By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
James Houston, “Nude” remix
Unlike the more antagonistic musical superstars at the top of the rock heap, who sick their lawyers on copyright infringers — U2, the Rolling Stones and Prince, for example — Radiohead encourages interactivity (though it draws a pretty clear line between use for creativity and use for profit), and they’ve been paid back with a devoted audience who is willing not only to speak up but to become an inherent part of the band’s conversation. It’s like a whole sideshow has emerged alongside the circus that is the band, a movement that Radiohead has nurtured and fed with data to be used for interaction. Where the Grateful Dead and Phish allowed fans to record shows and trade tapes, Radiohead imported this concept onto its hard drive. In addition to the interactive “Pay what you can” model of In Rainbows, in 2008 the band offered remix and video contests, delivered (for sale via iTunes) unmixed “stems” of their song “Nude” for their fans to remix and post on a special Web site. James Houston delivered glory in the form of anachronism and sonic detritus. He explains his method on his YouTube page: “Based on the lyric [and alternate title] ‘Big Ideas: Don’t get any,’ I grouped together a collection of old redundant hardware and placed them in a situation where they’re trying their best to do something that they’re not exactly designed to do, and not quite getting there.” Specifically, he created the sounds with old scanners and dot-matrix printers.
TheBrooke, “Fake Plastic Trees”
“Radiohead. the black hole of cover songs,” confirms popular Radiohead interpreter TheBrooke, who has garnered many raves and hits for her ethereal, Mazzy Star–esque takes on her favorite band’s songs. “Try as I might to do other ones, I keep gravitating back to theirs.” In addition to covers of Cat Power, the Decemberists, the Flaming Lips and Neil Young (a breathy version of “Long May You Run”), TheBrooke, of Helena, Montana, has obvious good taste, and while she could use a little energy boost, her “Karma Police,” with nearly 130,000 hits, makes her one of the bigger Radiohead cover queens. “I have been covering this song on guitar since practically right after it was written and I really appreciated your unique interpretation of both the chords and vocal styling,” compliments commenter xsntt. “I think you choose a perfect effect for your voice and the slight variations of the chords you used brought out your own special contribution to the song.”
ysabellabrave, “No Surprises”
The beauty of making music in the 21st century is that, given the lyrics, chords and a camera, you can participate in a worldwide conversation. Whereas a decade ago I’d have no idea who the expert Scandinavian Radiohead interpreter was, in 2008 I can compare notes, research the many singers touched by the band. I can, literally, play along, which is one reason the video games Guitar Hero and Rock Band have exploded: making music is a goddamn hoot, and sharing musical enthusiasms is a way of connecting with kindreds, as in: “That’s how you do ‘No Surprises’ (a perennial online fave), but check out how I do it.” There’s an obvious allure when you’ve just conquered an awesome Radiohead track but your brother in the next room couldn’t care less, your husband thinks the band is ridiculously pretentious, your dad would pitch a fit if he caught you playing that blasphemous garbage. You feel famous, feel like it’s not completely unfathomable that you could maybe be up on that Hollywood Bowl stage and at least you wouldn’t embarrass yourself. You can look as famous as ysabellabrave, whose version of “No Surprises” is more karaoke than most of the others. Her voice wobbles as her eyes lock onto yours and her pouty lips push out the words “bring down the government, they don’t speak for us” as she brushes her hair out of her eyes and rests it on her cheek. I can’t not watch her.
Brad Mehldau, "Exit Music (For a Film)"
The premiere interpreter of Radiohead’s music, and the artist who was among the first to advance the cause of the band as creators of new standards, was pianist Brad Mehldau, whose takes on not only “Exit Music (For a Film)” but “Paranoid Android” were grand statements of intent, and successfully expanded his audience beyond the insular jazz community and into the rock world. (Mehldau also does great takes on Nick Drake’s “River Man” and the Beatles’ “Mother Nature’s Son.”) You can hear the yelps of delighted recognition in the audience when an established artist such as Mehldau or Gillian Welch draws from Radiohead’s catalog. In this clip, a handful of Viennese audience members recognize the song quickly, but then, a few more notes in, it clicks in a single woman’s overjoyed head. I love that moment, because its concrete evidence of connection. Any notion of musical non sequitur vanishes as Mehldau moves around the keyboard, jabbing at that melodic narrative from cubist angles, hitting just enough of the phrase to keep it real but swirling around it playfully. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings did “Black Star” at the Bonnaroo Festival in 2006 and transformed the ballad into a lonesome American wail that seemed to draw from the Carter Family and Dolly Parton. The crowd barely recognized the song until the chorus, and then they all cheered. It’s this pliability that the people adore, and one that Radiohead is advancing beyond the mere sonics and into its image. Where in sound, each note is a pixel that makes up the picture, the band is opening up its visuals: Radiohead’s stunning new video for “House of Cards,” shot not with cameras but with a 360-degree 3-D scanner, arrived with open-source data information that the band encouraged its fans to interpret at will — and post the results. They’ve held animation contests and celebrated the results, have delivered streams and live shows on a whim, and let those images loose for all to use. In the end, the band’s legacy might not necessarily be the limited, low-bitrate advance release of In Rainbows last year but the adventurous ways in which they’ve harnessed technology to feed, expand and challenge their fan base.
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