Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Music and Art of Radiohead

Radiohead are an English rock band from Abingdon, Oxfordshire, formed in 1985. The band consists of Thom Yorke (vocals, guitar, piano, beats), Jonny Greenwood (guitars, keyboards, other instruments), Ed O'Brien (guitars, backing vocals), Colin Greenwood (bass, synthesizers) and Phil Selway (drums, percussion).

Radiohead released their first single, "Creep", in 1992. The song was initially unsuccessful, but it became a worldwide hit several months after the release of their debut album, Pablo Honey (1993). Radiohead's popularity rose in the United Kingdom with the release of their second album, The Bends (1995). Radiohead's third album, OK Computer (1997), propelled them to greater international fame. Featuring an expansive sound and themes of modern alienation, OK Computer has often been acclaimed as a landmark record of the 1990s.

Kid A (2000) and Amnesiac (2001) marked an evolution in Radiohead's musical style, as the group incorporated experimental electronic music, Krautrock, post-punk and jazz influences. Hail to the Thief (2003), a mix of guitar-driven rock, electronics and lyrics inspired by war, was the band's final album for their major record label, EMI. The band's first six albums, released via EMI, had sold more than twenty-five million copies by 2007.Radiohead independently released their seventh album, In Rainbows (2007), originally as a digital download for which customers could set their own price, and later in physical form to critical and chart success.

Radiohead's work has appeared in a large number of listener polls and critics' lists. In 2005, Radiohead were ranked number 73 in Rolling Stone's list of "The Greatest Artists of All Time". While the band's earlier albums were influential on British rock and pop music,musicians in a wide variety of genres have been influenced by their later work.

The musicians who form Radiohead met while attending Abingdon School, a boys-only public school in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. Thom Yorke and Colin Greenwood were in the same year, Ed O'Brien and Phil Selway were one year older and Jonny Greenwood two years younger than his brother, Colin. In 1985 they formed the band "On a Friday", the name referring to the band's usual rehearsal day in the school's music room.The group played their first gig in late 1986 at Oxford's Jericho Tavern; Jonny Greenwood originally joined as a harmonica and then keyboard player, but he soon became the lead guitarist.

Although Yorke, O'Brien, Selway, and Colin Greenwood had left Abingdon by 1987 to attend university, the band continued to rehearse often on weekends and holidays. In 1991, when all the members except Jonny had completed their university degrees, On a Friday regrouped, began to record demos such as Manic Hedgehog, and performed live gigs around Oxford. Oxfordshire and the Thames Valley had an active indie scene in the late 1980s, but it centred around shoegazing bands such as Ride and Slowdive; On a Friday were never seen as fitting this trend, commenting that they had missed it by the time they returned from university.

Nevertheless, as On a Friday's number of live performances increased, record labels and producers became interested. Chris Hufford, Slowdive's producer and the co-owner of Oxford's Courtyard Studios, attended an early On a Friday concert at the Jericho Tavern. Impressed by the band, he and his partner Bryce Edge produced a demo tape and became On a Friday's managers; they remain the band's managers to this day. Following a chance meeting between Colin Greenwood and EMI representative Keith Wozencroft at the record shop where Greenwood worked, the band signed a six-album recording contract with the label in late 1991. At the request of EMI, the band changed their name to Radiohead, inspired by the title of a song on Talking Heads' True Stories album.

Style and songwriting

Among Radiohead members' earliest influences were Scott Walker, and Elvis Costello; post-punk acts such as Joy Division, Magazine, R.E.M., Pixies, The Smiths and Sonic Youth.By the mid-1990s, Radiohead began to mention an interest in electronic music, especially that of DJ Shadow, which the band cited as an influence on parts of OK Computer.Other influences on the album were Miles Davis and Ennio Morricone, along with 1960s rock groups, such as The Beatles and The Beach Boys.Jonny Greenwood also cited composer Krzysztof Penderecki as an inspiration on the sound of OK Computer.The electronic style of Kid A and Amnesiac was the result of Thom Yorke's admiration for glitch, ambient techno and IDM as exemplified by Warp Records artists such as Autechre and Aphex Twin. The jazz of Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis, and 1970s Krautrock bands such as Can and Neu!, were other major influences during this period.Jonny Greenwood's interest in 20th century classical music also had a role, as the influence of both Penderecki and composer Olivier Messiaen was apparent; for several songs on OK Computer and later albums, Greenwood has played the Ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument popularised by Messiaen. While working on Hail to the Thief, Radiohead put renewed emphasis on guitar rock.The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and particularly Neil Young were reported sources of inspiration to the band during this period. Since beginning to record In Rainbows, Radiohead members have mentioned a variety of rock, electronic, hip hop and experimental musicians as influences, including Björk, Liars, Modeselektor and Spank Rock.

Since their formation Radiohead have lyrically been spearheaded by Yorke, but musically, songwriting is a collaborative effort, and it has been noted in interviews that all the band members have roles in the process.As a result, all the band's songs are officially credited to "Radiohead". The Kid A/Amnesiac sessions brought about a change in Radiohead's musical style, and an even more radical change in the band's working method.Since the band's shift from standard rock music instrumentation toward an emphasis on electronic sound, band members have had greater flexibility and now regularly switch instruments depending on the particular song requirements. On Kid A and Amnesiac, Yorke played keyboard and bass, while Jonny Greenwood often played Ondes Martenot rather than guitar, bassist Colin Greenwood worked on sampling, and O'Brien and Selway branched out to drum machines and digital manipulations, also finding ways to incorporate their primary instruments, guitar and percussion, respectively, into the new sound.The relaxed 2003 recording sessions for Hail to the Thief led to a different dynamic in Radiohead, with Yorke admitting in interviews that "[his] power within the band was absolutely unbalanced and [he] would subvert everybody else's power at all costs. But ... it's actually a lot more healthy now, democracy wise, than it used to be."


The band maintains a close relationship with their producer Nigel Godrich, as well as with graphic artist Stanley Donwood. Godrich made his name with Radiohead, working with the band since The Bends, and as producer since OK Computer.He has, at times, been dubbed the "sixth member" of the band in an allusion to George Martin being called the "Fifth Beatle".Donwood, another longtime associate of the band, has produced all of Radiohead's album covers and visual artwork since 1994.Together with Yorke, Donwood won a Grammy in 2002 for a special edition of Amnesiac packaged as a library book. Other collaborators include Dilly Gent, and Peter Clements. Gent has been responsible for commissioning all Radiohead music videos since OK Computer, working with the band to find a director suitable for each project.The band's live technician, Peter Clements, or "Plank", has worked with the band since before The Bends, setting up their instruments for both studio recordings and live performances.


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