When music pirates go low, Radiohead goes high. After a hacker stole 18 hours’ worth of unreleased music that the band recorded during the late ’90s, one of its peak creative periods, Radiohead didn’t fight to keep the tracks out of the public ear. Instead, the band made the stolen tunes available to purchase online, with proceeds going to charity.
Jonny Greenwood, the band’s longtime lead guitarist and keyboardist, unceremoniously announced the release via Twitter on June 11.
“We got hacked last week — someone stole Thom [Yorke, Radiohead’s lead singer]’s minidisk archive from around the time of OK Computer, and reportedly demanded $150,000 on threat of releasing it,” Greenwood wrote in an email, shared as a screenshot.
OK Computer is regarded as one of Radiohead’s most successful, important albums. Released in June 1997, it was credited with introducing a new take on the flagging Britpop genre and steering Radiohead toward global stardom. So, previously unheard recordings from that era of the band’s discography are surely of interest to its rabid fan base, among others.
To make things easier on everyone — including those fans who would undoubtedly hunt down the tracks should the hacker release them, and the band, who would have to go through piracy litigation to try to stop them from spreading online — Radiohead decided to sell the 18-track, nearly 18-hour collection of recordings through its Bandcamp page. Titled Minidiscs [Hacked], it’s available to download for a minimum of 18 British pounds, or roughly $22.90 USD; customers can opt to pay more, as the band will donate all proceeds from the recordings to the environmentalist campaign Extinction Rebellion.
There is a slight catch: Radiohead will only sell the collection for 18 days. After June 29, the hacked tunes go back into the vault (at least where “official” channels for obtaining them are concerned). Anyone who still sings the praises of “Paranoid Android,” “Electioneering,” “Airbag,” or the more obscure tracks in Radiohead’s catalog may want to jump on this opportunity immediately.
Radiohead has previously established a fondness for nontraditional music releases. In October 2007, 10 years after OK Computer’s influential launch, the band announced that they had recorded a new album called In Rainbows — and at the time of the announcement, the album’s release was just 10 days away. More importantly, it would be available with pay-what-you-want pricing for a limited time; fans could grab it for as low as zero bucks.
That kind of announcement-to-drop turnaround was unheard of at the time, as was giving an album away for free to anyone who wanted it, sparking industry debate on its ramifications. But In Rainbows sold well and earned positive reviews. (In Rainbows also happens to be this writer’s favorite Radiohead record, by the way, if you need another vote of confidence.) And the strategy turned out to be forward-thinking, as artists continue to play around with their release methods and schedules.