Wednesday, May 30, 2012


My men’s circle is spending this Saturday night on Mount Hotham, and someone has suggested an activity for civilised after-dinner entertainment: we each select our favourite piece of music and present it to the group.

As I trawled through my playlist of favourite tunes in preparation, I was surprised by the one that stood out most. It’s not my favourite group or composer by any means. It is a beautiful song but, fittingly for the exercise, it’s the way it intertwines with my own story that makes it so special to me.

Let’s start in 1994. In January of that year, the Big Day Out moves from Adelaide Uni to the Showgrounds. I am not quite 14, attending a big concert with mates for the first time. I get my first whiff of marijuana; am caught in a mosh at, of all bands, Def FX (launching pad for future celebrity wiccan Fiona Horne); see TISM clad in balaclavas playing broomsticks; witness the Teenage Fanclub, the Smashing Pumpkins, the Ramones and Soundgarden – surely one of the greatest lineups in Australian rock history – ruined by the terrible sound in the indoor pavilion; and, finally, see someone wheeled out in a body bag as the festival closes.

I’m a little blonde kid with an older brother and a large emotional investment in rock music. I read Rolling Stone and Kerrang, write reviews for the street presses, and heap scorn on friends who are discovering techno. Any time they try to play me electronic music, I deliver a standard joke. “It’s DJ Farquar’s new track ‘Two Drums Beating’!” I laugh smugly and often.

Fast forward to 1998, and I’m on a tram to Dixon Recycled with boxes of CDs to sell. Painstakingly pieced-together collections of REM, Husker Du, King’s X and many more great bands are about to be traded in for a completely new way of life. My hair is spiked, my nails are blue and my wrists adorned with bright sparkling bracelets. Rave is the culture, and the music is electronica – a friend and I have just discovered Warp Records. I know nothing will ever be the same.

Two years further into the future, it’s now October 2000. I am camped in a tent city demonstration in Placa Catalunya, Barcelona. My companions are Thelia, a young South African, a Brighton crusty named Fluffy Dave di Dooda,  and seventy west Africans and fifteen Pakistanis who are demanding the right to work. There are protests every few days, and I do some basic French-Spanish-English translation. I feel so at home there that, when I head down to Valencia for a weekend, I take a small bag and leave my large backpack at Catalunya.

Each morning, before we head out to find fresh cardboard to sleep on, I wander over the road to the FNAC deparment store. Thelia has found an unmarked staff bathroom that we use for rudimentary ablutions. And each morning I spend fifteen minutes on the shop headphones, listening to the Radiohead’s new album Kid A. Each song plays for two tantalising minutes, precisely, before the store computer flicks it over to the next track.

The influence of Autechre, Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada is palpable; later I will read that Thom Yorke ordered the entire Warp Records catalogue after making OK Computer. I’ve given away rock for electronica, and now it seems the biggest band in the world are doing the same thing. The warm opening chords and processed vocals of ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ sound so damn significant. I may be sleeping on the street, but I couldn’t be happier: for me, at least, the world is as it should be.

I know there is no point buying the album – I am still carrying around an old walkman with a handful of dubbed cassettes – and in all but one case I come to accept the abrupt ending midway through each song. The exception is the eighth track, ‘Idioteque’, which always cuts out just as its booming industrial beat and intoxicating vocal line begin to shift up a gear.  I am desperate to hear the conclusion of this song. Finally, a month later and hundreds of kilometres to the west in the Basque city of Bilbao, a German girl called Eva plays me the whole album from start to glorious end. And the full version of ‘Idioteque’ is confirmed as my favourite song – the favourite song of a boy who doesn’t really listen to songs.

Let’s finish in the present: why ‘Idioteque’ today? There’s a yearning in the music that suits the litany of nostalgia I’ve just presented. It’s also the closest to out-and-out electronic dance music Radiohead ever came. In fact, it’s the only song of theirs I’ve ever heard mixed into a dancefloor set (by DJ Trip at Adelaide’s Crown & Sceptre in 2003). Remixes abound, and in 2010 a great version of ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ went down a treat on Rainbow Serpent’s Market Stage, but ‘Idioteque’ doesn’t need to be touched up. It straddles the dancefloor and the bedroom as it is – in other words, ideal electronica. Throw in a vocal line you can sing along to, and it really is the perfect modern fusion.

Perhaps most importantly, to my mind it hints at a potential Radiohead have never really fulfilled. This might seem a strange thing to say about a band so widely regarded as one of the greats. But Amnesiac? Some great Kid A outtakes. Hail to the Thief? Underrated but still patchy. In Rainbows? Hugely enjoyable but not challenging. The King of Limbs? A welcome return to experimentalism but lacking an emotional punch. Twelve years on, it seems Kid A – and ‘Idioteque’ in particular – represent a high watermark which Radiohead will never reach again.

So here it is.

How do you choose a favourite piece of music? In late autumn of 2012, this is how I chose mine. Like a true electronica geek, with no reference to the lyrics.


Anonymous said...

This is phenomenal.

Anonymous said...


An Ex said...

LOL, the above is all true. I'm pretty sure he's actually a sociopath. Good luck to the queen moron marrying this subhuman waste of oxygen.
Seriously, how does he get through life without people punching him in the face, I don't understand?