Many have commented on the prescience of Radiohead’s 1997 album OK Computer as an exploration of alienation and anxiety, exacerbated by the looming omniscience of the internet. This year, when the band released OKNOTOK 1997-2017, a relaunch including B sides and previously unheard recordings, their knack for prefiguring and inhabiting a weird wireless future was spelled out even more chillingly.
Heightening this sense of a creeping isolation born of being so connected, the band overhauled its website to its 1997 incarnation for the release, bearing pages featuring a series of “meaningless loops … filled up with discarded ephemera from the broken hard drives of Donwood & Tchock [aka Stanley Donwood and Thom Yorke]”. It has also gradually released a series of new videos for old songs, all produced by Pulse Films and all unfailingly fitting into that familiar Radiohead territory of being eerie, haunting, melancholic and somehow beautiful.
The latest video in the series (following I Promise, directed by Michal Marczak and Man of War, directed by Colin Reed) is Lift, directed by Oscar Hudson, released today and shown above. The band is said to have deliberately omitted the track from OK Computer as it was too much like a hit: it had a soaring chorus that went down well on an otherwise queasy US tour supporting Alanis Morissette. Ultimately it was decided that Lift stood for everything the band was looking to move away from, as they ventured towards a more experimental sound.
Pitchfork describes Lift as “a lovely, weightless strummer of a song”, a phrase so atypical of most of Radiohead’s output that it seems comical even before we realise it’s about being stuck in an elevator; its protagonist haunted by the chorus’ proclamation that “today is the first day of the rest of your days”.
Hudson’s video takes Lift’s theme literally, depicting Thom Yorke in a lift, slouched in an oversized green coat and clutching two blue offie bags. As the lift descends, he’s joined by an ever-changing cast of characters: the first are Yorke’s actual girlfriend and daughter, then others include a granny dressed in purple (the lady from High & Dry, possibly?), a raggedy chap missing a shoe (he’s run all the way out of the Karma Police video), a fleet of shiny headed bald estate agents and a man drinking from a goldfish bowl, among others. We’re assured there are numerous Easter eggs to be found for Radiohead obsessives here.
“I really geeked out at the other videos that were made for OK Computer,” says Hudson, “and I wanted the video to be filled with lots of little bits and bobs, there’s ridiculous detailing that you won’t even be able to see, like labelling on a food can.”
Hudson shot the video a couple of months ago, following Radiohead’s Glastonbury performance, and despite being a Radiohead fan was previously unfamiliar with the track. “I’d initially thought it was new music but it really sounded like old Radiohead,” he says.
Hudson had previously directed a video ‘vignette’ for Radiohead’s 2016 album A Moon Shaped Pool, and was brought in to work on OKNOTOK on the back of that work. Lift was shot in a studio in south London, taking just three days for the build and three days for shooting. The sets are astonishing: as the lift ‘descends’, a number of different surreal scenes are unveiled – one of which sees a woman apparently defying gravity. Many a fake plastic tree is knocked over. “There’s no significant computer effects, it’s all moving sets,” Hudson explains. “It was kind of an experiment: I’d never done something like that before and when you’re doing things physically it feels like more of a feat trying to pull things off.”
From these master strokes of set design, the overall sense is a Ballardian ennui; we don’t know what each storey of the building will hold, but getting there inevitably involves sensations of dread as we descend.
Making the Lift video was something of a dream project for Hudson: some of his all-time favourite music videos are those from OK Computer era. And he got to direct Thom Yorke. “It was really remarkable how much freedom I got, they basically had no notes and genuinely gave me the room to do what I wanted,” says Hudson. “It’s even more unusual to have that opportunity to do something like that with Radiohead but they are very distinctive, and maybe no small part of that is recognising and trusting who you work with and not micromanaging. It was pretty wild to get to do that with someone like Radiohead.”
Aside from the numerous callbacks to Radiohead videos of yore, Hudson is reticent to say too much about the narrative of his video; though he does concede it acts as a partial metaphor to the band’s initial feeling that the song represented something too much like a “smash hit”. “From what I understand the song was an avenue they intentionally didn’t take, and it wasn’t something they felt they identify with,” he says.
“I wanted to have an eclectic cast of characters and make them feel they all belonged in the same universe. They also exist in some relationship to the building we’re going down, and feed into some other more ambiguous narratives.”