On Tuesday, Radiohead guitarist and composer Jonny Greenwood made an announcement on Twitter and Facebook: The band had been "hacked," and the perpetrator attempted a $150,000 shakedown to prevent the public release of the files. In response? Radiohead dumped all of it online for free. You can stream it below for the next 18 days, or buy it on Bandcamp for about $23. All proceeds will go to a climate protest organization called Extinction Rebellion.
Based solely on Greenwood's statement, it's unclear what exactly happened. "We got hacked last week — someone stole Thom's minidisk [sic] archive from around the time of OK Computer, and reportedly demanded $150,000 on threat of releasing it." Thom is Thom Yorke, the band's lead singer. OK Computer is the group's seminal 1997 album. And minidiscs were a proprietary digital storage format from Sony; as you'd probably guess, they're like smaller CDs.
That should do it for references and terminology. But the timeline deserves more clarity, too. While Greenwood invokes hackers, it seems more likely that someone accessed the physical discs in question. And while Radiohead says that it's releasing the 18 hours of demos and live recordings from the OK Computer days as a thumb in the eye to that reported ransom, in truth all of those tracks have already circulated freely online for six days, as music and culture site NME had previously reported. The ransom, in other words, was already a moot point.
Sussing out exactly what happened—which bootlegger took what, and traded it with whom, who then released it where—requires going down enough Reddit rabbit holes to make a whole warren. Regardless, the 18 tracks have been online long enough that hardcore fans have even created a Google Doc that breaks down each track into its component songs for easier navigation.
Still, it's impressive to see Radiohead release that much material to spite an aspiring pirate. It's not the first time something like this has happened; hackers tried to shake down Netflix over unreleased Orange Is the New Black episodes, and Quentin Tarantino threatened to bail on Hateful Eight after a PDF of the script leaked before filming even began. No money was paid in those cases either, and both projects went on as originally planned.
But releasing the OK Computer tapes feels distinct, in that the band, according to Greenwood, never intended the contents for public consumption in the first place. Rather than going forward with an existing plan, it had to formulate a new one. If anything, one wonders what the original reported ransom-asker was thinking; this is the same group, after all, that released In Rainbows for free—and still tallied better sales than any of its previous digital releases combined. If anyone understands the dynamics of content, money, and the internet, it's Radiohead.
As with In Rainbows, the choice to pay is up to you; you can either go directly to Bandcamp, or there's a Buy button in the player below. Frankly, a look behind the curtain of one of the most innovative albums of a generation sounds priceless. "It's only tangentially interesting," wrote Greenwood," and very, very long. Not a phone download. Rainy out, isn't it, though?"