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The Radiohead Story
Radiohead are that rare
thing: a band that has maintained is artistic freedom
over the years, despite being signed to a major label -
and a band that has constantly developed. This week's
article looks at the story of how Radiohead got to where
they are today, and hopefully you can take a few tips so
that you can make it the Radiohead way.
The band formed back in
1986, when they were at school. Originally called "On a
Friday", they played their first gig in 1986, at the
famous Jericho's Tavern in Oxford. However, when the
members left for university, "On a Friday" was put to
one side, and it wasn't until 1991 that they reformed,
and started playing again in Oxford.
At the time, Oxford was becoming a haven for independent
musicians. Ride were gaining a national reputation, and
by 1992 were playing all the major venues across the
country, and Supergrass had just formed, playing the
local venues, on their way to international stardom.
Radiohead benefited from being part of the local scene,
and the early 90s were ideal for indie bands.
It was then that they became Radiohead, and they started
releasing demos, including the magnificently-titled
"Magic Hedgehog Demo". These self-funded demos were sent
out to local venues, industry figures, record companies,
etc., and started the band's road to success. Gradually,
through hard work and persistence, they became very well
known on the local scene - appearing on the front cover
of a local indie music magazine, and playing regularly
Record companies began to
take interest as the buzz grew around Radiohead, and it
was EMI who were first to pounce, taking the band on
their Parlophone subsidiary. In 1992, they released
their first single, "Creep", which barely registered on
the British charts, but gained them significant interest
with the music press. The indie music magazine NME, for
example, made it their single of the week, and with the
backing of the independent music press, the band had
They released their first
album, "Pablo Honey", in the middle of a period that saw
British indie music enter a darker phase. The album was
given a lukewarm reception by the music press, who had
so appreciated Creep. However, the public took to the
album very quickly, and its success meant that the band
soon went to tour the States. The pressure on the band
meant that they almost split up, and as the album became
more and more successful, the band felt that they needed
more artistic freedom.
And this is where "The
Bends" comes into it. Generally recognised by music
critics around the world as one of, if not the best
album of the 1990s, "The Bends" was the product of a
band's desire to go it alone and to produce something
extraordinary. Hiring a new producer who allowed them to
do what they wanted, they released an EP (My Iron Lung)
before the release of their second album, and went on to
provide more musical depth than in their previous album.
Riding on the success that
was Britpop, "The Bends" was a huge commercial success,
far more edgy than the pop-rock of "Pablo Honey". Lead
singer Thom Yorke had become an idol for many indie
music fans across the world, and Jonny Greenwood's
unique guitar style had already become iconic. From
their origins as a young unsigned band in Oxford, they
had gone international, gaining success in the States,
which not many British bands manage.
Although Britpop inevitably
helped the band succeed, it also cut short the longevity
of other bands. Those that managed to change and adapt
when Britpop became passť remained successful, but there
were plenty of bands who couldn't change, and soon fell
by the wayside.
Radiohead's attitude after
"The Bends" was to explore new avenues, and the release
of "OK Computer" saw the band in a more sombre mood.
Many saw it as a natural progression, and saw it as a
much better album than "The Bends", while others felt
alienated by the band's progression from the pop-rock of
their first album.
The band's recording techniques also changed. They
decided to keep away from traditional recording studios,
after several bad experiences, and actually recorded
most of the songs for "OK Computer" at Jane Seymour's
15th century mansion near Bath! By moulding their
settings to fit the characteristics of the band, they
immediately improved their recording experience.
Blending rock sounds with more ambient, technical
sounds, the album shot to number one across the world.
With Britpop dead, it was a
few years before Radiohead surfaced again. Having
detached themselves from the scene, they now became a
"word of mouth" band with an enormous fanbase across the
world. Music events were organised through the internet,
with very little advertising required, and tickets were
near impossible to come by. The band seemed reclusive,
and were close to splitting up, with Thom York on the
verge of depression.
The release of "Kid A" in
2000 shocked both fans and industry alike. Stripping
down the guitars, the album was at first difficult
listening - electronic, cryptic, synthesised, and with
no stand-out tracks at all. It almost seemed as if the
band were sticking two fingers up at the world, but it
just went to show how brave Radiohead were in their
musical direction. After several listens, Radiohead fans
grew to love the album, and equally so with the quick
follow-up "Amnesiac". The albums blended electronica
with jazz and ambient music, but maintained Radiohead's
lyrical hooks and character.
Again, the albums were given
very little advance warning, and very little
advertising. It was another case of the word-of-mouth
buzz that Radiohead had been building up over the years,
and with such a loyal fanbase, Radiohead are the perfect
example of a band that has done all the hard work, sent
off the demos, and gone from the top of the local scene
to the top of the international scene.
After the release of "Hail
to the Thief", which was hailed as a return to the
guitar-based indie of "OK Computer", the band is today
recording again, and Thom Yorke is about to release his
own solo album, and live performances of new Radiohead
songs show them back in "The Bends" territory.
So, did Radiohead "make it"
differently from any other band? Well, probably not, if
you look at it - they started off by gigging locally,
making their reputation in their hometown of Oxford -
and you could say that they were helped by two factors -
the rise of Oxford bands in the early 90s, and the rise
of Britpop bands in the mid 90s. After gaining their
reputation, they kept up the hard work, and the most
important thing is that they never stood still: no
Radiohead album is like the previous one, making them
one of the most innovative and interesting bands around.
The internet fanbase is another interesting factor, as
Radiohead were probably the first band to really use the
internet for their promotion, as opposed to traditional
If you want to make it the
Radiohead way, then, get yourself known locally, and
most important: never stand still.
Blue Beam Radio to read
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