September 28th, 2011
No one could have guessed in 1985 when Radiohead formed that they would find themselves at the vanguard of cutting-edge, bass-heavy electronic music. They enjoyed moderate success off the back of their first single ‘Creep’ from their 1993 debut album Pablo Honey. Two years later they released The Bends but it wasn’t until 1997 when the band released OK Computer that Radiohead became a household name around the globe. The record’s sweeping, cinematic vibe and lyrical musings on modern alienation were enriched by their first subtle flirtations with electronic music. The album – now often considered among the best of the decade – topped charts globally and spawned a massive two-year tour.
Upon their return home the band quarrelled over where to take their music next. DJ Shadow’s debut album Endtroducing….. had been in high rotation during the OK Computer recording sessions and Thom Yorke jumped at the chance to write and record a song with him that ended up on the 1998 album Psyence Fiction by UNKLE. Yorke had been a DJ and even dabbled in techno production when he was at university and at this point was almost exclusively listening to electronic music. When Radiohead re-assembled in early 1999 to record a new album, Yorke pushed for a more rhythmic, electronic sound with treated vocals, synths and drum machines. Their next two albums Kid A and Amnesiac were comprised of tracks from these sessions and the radical change in sonic direction caught many off-guard. For every critic and fan that hailed the new material as genius, there were many others left cold by the lack of guitars and traditional rock elements.
In 2006, Thom Yorke unveiled his solo album The Eraser – a pure electronica album. The uniquely raw and layered textures of the record were well received, nominated for both a Grammy and the Mercury Prize. The Eraser was released in the middle of a groundswell in the UK underground scene. The first wave of dubstep and bass music had blown up and none of this was lost on the Radiohead vocalist. An early champion of ethereal and elusive producer Burial, Yorke decided to commission a remix project for the tracks from his solo album. Across three 12s, bass producers such as The Bug, Various Production, Surgeon, Modeselektor, Four Tet and Burial put their spin on Yorke’s tracks.
Thus began Thom Yorke’s tight relationship with the bass music scene. Among much collaboration, he leant vocals to the 2007 track ‘The White Flash’ by Modeselektor, sang on ‘…And The World Laughs With You’ from Flying Lotus’ 2010 LP Cosmogramma, and earlier this year released a 12 inch record with Four Tet and Burial. Yorke has often confessed his love in interviews of the Los Angeles-centred beat scene – home to Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder collective and beat night Low End Theory, where Yorke has played a couple of surprise DJ sets.
The influence of all this can be felt somewhat in Radiohead’s latest album The King Of Limbs – an experiment in aesthetics and rhythm. Like The Eraser, Thom Yorke commissioned remixes of the new Radiohead album – the fruits of which will be released next month on TKOL RMX 1234567. Mark Pritchard (aka Harmonic 313), Illum Sphere, Jamie XX, SBTRKT and Caribou have turned in remixes alongside Yorke favourites Modeselektor and Four Tet. Many of these have been aired on Mary Anne Hobbs’ radio show on XFM. Hobbs has long been a fan of Radiohead and Thom Yorke – even more so when his path and that of the bass music underground started going the same way. Last week she featured a brand new DJ mix from Yorke on her show. The mix featured some of the TKOL remixes as well as new bits from Yorke himself and can be streamed on Mixcloud.