replaced everything in their online presence with plank images. Something was most definitely afoot, and that something was A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead’s ninth album and their sixth to top the charts.
It became the fifth Radiohead album to be nominated for the Mercury Prize, making them the most shortlisted act in the award's history. The album's release was promoted with a special “Live From a Moon Shaped Pool" event, held at many record shops across the world and incorporating competitions, special events and other activities. 6 Music's Tom Robinson also hosted a live listening party on the station.
19. Ed O'Brien's Brazil inspired solo music
Radiohead's guitarist Ed O’Brien is set to become the band's fourth member to go it alone.
He has has announced an album, inspired by a year he spent in the Brazilian countryside with his family, due for release later this year.
Breaking the news with BBC 6 Music’s Matt Everitt, he said: “I said to the guys (...), me and my wife are gonna go and live in Brazil for a year. I don’t wanna put the kibosh on anything but this is something we have to do. Don’t feel you can’t make a record. Make a record without me, if I can come in later on, whatever … I’d had so many adventures with this band; I wanted to have an adventure with my family.”
Ed found musical inspiration in the processions running down the Sambadrome in Rio. “It was the greatest thing I’ve ever, ever, ever experienced in terms of music,” he told Matt. “Everyone sings. There must be 4,000 people in each samba school who parade down there, and the combination of writing music and that feeling of being there and being like, ‘Oh my god, music can be like this.’ It was so profound."
20. OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 - 2017
Marking the 20th anniversary of OK Computer this year, Radiohead have announced the release of OK COMPUTER OKNOTOK 1997-2000. The special edition includes the original album, eight B-sides and three previously unreleased studio recordings I Promise, Lift and Man of War.
I Promise had its premiere in an exclusive interview with 6 Music’s Matt Everitt, in which Ed O'Brien said that the band hand thought that Lift would become too big a single to release at the time. “It was a big, anthemic song,” he said. “If that song had been on that album, it would have taken us to a different place, and we’d have probably sold a lot more records, if we’d done it right, and everyone was saying this.”