In 2017, Radiohead fans got a very exciting release from the band. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of their landmark album OK Computer, the group released a thorough box set of material from their sessions, onto a cassette tape (that featured a ZX Spectrum program hidden in it as an easter egg). The tape offered fans some rare unreleased and early material as well as bits of sound collages that would end up hidden in the finished album.
What fans were not expecting on a random midweek day in June 2 years later was to find almost 18 hours of session work and mix downs to be thrust upon the internet.
On the 25th May, a user on a discord server for trading ‘unreleased’ material casually mentioned they had Radiohead Kid A/OK Computer session files, instrumentals, and a multitrack of the band’s 2011 song Bloom. A fellow user suggested going to appropriate subreddit for the band to see if anyone there would be interested.
Over a couple of days this ‘leak’ murmured under the waters, until the early hours on the 5th June when it suddenly became a real possibility. Previews were uploaded onto reddit, and a discord server for the band also realised that days prior the same leaker had mentioned it.
In an unsurprising moment it began to look like a ransom demand for material, as often is the case with bootlegs and unreleased material. Some fans rightfully pointed out the nonsense of asking for money for something that isn’t there’s to begin with; lets face facts, it is theft. However some started looking together to see if they could raise the $150k that was being asked.
The leaker then tried to say, they aren’t really interested in the money, someone had said how much, so they offered a random figure, yadda yadda, it snowballs from there. About midnight GMT a seris of previews appeared on reddit. Some fans called the previews into question, it is likely to claim so much material on the back of actually only a couple tracks, scamming with real material is devious but definitely happens. Despite the price tag on the files, at some point the leak became live, with no money being exchanged.
And it was real. All of it.
Allegedly stemming from 18 mini discs that Thom Yorke personally recorded onto, the material spans soundboard recordings from live shows to $3 microphones recorded in a wind tunnel. There’s songs that fans know, there’s songs fans have wished to hear for years, there’s versions that you sit there and think ‘How wasn’t this released at the time, let alone put on the OKNOTOK boxset?’ and then there’s snippets of James Bond soundtracks.
It’s been less than 18 hours since the leak went live, yet fans have managed to speed run through the material collectively and report their findings, work out what shows some of the songs are recorded at, what minute differences lie in mix downs, analyse key changes and even more so admire some of the genuine surprises that have been unearthed. There’s a version of the song Lift with a vocal performance and energy from the band that is staggeringly wonderful. There’s full band arrangements of songs like Motion Picture Soundtrack and Last Flowers. But then there is some pretty questionably mundane song sketches, or just straight up nonsense. But, even that is interesting, because as a fan you’re hearing how the whole picture came to take place. The decisions to follow through with, the ones that sensibly got left behind, and the odd one that you just wish you knew about before.
Towards the end of the tapes it becomes clear that this is where the nitty-gritty detail of the album began to take place. One tape almost runs as the finished album albeit with some slightly different mixes and different running order. Some tracks even have alternate vocal lines bounced down on album finished versions. It will take a while for fans to digest and organise the material as they are wont to do.
Is it immoral to search for the leaks? Somewhat. Are fans malicious in their compliance and eagerness to hear these tapes? No. I think it shows how devoted and the level of admiration the band has around them still to this day.
It is arguably one of the biggest leaks in music history, especially in recent years. Leaks are generally far more common place these days, with big names having multi-tracks exchanged for other big name multi-tracks, or unreleased and shelved albums. But rarely do leaks extend to such an overwhelming amount of time and material.
The one concern that a lot of fans fear however is how this might impact future anniversary projects and releases from Radiohead. After their 2003 album Hail to the Thief was leaked in an unfinished state, and with their contract with EMI over, the group became far more insular and caged. Since their new record label deal with XL Recordings in more recent years, a few things have slipped through the new, namely instrumental versions that were found on their publishing site. This, however, seems like a big archival leak. One 4chan /mu/ poster claimed to be responsible, and said they were a disgruntled former XL intern, however this claim is substantially questionable. Their knowledge goes beyond that of someone who would have been an intern. Especially as they cited things that spanned several years. How long do internships normally last? How full of nonsense are some people too? I’d put very strong doubt on this ‘reveal’.
Realistically it would either be someone who has insider contacts but is very much on the fringes. Potentially this person could have found a big hole in a server or archival storage service and just walked right in (metaphorically more than physically) and taken them.
Even weirder would be a someone finding these mini discs in a bin thrown out from the band’s office. But then that wouldn’t be the first time something like that has happened in the world of music or TV.
No matter how it came to fruition, I think fans are loving it. The band and management might not be. Currently they haven’t officially released a statement, but perhaps they will shortly. Or maybe the less said, the less people will find and exchange the files?
UPDATE – 11/06/19
Here’s a good update for everyone. In a brilliant bit of damage control, acceptance, PR gold, Radiohead have ‘official’ released these themselves. Guitarist Jonny Greenwood tweeted earlier today (via a draft in his iPhone’s mail app) that the full collection of discs has been uploaded and is purchasable for 18 days at £18 with all money going toward the environmental group Extinction Rebellion. The band are known for their views on environmental protection , often sharing information from Greenpeace, or attending climate change summits.
— Jonny Greenwood (@JnnyG) June 11, 2019
Purchasable at their previously dormant bandcamp, it includes a slightly higher resolution copy of the audio, as well as the scans of the 18 discs that were used in the leak, each of those becoming the official artwork for each disc. The discs highlight some of the unknown names of the unknown songs performed on some of the discs, as well as retitle some earlier versions of other well known songs like Exit Music (For A Film) starting life as ‘Poison’.
What’s interesting to note is that the media (and possibly the band themselves) are under the impression that the discs were being held under a ransom from a hacker. As far as reality is concerned, the truth is currently this.
A user (who I shall not name) on discord suggested someone could potentially buy a track off the collection of discs for a price. Then when it was realised how many songs and discs there were, people assumed this price for all of them and thought the leaker was asking for the $150,000 price tag that has now been repeated in news articles world wide. They were never originally just going to release them.
The person who first asked for money however, is not the source of the leaks OR the person who acquired the material first. Both of those credits belong elsewhere. There’s also no official reasoning to suspect the tracks were ‘hacked’ from the band or the server. There is a strong possibility they were acquired through bribery, or carelessness, just as much as there is they were acquired via a hacked server.
Anyway, all of that ‘story’ is for another time and I’m sure there’ll be more elements and strands to it in the future. For now the tracks are official purchasable and they go towards a good cause. I think any fan who was listened to them ‘pre’ release owes it to the band to buy the sanctioned versions.
Thank you to the fans who have maintained the google doc breakdown of the discs and will have another chapter to add. And a thank you for including this article in the doc. You guys are doing a wonderful job.