Why is this interesting? - The Data Dump Edition

On Radiohead, data dumps, and fragments of creativity

Colin here. Radiohead got hacked. Someone was able to get their hands on OK Computer era minidiscs, containing rough recordings, rehearsals, and some songs like “Lift” and “Nude” that didn’t make the album but had cult followings and were released later. According to Johnny Greenwood:

We got hacked last week – someone stole Thom’s minidisk archive from around the time of OK Computer, and reportedly demanded $150,000 on threat of releasing it. So instead of complaining – much – or ignoring it, we’re releasing all 18 hours on Bandcamp in aid of Extinction Rebellion. Just for the next 18 days. So for £18 you can find out if we should have paid that ransom.

Never intended for public consumption (though some clips did reach the cassette in the OK Computer reissue) it’s only tangentially interesting. And very, very long. Not a phone download. Rainy out, isn’t it though?

First, you have to respect the cultural jujitsu that happened here. Instead of being held hostage, the band pivoted, generated a ton of earned media, and is sending all proceeds to Extinction Rebellion.

Why is this interesting?

I’ve been listening to the recordings all morning, and it's really wonderful to see how a little riff, loop, or fragment grew up into a full fledged thing that is now immortalized on a classic album. The idea of seeing the entire creative process behind something you know very well is always refreshing. It is why we like seeing the sketchbook from artists, or peeking at the schematics or plans behind an iconic piece of design. In the case of Radiohead, it is also astonishing to see just how much work went into the construction and sculpting of their sound at the time. OK Computer is now lauded and sounds so confident and self-assured in retrospect, but these archives are the sounds of a band finding their way. As one of the commenters gushes on the Radiohead Bandcamp page: “Polished mixes are juxtaposed against takes recorded in bathrooms; landmark tracks against distorted noise. A unique and delightful insight into a band in the middle of writing their masterwork.”

Also, there’s just such a joy in seeing the data dumps and archival material that the Internet makes possible. Tapes that would have sat in a dusty drawer are now regularly uploaded for rabid fans to sift through and consume. It’s not always good, per se. But that is kind of the point. It's a pleasure to have the choice to be able to examine the fragments.

For example, Aphex Twin did a major archival dump on Soundcloud in 2015 under the name user18081971. A passionate fan collected them all here for your perusal. According to the Guardian’s review of the flood of tracks, it wasn’t just about what was released, it was the manner in which they were: “This is him at his best, playing with the medium and his audience just as he used to do with more primitive models of branding, marketing, myth-building and distribution.”

For the non-fans, it may be just gigabytes floating in the ether. But for the people that have invested time and energy getting inside the published music, it provides a more complete understanding of the band’s creative process, however fragile, forgotten, and unfinished it may be.

Photo of the Day:

In a throwback to the 80s, some graffiti artists were somehow able to cover a full Q train on Sunday. I’ve been a big graffiti fan for a long time and one of the things I’ve yet to see live (at least that I remember) is a New York subway train covered top to bottom. According to the New York Post, “It’s the second time in less than a year that someone — or a team of vandals — has covered an entire Q train in paint at that station. Taggers left a Manhattan Q train covered in graffiti while it was parked there overnight in August.” (NRB)

Quick Links:

  • A Journalist Was Killed in an EU Country. Why Has No One Been Caught? On the Maltese journalists who uncovered the Panama papers and was subsequently assassinated. (Previously in WITI: 5/23 on The Last Column project to raise awareness of journalists killed for doing their job.) (NRB)

  • I’m surely late to this party, but I just figured out how to do screen recording on the Mac using the Screenshot app. You just open the app (located in your Applications > Utilities folder) and then switch to screen recording mode (you can do whole screen or just a specific area). This is so much better than the old way of using Quicktime. (NRB)

  • Finally got around to reading the March New Yorker longread The Day The Dinosaurs Died. It’s about a young paleontologist and his potentially history-altering discovery in North Dakota. "One of the central mysteries of paleontology is the so-called ‘three-­metre problem.’ In a century and a half of assiduous searching, almost no dinosaur remains have been found in the layers three metres, or about nine feet, below the KT boundary, a depth representing many thousands of years. Consequently, numerous paleontologists have argued that the dinosaurs were on the way to extinction long before the asteroid struck, owing perhaps to the volcanic eruptions and climate change. Other scientists have countered that the three-metre problem merely reflects how hard it is to find fossils. Sooner or later, they’ve contended, a scientist will discover dinosaurs much closer to the moment of destruction." (NRB)

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)