This strategy will not work in most ransomware attacks—if your personal data is stolen, releasing all of it to the public for a small fee might diffuse the blackmailer’s bomb, but your problems will only have just begun. But for Radiohead, releasing 18 hours of demo material from minidisks recorded between 1995 and 1998, during the making of their landmark OK Computer, turned out to be just the thing. For a limited time, 18 days from the announcement, you can buy all 18 hours of that material on Bandcamp for the low price of £18 (about $23), with all proceeds benefiting the climate change advocacy group Extinction Rebellion. The music can also be streamed for free (click on the player above) during that time.
The minidisk archive was stolen from Thom Yorke by a hacker who demanded $150,000 or threatened to release them. Guitarist Jonny Greenwood announced the theft on Twitter and Facebook. “We got hacked last week—someone stole Thom’s minidisk archive from around the time of OK Computer…. For £18 you can find out if we should have paid that ransom.”
He prefaced the demos with some modest commentary: “Never intended for public consumption (though some clips did reach the cassette in the OK Computer reissue) it’s only tangentially interesting. And very, very long. Not a phone download. Rainy out, isn’t it though?”
Although bands release demo material all the time—or their record companies do, at least—few go out of their way to talk up alternate takes, sketches, skeletal early versions, and rejected songs. But fan communities often treat such material as akin to finding lost ancient literary sources. Witness the 65-page document titled OK Minidisc already published online, a detailed analysis of the demos by a group from online Radiohead fandom that will likely now forever feature in the band’s accumulated lore.
The demo collection, simply called MINIDISCS [HACKED], will give Radiohead scholars lay and professional a wealth of evidence to draw on for decades—insights into their production process and the evolution of Thom Yorke’s writing. (The first track is an early version of OK Computer’s “Exit Music (For a Film)” with mopey, self-pitying lyrics that might have fit better on the band’s debut album).
As a listening experience, sitting through 18 hours of outtakes may be “only tangentially interesting” and certainly “very, very long.” But when it comes to an album as widely and deeply worshipped as OK Computer, this material might as well be Dead Sea Scrolls.
Surely the minidisk archive’s kidnapper(s) counted on the massive profile of the 1997 album when they named their price, but they didn’t know quite who they were dealing with. Contribute to climate action and become an independent Ok Computer scholar yourself by buying and downloading (with a solid broadband connection) all 18 hours of the MINIDISCS [HACKED] collection at Bandcamp. Or stream it all above.