After marketing their album “In Rainbows” in October as a payment-optional (or, free) release, Radiohead have once again proved that they can basically do whatever they want and only increase their enormous popularity. Now available on iTunes are the five “stems,” or one-track components of their single “Nude,” which the average fan (me, or you) could theoretically remix into a new, different, but similar song. The idea is: you make the remix, you give it a name, and you upload it to Radiohead’s web site. Visitors to the web site cast votes, and the most popular remixes are awarded not a prize, but — wait for it — a promise that Thom Yorke himself will listen to them.
The idea seems weird, but it’s actually kind of brilliant, and Radiohead are probably peeing their pants laughing on the way to the bank. How did the idea come about? Well, my guess is that Thom Yorke was browsing through his folder of e-mails from DJs and producers asking permission to remix his single “Nude,” and at the same time he was looking through all the sound files saved on his computer, and he thought: “Huh, I’m so popular, I could just be fair and let everyone in the world participate.” So now they can.
The genius of the Nude Remix project is that it allows people to have fun. Who didn’t want to be a DJ when they grew up? Working with the isolated drums, bass, guitar, strings and vocal tracks makes remixing easy. What’s more, the files can be manipulated in Garage Band, the most basic and fun of remixing software. The experience becomes an educational journey into the minds of Radiohead, as we hear that “Nude” is composed of simpler elements than we may have realized. The catch is that you can’t sell your DJ creation: Radiohead still own the rights to everything you produce.
Yes, the band is showing its proverbial hand by doing this. But no, Radiohead’s mysterious and godly status is not at all in danger. Though many of the remixes on the Website are, well, interesting remixes, none are quite as good as the original. And the current most popular remix is actually by the band Holy Fuck, who presumably have experience remixing tracks. There go any populist illusions.
Once you’ve uploaded your remix, you’re left with just the “stems” in your iTunes library. Sure, it’s cool to chill out to a drum track, but each “stem” has odd spaces of long silence, and the guitar track doesn’t start until one minute and twelve seconds have elapsed. Really, iTunes? I paid for silence?