The venue was a warehouse-style venue in an east London industrial zone; the occasion was the launch of Atoms for Peace’s album Amok, a side-project led by Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke.
To celebrate, Yorke had devised his version of a rave. Two DJ support acts played glitchy electronica and chopped-up hip-hop. The audience – Yorke’s “ravers” – jiggled about noncommittally in bulky winter wear like gently agitated polar explorers. No one, so far as I could tell, felt impelled to take their shirt off or “get on one”. There was no risk of being clunked by a fluorescent glow-stick or hugged by a sweaty stranger with dilated pupils. Hopes of Yorke covering The Shamen’s “Ebeneezer Goode” receded.
The master of ceremonies appeared with Radiohead producer and co-Atoms for Peace mainman Nigel Godrich. The side-project also involves several other musicians, notably the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea. The full band will tour in the summer; tonight’s show was an informal affair with just Yorke and Godrich.
The pair stood together, heads nodding, jabbing at computers, alternately illuminated and obscured by visuals flashing on screens around them. Coincidentally it was 20 years to the day since Radiohead released their first album Pablo Honey. Set opener “Ingenue” – Yorke crooning in an enigmatically emotive fashion over murky but catchy electronica – underlined how far he has come from his post-grunge roots. There were cheers when he strapped on a guitar for “Black Swan”, from his 2006 solo album The Eraser, but its looped tones were virtually inaudible amid the computerised drones and pattering beats.
Even in a stripped-down format, the rewards of Yorke’s conversion to electronic music rang out. A meaty Giorgio Moroder-style synthesizer line uncoiled itself in “Unless” while “Default” echoed Orbital’s chiming techno. “I felt completely free,” Yorke sang, his haunted voice an eerie, uncanny counterpoint to the computer music. What his “rave” lacked in abandon it more than made up for in atmosphere.