Radiohead: “We were spitting and fighting and crying…”

Thom Yorke and co on Amnesiac, OK Computer and "two-month" meltdowns

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The Jubilee 2000 march at the 1999 G8 summit in Cologne showed him the power of political spin, with armed police keeping protestors at bay while Tony Blair claimed his own victory against Third World debt. “Complete bullshit,” is his honest assessment of the event. “He [Blair] hijacked it because he’d failed on all the other issues he was trying to deal with that weekend. When you’re actually there and that shit’s happening to you, you think: this is amazing, I’ll never ever see this again, I’ll never be this side of the fence. It was a completely peaceful protest and they were calling us trouble-makers. Jubilee 2000! It’s a bunch of Christian women in cardigans!”

During the lengthy, sporadic sessions which eventually spawned Kid A and Amnesiac, Yorke digested Naomi Klein’s seminal anti-globalisation tract, No Logo. A ready-made manifesto for Radiohead?

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“Not really, because all the songs were written,” explains Yorke. “You know, we’d read our Chomsky and our John Pilger. But she put connections together which I thought were good. And since then, as she says herself, she has a pretty face and she can sell the ideas to people and she gets asked onto chat shows and she knows exactly what she’s doing. I think that’s a cool attitude. She knows she’s being used.”

The Trojan Horse idea? Fighting the system from within? “Totally. But because of the nature of the protectionist media, people like her will be hung, drawn and quartered at some point, and patronised by a large section of mainstream political media. But she knows it’s going to happen, and that’s fine. At least the issues are getting into the mainstream, even though they’re roundly dismissed by all those on the payroll.”

But surely Klein and Radiohead are “on the payroll”. After all, both of these anti-globalisation figureheads are bankrolled by huge media conglomerates: Radiohead by EMI, Klein by the Murdoch-owned HarperCollins. For all his anti-corporate rhetoric, Yorke’s music is promoted and distributed by a vast global marketing machine. Can he live with this contradiction?

“Not really, I’m pretty touchy about it,” he says. “But if you want to actually have your record in a shop, then you’ve got no way round it because you have to go through major distributors and they’ve all got deals and blah blah blah. There isn’t a way around it. Personally, one of the reasons that I wanted to be in a band was actually to be on the high street. I don’t want to be in a cupboard. I write music to actually communicate things to people.”

So you can’t do anything without getting your hands dirty? “Well, you can, and I respect people who do because I think that’s the correct thing to do. If you can do it, then you should. And if you can’t, then you can’t.”

Naomi Klein and Radiohead have become friends, and namecheck each other in interviews. Two highly respected anti-brand brand leaders joined in cross-marketing synergy. An unavoidable consequence of being “products” in the marketplace, maybe, but the irony is amusing.

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However, Klein tells Uncut that “I really don’t think it’s accurate to give the impression that the band is offering some kind of celebrity endorsement for these ideas. Their political ideas clearly inform the way they interact with the world in a far more organic way than that.”

Klein also claims that her “personal influence on Radiohead has been greatly exaggerated. The band had these political ideas long before reading my book, but until a couple of years ago there was less going on politically to tap into. That’s the way movements work – they are contagious. If some of the band members gave the impression that the book inspired them to get more actively involved in activism, I suspect they were referring less to No Logo than to being inspired by the movement itself, ie, Reclaim The Streets Indymedia, Drop The Debt, the protests in Seattle – which, after all, is the subject of No Logo.”

Even so, Klein’s book was widely assumed to have influenced Radiohead’s sponsorship-free big tent tour in summer 2000. “The only statement was having a good sound to people’s ears,” says Jonny Greenwood. “The lack of adverts was kind of a lucky byproduct. It didn’t save us any more money, or make us any more.” Radiohead also played London’s Meltdown festival at curator Scott Walker’s personal invitation – a full circle of sorts, since “Creep” was their attempt to write a Walker song.

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