Oh Yeah Computer
Steven Rainey attends a trans festival night to remember
How would you celebrate the tenth anniversary of Radiohead’s OK Computer, an album acknowledged by many as the definitive British album of the 1990s? One way would be to sit in a darkened room, listening to the album on repeat, submerging yourself in a nocturnal world of paranoia and alienation.
On the other hand you could organise 12 bands and musicians to re-work the entire album in their own style and get them to perform it in sequence in front of an audience, with Stuart Bailie acting as compère and sharing personal anecdotes about the time he spent with Radiohead for an NME cover story. The folks at Oh Yeah and the trans Festival - including Bailie - choose the latter, and the idea for 'Oh Yeah Computer' is born.
In what was clearly a labour of love for all involved, the great and the good of Belfast’s musical community came out in force to put on a show that few who attended will forget. Skilfully navigating what could have been a logistical nightmare, the end result resembled a full-blown event rather than a simple gig, described by Bailie as being 'like Live Aid, only smaller, and with only one stage'.
From the opening notes of ‘Airbag’, as performed by the Jane Bradfords, it was apparent that the audience were in for a treat. Radically altering the structure of the song, they delivered an imaginative re-working that set a high standard for what was to come.
In keeping with the style of the evening, Barry’s Electric Workshop gave us a performance of ‘Paranoid Android’, radically different to the original. Taking Radiohead’s epic assault on late 20th century culture, Barry’s Electric Workshop re-arranged the song in an 8-bit style, complete with bossa nova tempo changes and noise interludes. The act of watching a man use a laptop on a stage has never been so enjoyable thanks to the look of extreme delight on his face.
Other highlights included Driving by Night’s powerful take on ‘Let Down’, and Joe Echo’s inventive version of ‘Karma Police’, which started out with acoustic guitar and ended with human beatboxing, vocalisation, harmonies and walls of pure sound. John D’Arcy and his band performed a gloriously messy and beautiful ‘No Surprises’ whilst Lotion unleashed a scorchingly bizarre 'Lucky' which tore the guts out of the original and threw them at the audience in a million different directions.
Invention and creativity were the key words of the evening, and the songs that worked best were the ones that felt like new songs. None fit this description better than Amy McGarrigle’s performance of ‘Climbing Up the Walls’, Radiohead's claustrophobic tale of paranoia and death that rides along on a subterranean bassline and wash of electronics.
When McGarrigle took the stage, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, a definite sense of expectation could be felt in the crowd. How could one person perform that song on an acoustic guitar? Surely it couldn’t be done. Conor Mason’s version of ‘Exit Music (For a Film)' was performed with a similar accompaniment, yet struggled to elevate itself above the original due to the unimaginative arrangement. In total contrast McGarrigle had the eyes, ears, minds and hearts of every person in the room.
Sounding like a modern-day torch song, every nuance and shift in emotion was played out as the song reached a heartbreaking emotional climax. Her voice soared higher and deeper than seemed possible and the song took on a life of its own. This wasn’t merely a person performing a version of someone else’s song, this was a rather talented musician transforming something familiar and safe into a living, breathing work of art. An amazing performance.
Undoubtedly, part of the success of the evening was the sense that everyone was part of something special, that this was an evening that would not be repeated. By the end of the evening, there was a definite sense of possibility in the air.
An event like this might have been difficult to put on at another venue, but there is something about Oh Yeah which seems perfect for stepping off the beaten track and pushing musicians to the height of their creativity. One can only hope that it consolidates its position as a breeding ground and focal point for local musical talent. If NI's musicians can sustain the standard displayed at ‘Oh Yeah Computer’, I’m sure even Radiohead themselves would be in awe.