How I Heard Radiohead’s Amnesiac Before You Did
In the times of the “First!” culture on the Internet, people seek out album leaks, band demos, and any other way imaginable to get that precious first listen. But what if you could just walk into a random hotel room, and be the first to hear a new Radiohead album? Let me tell you about the time in 2001 when I did just that, and got to hear the finished version of Amnesiac two and a half months early.
Radiohead have begun announcing headlining slots at festivals this summer, much to the excitement of fans everywhere. The band last released an album in February 2011, so the hype machine is in top gear as to when – and how – their latest album will be released. Their last 2 releases have seen the band (who are without a label) launch without any warning, and initially only sold digitally from their website.
Radiohead excel at making each release an event. I eagerly await each and every Radiohead release, and even the faintest rumour excites me to no end. The subreddit for Radiohead is a killer for these rumours and hoaxes. While I am a big fan, there are always bigger fans, and always people who will dedicate more time and more of their life to the band. In the run up to twin releases Kid A (October 2000) and Amnesiac (June 2001), I sought out these fans. I don’t recall how I first landed on this page, but I was a frequent visitor to fansite Follow Me Around, and more specifically, the ultra geeky Radiohead discussion on this forum. It seemed to be the premier board, if such a thing existed, more inclusive and engaging that the ones that exist at other fan sites At Ease and Green Plastic (amazingly, both of which are still active 15 years later).
The forum was a haven for those who are super fans but whose “real life” friends don’t give a shit about analyzing and discussing the minutiae of all things Radiohead. If you thought you had a nerdy observation, someone would not only note they had seen it, but raise it to another level. Where had these fans been my whole life, and how could I ever leave this board?! I even discovered one of the users lived near me in Toronto, and I met up with her, back before it was cool to meet people from random online sites (if it is even cool to do so now).
One thing that caught my attention on the forum was a rumour that Radiohead were previewing their new album to the media, right here in Toronto. The record company EMI had rented a hotel room, and select media knew this location (presumably from the press reps / EMI), and they went to these listening parties and heard the album in full. But the exciting part of the rumour was that some fans were managing to get into these private first listen events. I made it my mission to be one of these fans.
I stumbled upon a review of the new Radiohead album in the online edition of a nameless Toronto paper. I immediately reached out to the author, fawning long time interest in their articles. I noted that it would mean the world to me if they could let slip the top secret info. They said they would, as long as I left their name out of things.
At this point, I couldn’t promise anything, so I didn’t get to hear the album. End of story. Or… I wisely agreed, and found out the destination – the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel – and the specific room number.
I ventured down there with a friend, and made it up to the floor with the coveted hotel room. But now what? I’m clearly too young to be media. Music blogs weren’t a big thing back then, and I had zero credentials to produce when asked. Why didn’t I ask myself this before arriving at the hotel?! I took a deep breathe, and boldly walked up to the room. I was greeted outside by a couple of PR reps, who looked young enough to be fans themselves. They weren’t big, burly security guards wearing sunglasses, but young, thin guys – just like me! We were told to go inside without any fuss. (I later learned that there was an open invitation to the “Amnesiac Room” in the Westin to the general public, but no details about the room were provided – I guess I was worried for nothing).
My friend and I were ushered into the room, which had a fake fourth wall. There were 10 other fans (and 0 media) inside the room with me. The room had a kind of 60s vibe to it; with bright colours, bean bag chairs, cool colourful lamps, pillows, and small chairs. The 12 of us exchanged interesting stories of how we found the place. The EMI reps fielded questions, doing their best to quench the thirst of this Radiohead nerd gathering. I asked “What is going to be the first single?” He confirmed Pyramid song in the U.K. and Canada, with the U.S possibly going with I Might Be Wrong.
So I got to hear Amnesiac on March 30, 2001 – weeks ahead of the June 5 release date. Had I died on gone to heaven?! The album finished playing, and I was a satisfied man. However, since we were the last playback of Friday, and for some reason the EMI guys were slow getting to our room, we pushed play again and listened to the first 4 songs again. I’m not sure why we didn’t lock the guys out and live in this hotel room with Amnesniac to ourselves for months on end.
Instead of albums leaking (shameless plug to an article on leaked albums here), wouldn’t it be great if we could bring back these random fan events? The sense of excitement, camaraderie, and joy at the preview and exclusivity far beats getting an unfinished version months in advance and listening to it through computer speakers. That being said, if you manage to find LP9 by Radiohead, or a random hotel room playing the album, you know how to reach me.