Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.
In this series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.
Houg: Radiohead – Kid A (2000)
I’ve always struggled with fitting in. Many factors of my upbringing have probably spilled over into having that effect on me. Being a kid that moved between continents during my formative years, as well as also being a minority wherever I was, has not helped my circumstances, despite my best efforts. Even my means of consuming music (because of said circumstances) has shaped my music taste differently from the likes of my peers.
And through my own means of finding music to be inspired by, I came across Radiohead. I was 15 and I was watching MTV on one of “those” late nights, and the video for ‘All I Need’ came on. The video contrasted the lifestyles of 2 kids. A western kid living in the support of a sheltered suburban life against a South East Asian kid working his youth out of a sweatshop, making shoes, that we eventually find out is the same pair of shoes that the former kid wears.
With that brief moment experiencing Radiohead, it moved me into a stance of self-reflection. And though the issues expressed in the video weren’t exactly relevant to the issues I’ve brought up above; it still triggered a sense of introspection. Add the fact that the song sounded different from your typical “alternative rock band” out of the 90s’-00s’, I was intrigued.
So, I did up my research and found out more about the band, and your name kept popping up.
“Kid A, the album that defined Radiohead as a band.”. Whatever intrigue I had then immediately turned into a full-on commitment. However, for the sake of context, I decided to start my listening journey chronologically, as I’ve also heard that people who’ve listened to you on their first trial with Radiohead tend to find you really intimidating.
Well, in retrospect, I’m actually really happy that I did that, as I felt that with my listening experience, I was growing with the band introspectively.
With the first few albums, there were moments where I was able to see that these guys were different, mostly through Thom’s lyrics. I mean, ask anyone on the street to quote Radiohead and chances are they’ll mutter “I’m a creep”.
The funny thing though, was that I felt the band were not fully embracing themselves? Yes, the lyrics seem uniquely honest, whether it’s about self-deprecating introspection or even the expression of social issues of the time that no one seemed to be conscious of. But they were all still packaged in a manner that was still really consumable, instrumentally and structurally. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I was just getting the notion that perhaps these guys weren’t into that particular vibe.
I’ve already read up then that after your predecessor OK Computer’s release and its ensuing tour, the band had grown depleted and they wanted to step away from music, also because they’d grown tired of what they’d become. But unfortunately, with three more albums in their contract with their label, as well as the success of said album (selling millions, being a critical darling as well as bagging the band a Grammy), the label wanted the band to keep the momentum going. It only made sense.
Aside from the health conditions they had developed from the fatigue, the pressure from the label was probably the straw final that broke the band’s back. So, they made the conscious decision to do “career suicide”. It was out of that chaos that you were born. You had no singles, no music videos (mind you this was where MTV still ruled), minimal use of “traditional rock instruments” for a band with three guitarists and you were released illegally and prematurely on Napster, intentionally by the band. Apparently, the band did all of that to wither out their fanbase and destroy the value that they had in the eyes of the label. So, knowing all of that, I put on my headphones and pressed play.
I can’t remember a time where I’ve smiled moronically in public like I did then. The first track came on, stabbing my ears with synths, vocal loops that you can’t interpret, supported by minimalistic machine drumbeats that run the song in an odd signature, all while Thom repeats the line “Everything In Its Right Place”, the song’s title.
I’d only been one minute into experiencing you and I already knew that this wasn’t a band that was committing career suicide. They were just finally, akin to the song’s name, allowing for things to take their rightful place. And with every following song, whether it being a 3-minute ambient track or the endearing ‘How to Disappear Completely’ which discusses the inability to keep going with how they were, with words like “That there, that’s not me. I go, where I please”, I was learning more and more that this was Radiohead. YOU were Radiohead.
Everything up til that point was a precursor, a catalyst for the band to finally embrace what they are. And in the biggest of ironies, you were a success as well. Presumably from all the honesty you exhumed, aided by the fact that you were churning out fresh sounding electronic textures, engineered not by a DJ or producer but a band before electronic music had taken the mainstream and the lines were blurred between live and electronic music. I mean, you’re from 2000. It couldn’t be any more laudable than that.
So why was I smiling? Why did I talk about the issues I’ve had growing up earlier in this letter? It’s simply because it was at that moment, 50 minutes into listening to everything you had to share, that I completely had a change, an understanding that this was probably what I needed. The ability to embrace who I am and to be bold, unapologetic, and confident in myself while at it. And though it may seem like a figurative “career suicide” for myself in doing so, I would at the very least be able to wear my own shoes as a person, comfortably for once.
Let me end this letter by saying that inspiration as a musician can be beyond liking some of the chords an inspiring individual may be using in their music. I believe inspiration transcends that. For me, I doubt that I sound much like Radiohead musically. But the impact that the band, and by extension you, have had on me as a person and musician, is significant. What you have done to inspire me is to allow myself to find my own personality and confidence and explore my own creative expression. So, thank you, sincerely, as I wouldn’t know what it would’ve been like without you in my life.
Melbourne-based Singapore-native Houg has returned with new single ‘ICBM’, the lead track from his forthcoming debut EP ‘The Oscillation Scene’ (due early-2020) – produced and mixed by the artist himself.
‘IBCM’ will caress you eardrums like a silk sheet. Houg’s deftly woven production, warm synth tones and creamy vocals blend to create a song that is smooth, rich and sensual.
Catch the artist launching it live launch at Melbourne’s Evelyn Hotel on December 12.
HOUG ‘ICBM’ LAUNCH PARTY
THURSDAY, 12TH DECEMBER
EVELYN HOTEL, FITZROY