Thomas Edward Yorke (born 7 October 1968) is an English musician and the main vocalist and songwriter of the rock band Radiohead. A multi-instrumentalist, he mainly plays guitar and keyboards, and is known for his falsetto.
|Birth name||Thomas Edward Yorke|
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|Born||7 October 1968|
Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England
Yorke was born in Northamptonshire. His family lived in Scotland before settling in Oxfordshire, England, where he formed Radiohead with his schoolmates. After he graduated from the University of Exeter, Radiohead signed to Parlophone; their early hit "Creep" made Yorke a celebrity, and Radiohead have gone on to achieve critical acclaim and sales of over 30 million albums. Yorke's early influences included alternative rock acts such as the Pixies and R.E.M.; Radiohead's fourth album, Kid A (2000), saw Yorke and the band move into electronic music, influenced by Warp acts such as Aphex Twin.
Yorke's solo work comprises mainly electronic music. His debut solo album, The Eraser, was released in 2006. To perform it live, in 2009 he formed a new band, Atoms for Peace, with musicians including Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich; they released an album, Amok, in 2013. Yorke's second solo album, Tomorrow's Modern Boxes, was released in 2014, followed by Anima in 2019. In 2021, Yorke debuted a new band, the Smile, with Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood and drummer Tom Skinner.
Yorke has collaborated with artists including PJ Harvey, Björk, Flying Lotus, and Modeselektor, and has composed for film and theatre; his first feature film soundtrack, Suspiria, was released in October 2018. With artist Stanley Donwood, Yorke creates artwork for Radiohead albums and his other projects. He often incorporates "erratic" dancing into his performances.
Yorke is an activist on behalf of human rights, animal rights, environmental and anti-war causes, and his lyrics incorporate political themes. He has been critical of the music industry, particularly of major labels and streaming services such as Spotify. With Radiohead and his solo work he has pioneered alternative music release platforms such as pay-what-you-want and BitTorrent. Along with the other members of Radiohead, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019.
Yorke was born on 7 October 1968 in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire. He was born with a paralysed left eye, and underwent five eye operations by the age of six. According to Yorke, the last surgery was "botched", giving him a drooping eyelid. He decided against further surgery: "I decided I liked the fact that it wasn’t the same, and I’ve liked it ever since. And when people say stuff I kind of thought it was a badge of pride, and still do."
The family moved frequently. Shortly after Yorke's birth, his father, a nuclear physicist and later a chemical equipment salesman, was hired by a firm in Scotland; the family lived in Lundin Links until Yorke was seven, and he moved from school to school. The family settled in Oxfordshire in 1978, where Yorke attended Standlake Primary School.
Yorke received his first guitar when he was seven, inspired by Queen guitarist Brian May. At 10, he made his own guitar, inspired by May's homemade Red Special. By 11, he had joined his first band and written his first song. Seeing Siouxsie Sioux in concert in 1985 inspired him to become a performer.
Yorke attended the boys' public school Abingdon. He felt out of place and found sanctuary in the music and art departments. Terence Gilmore-James, the Abingdon director of music, recalled Yorke as "forlorn and a little isolated" thanks to his unusual appearance, but talkative and opinionated. He said Yorke was "not a great musician", unlike his future bandmate Jonny Greenwood, but a "thinker and experimenter". Yorke later credited the support of Gilmore-James and the head of the art department for his success.
At Abingdon, Yorke met Ed O'Brien, Philip Selway, and brothers Colin and Jonny Greenwood. The group formed a band, On a Friday, named after the only day they were allowed to practice. After leaving school, Yorke took a gap year and tried to become a professional musician. He held several jobs, including a period selling suits, and made a demo tape. He was also involved in a serious car accident that influenced the lyrics of later songs, including the Bends B-side "Killer Cars" (1995) and "Airbag" from OK Computer (1997).
On the strength of their first demo, On a Friday were offered a record deal by Island Records, but the members decided they were not ready and wanted to go to university first. Yorke had wanted to apply to St John's to read English at the University of Oxford, but, he said, "I was told I couldn't even apply – I was too thick. Oxford University would have eaten me up and spat me out. It's too rigorous." In late 1988, Yorke left Oxford to study English and Fine Arts at the University of Exeter, which put On a Friday on hiatus aside from rehearsals during breaks. At Exeter, Yorke performed experimental music with a classical ensemble and played with the band Headless Chickens, performing songs including future Radiohead material. He also met artist Stanley Donwood, who went on to produce artwork for Radiohead and Yorke's solo releases, and printmaker Rachel Owen, Yorke's future wife. He credited his art school education for preparing him creatively for his later work.
On a Friday resumed activity in 1991 as most of the members were finishing their degrees. Ronan Munro, editor of the Oxford music magazine Curfew, gave the band their first interview while they were sharing a house in Oxford. He recalled that "Thom wasn't like anyone I'd interviewed before ... He was like 'This is going to happen… failure is not an option' ... He wasn't some ranting diva or a megalomaniac, but he was so focused on what he wanted to do."
In 1991, when Yorke was 22, On a Friday signed to Parlophone and changed their name to Radiohead. According to Yorke, around this time he "hit the self-destruct button pretty quickly"; he cut his hair and drank heavily, often becoming too drunk to perform. Radiohead gained notice with their debut single, "Creep", which appeared on their 1993 debut album, Pablo Honey. Yorke said that the success inflated his ego; he tried to project himself as a rock star, which included bleaching his hair and wearing extensions. He said: "When I got back to Oxford I was unbearable ... as soon as you get any success you disappear up your own arse." During a 1993 performance for MTV, Yorke was almost electrocuted after he jumped into a swimming pool and reached for a live microphone; an employee on the shoot kicked it away from him.
Recording Radiohead's second album, The Bends (1995), was stressful, with the band pressured to release a follow-up to "Creep". Yorke in particular struggled with the pressure; according to the band's co-manager Chris Hufford, "Thom became totally confused about what he wanted to do, what he was doing in a band and in his life, and that turned into a mistrust of everybody else." The Bends received critical acclaim. The American rock band R.E.M., a major influence on Radiohead, picked them as their support act for their European tour. Yorke befriended R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe, who gave him advice about how to deal with fame.
During the production of Radiohead's third album, OK Computer (1997), the members had differing opinions and equal production roles, with Yorke having "the loudest voice", according to O'Brien. OK Computer achieved critical acclaim and strong sales, establishing Radiohead as one of the leading rock acts of the 1990s, but Yorke was ambivalent about success. Following the OK Computer tour, he suffered a mental breakdown and found it impossible to write new music. In 2013, he said:
When I was a kid, I always assumed that [fame] was going to answer something – fill a gap. And it does the absolute opposite. It happens with everybody. I was so driven for so long, like a fucking animal, and then I woke up one day and someone had given me a little gold plate for OK Computer and I couldn’t deal with it for ages.
To recuperate, Yorke moved to Cornwall and spent time walking the cliffs, writing and drawing. He restricted his songwriting to piano; the first song he wrote was "Everything in Its Right Place". During this period, Yorke listened almost exclusively to the electronic music of artists such as Aphex Twin and Autechre, saying: "It was refreshing because the music was all structures and had no human voices in it. But I felt just as emotional about it as I'd ever felt about guitar music." Radiohead took these influences to their next albums Kid A (2000) and Amnesiac (2001), processing vocals, obscuring lyrics, and using electronic instruments such as synthesisers, drum machines, and samplers. The albums divided fans and critics, but were commercially successful and later attracted wide acclaim; at the turn of the decade, Kid A was named the best album of the 2000s by Rolling Stone and Pitchfork.
In 2003, Radiohead released their sixth album, Hail to the Thief, a blend of rock and electronic music. Yorke wrote many of its lyrics in response to the War on Terror and the resurgence of right-wing politics in the west after the turn of the millennium, and his shifting worldview after becoming a father. In 2007, Radiohead independently released their seventh album, In Rainbows, as a pay-what-you-want download, the first for a major act; the release made headlines worldwide and sparked debate about the implications for the music industry. In 2011, Radiohead self-released their eighth album, The King of Limbs, which Yorke described as "an expression of physical movements and wildness". The music video for the track "Lotus Flower", featuring Yorke's erratic dancing, became an internet meme. Radiohead released their ninth album, A Moon Shaped Pool, on 8 May 2016.
As of 2011, Radiohead had over 30 million album sales. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on 29 March 2019.
Yorke's solo work comprises mainly electronic music. Stereogum characterised it as "largely interior", "frigid" and "beat-driven", unlike the "wide-open horizons" of Radiohead songs such as "Karma Police" and "There There". Most of his solo work has been produced by Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich.
Yorke recorded his debut solo album, The Eraser, during Radiohead's 2004 hiatus. It was released in 2006 on the independent label XL Recordings. He said: "I've been in the band since we left school and never dared do anything on my own... It was like, 'Man, I've got to find out what it feels like,' you know?" He stressed that Radiohead were not splitting up and that the album was made "with their blessing". The Eraser was backed by the singles "Harrowdown Hill", which reached number 23 in the UK Singles Chart, and "Analyse". It reached the top ten in the UK, Ireland, United States, Canada and Australia, and was nominated for the 2006 Mercury Prize and the 2007 Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album. It was followed by a B-sides compilation, Spitting Feathers, and a remix album by various artists, The Eraser Rmxs.
In 2009, Yorke performed solo at the Latitude Festival in England and released a double-A-side single, "FeelingPulledApartByHorses/TheHollowEarth". The following year, he performed a surprise set at Glastonbury Festival with Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, performing Eraser and Radiohead songs.
Yorke's second solo album, Tomorrow's Modern Boxes, was released via BitTorrent on 26 September 2014. It became the most torrented album of 2014 (excluding piracy), with over a million downloads in its first six days. Yorke and Godrich hoped to use the BitTorrent release to hand "some control of internet commerce back to people who are creating the work". In December 2014, Yorke released the album on the online music platform Bandcamp along with a new track, "Youwouldn'tlikemewhenI'mangry". The album was reissued on CD and vinyl by XL in 2017. In 2015, Yorke performed with Godrich and audiovisual artist Tarik Barri at the Latitude Festival in the UK and the Summer Sonic Festival in Japan. Following two shows in 2017, he toured Europe and the US in 2018.
Yorke's third solo album, Anima, was released on 27 June 2019, accompanied by a short film directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Anima became Yorke's first number-one album on the Billboard Dance/Electronic Albums chart. At the 2020 Grammy Awards, Anima was nominated for Best Alternative Music Album and Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package; the Anima film was nominated for the Grammy for Best Music Film. The album was followed by Not the News Rmx EP, comprising an extended version of the track "Not the News" plus remixes by various artists. Yorke was set to begin a solo tour in March 2020, but it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In April 2020, he performed a new song from his home, "Plasticine Figures", for The Tonight Show.
Atoms for Peace
In 2009, Yorke formed a new band, Atoms for Peace, to perform songs from The Eraser. Alongside Yorke on vocals, guitar and keyboards, the band comprises Godrich on keyboards and guitar, bassist Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, drummer Joey Waronker of Beck and R.E.M., and percussionist Mauro Refosco of Forro in the Dark. Yorke said: "God love 'em but I've been playing with [Radiohead] since I was 16, and to do this was quite a trip ... It felt like we'd knocked a hole in a wall, and we should just fucking go through it."
Atoms for Peace performed eight North American shows in 2010. They went unnamed for early performances, billed as "Thom Yorke" or "??????". In February 2013, they released an album, Amok, followed by a tour of Europe, the US and Japan.
In 2021, Yorke debuted a new band, the Smile, with Jonny Greenwood and jazz drummer Tom Skinner. Godrich is also involved. They made their surprise debut in a performance streamed by Glastonbury Festival on May 22, with Yorke playing guitar, bass, Moog synthesizer and Rhodes piano. Guardian critic Alexis Petridis said the Smile "sound like a simultaneously more skeletal and knottier version of Radiohead", exploring more progressive rock influences with unusual time signatures, complex riffs and "hard-driving" motorik psychedelia.
For the soundtrack of the 1998 film Velvet Goldmine, Yorke formed Venus of Furs with Jonny Greenwood, Andy Mackay of Roxy Music, and Bernard Butler of Suede to cover Roxy Music songs. He was approached to score the 1999 film Fight Club, but declined as he was recovering from the stress of promoting OK Computer. In 2009, he contributed the track "Hearing Damage" to the Twilight Saga: New Moon film soundtrack. Along with Damien Rice and Philip Glass, he contributed to the soundtrack for the 2010 documentary When the Dragon Swallowed the Sun. In 2013, Yorke, Greenwood and other artists contributed music to The UK Gold, a documentary about tax avoidance. The soundtrack was released free in February 2015 through the online audio platform SoundCloud.
In 2015, Yorke contributed a soundtrack, Subterranea, to an installation of Radiohead artwork, The Panic Office, in Sydney, Australia. The soundtrack is composed of field recordings made in the English countryside, and played on speakers at different heights with different frequency ranges. The radio station Triple J described it as similar to the ambient sections of Tomorrow's Modern Boxes, with some digitally spoken sections similar to "Fitter Happier" from OK Computer. As of 2015, there were no plans to release the music.
Yorke composed music for a 2015 production of Harold Pinter's 1971 play Old Times by the Roundabout Theater Company in New York City. The play's director described the music as "primeval, unusual ... the sort of neurosis within [Yorke's] music certainly has elucidated elements of the compulsive repetition of the play." Yorke has also contributed music to shows by fashion designer Jun Takahashi and the fashion label Rag & Bone, including the 2018 short films Why Can't We Get Along? and Time of Day.
Yorke's first feature film soundtrack, Suspiria, composed for the 2018 horror film, was released on 26 October 2018 by XL. It was produced by Yorke and Sam Petts-Davies, and features the London Contemporary Orchestra and Choir and Yorke's son Noah on drums. Yorke cited inspiration from the 1982 Blade Runner soundtrack and music from Surpiria's 1977 Berlin setting, such as krautrock. The lyrics do not follow the film narrative, and were influenced by discourse surrounding President Donald Trump and Brexit. "Suspirium" was nominated for Best Song Written for Visual Media at the 2020 Grammy Awards.
For the 2019 film Motherless Brooklyn, Yorke wrote "Daily Battles", with horns by his Atoms for Peace bandmate Flea. Director Edward Norton enlisted jazz musician Wynton Marsalis to rearrange the song as a ballad reminiscent of 1950s Miles Davis. It was shortlisted for Best Original Song at the 92nd Academy Awards.
In 1997, Yorke provided backing vocals for a cover of the 1975 Pink Floyd song "Wish You Were Here" with Sparklehorse. The following year, he duetted on "El President" with Isabel Monteiro of Drugstore, and sang on the Unkle track "Rabbit in Your Headlights", a collaboration with DJ Shadow. Pitchfork credited "Rabbit in Your Headlights" as a "turning point" for Yorke, placing his vocals in the context of experimental electronic music for the first time, foreshadowing Kid A.
Yorke joined R.E.M., one of Radiohead's formative influences, to perform their song "E-Bow the Letter" on several occasions from 1998 to 2004. In 2000, he contributed vocals to three tracks on the PJ Harvey album Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, and duetted with Björk on her Oscar-nominated song "I've Seen It All". Yorke and Jonny Greenwood contributed to the 2004 Band Aid 20 single "Do They Know It's Christmas?", produced by Godrich.
Yorke provided vocals for the Modeselektor tracks "The White Flash" from Happy Birthday (2007) and "Shipwreck" and "This" from Monkeytown (2011), and for the Flying Lotus tracks "...And the World Laughs with You" from Cosmogramma (2010) and "Electric Candyman" from Until the Quiet Comes (2012). He sang backing vocals on Björk's 2008 charity single "Náttúra", and the following year recorded a cover of the Miracle Legion song "All for the Best" with his brother Andy for the compilation Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy. In 2009, Yorke remixed rapper Doom's track "Gazzillion Ear", and he and Greenwood collaborated with Doom on the 2011 track "Retarded Fren". Yorke collaborated with the electronic artists Burial and Four Tet on the 2011 tracks "Ego" and "Mirror", and again for the 2020 tracks "Her Revolution" and "His Rope".
In 2012, Yorke remixed "Hold On" by the electronic musician SBTRKT under the name Sisi BakBak; his identity was not confirmed until September 2014. In July 2015, he joined the band Portishead at the Latitude Festival to perform their song "The Rip". He contributed vocals and appeared in the video for "Beautiful People" on Mark Pritchard's 2016 album Under the Sun. Yorke's first classical composition, "Don't Fear the Light", written for the piano duo Katia and Marielle Labeque, debuted in April 2019.
In 2018, Yorke and artist Tarik Barri created an audiovisual exhibition, "City Rats", commissioned by the Institute for Sound and Music in Berlin. I See You, a limited-edition zine edited by Yorke with Crack Magazine, was published in September 2018, with profits donated to Greenpeace.
Yorke has worked with producer Nigel Godrich on every Radiohead album since The Bends (1995), as well as most of his solo work. Yorke credits Godrich with helping edit his work, identifying which parts need improvement and which have potential. Yorke said of their relationship: "It's like brothers: we fight, but it's always OK in the end. Sometimes I need to be left alone to just get on with it, sometimes he needs to be left alone to get on with it. Sometimes I'm like, 'You're not right, you're wrong.' And that can go on for days."
Since Radiohead's 1994 EP My Iron Lung, Yorke has created artwork for Radiohead, Atoms for Peace and his solo work with artist Stanley Donwood. Donwood said his first impression of Yorke was that he was "mouthy. Pissed off. Someone I could work with." Yorke is credited for artwork alongside Donwood under the monikers "The White Chocolate Farm", "Tchock", "Dr. Tchock" or similar abbreviations. Whereas Donwood described himself as having a "tendency towards Virgo-like detailing and perfectionism", he said Yorke is "completely opposed, fucking everything up ... I do something, then he fucks it up, then I fuck up what he's done … and we keep doing that until we're happy with the result. It's a competition to see who 'wins' the painting, which one of us takes possession of it in an artistic way." Artist Tarik Barri provides live visuals for Yorke's solo and multimedia projects and shows with Atoms for Peace.
A typical Radiohead song begins with a sketch from Yorke, which is harmonically developed by Jonny Greenwood before the other band members develop their parts. Yorke is a multi-instrumentalist; his main instruments are guitar and keyboards, though he also uses instruments including bass guitar and drums.
Unlike Greenwood, Yorke does not read sheet music, feeling "you can't express the rhythms properly like that. It's a very ineffective way of doing it, so I've never really bothered picking it up." Explaining why he turned down a request to play piano on the track "Mr. Bellamy" on Paul McCartney's album Memory Almost Full (2007), Yorke said: "The piano playing involved two hands doing things separately. I don't have that skill available. I said to him, 'I strum piano, that's it.'"
Yorke works extensively with electronic instruments such as synthesisers, drum machines, and sequencers, and techniques including programming, sampling and looping. In 2015, he said: "Really I just enjoy writing words sitting at a piano. I tend to lose interest in the drum machine."
Based on his recorded works, Yorke has a vocal range spanning E2 to E6. He is known for his falsetto, which Paste described as "sweet", "cautious" and "haunting". Rolling Stone described his voice as a "broad, emotive sweep" with a "high, keening sound". The Guardian described it as "instrument-like" and "spectral", and wrote that it "transcends the egocentric posturing of the indie rock singer stereotype".
Yorke has often manipulated his voice with software and effects, transforming it into a "disembodied instrument". For example, on "Everything in Its Right Place", his vocals were treated to create a "glitching, stuttering collage". Pitchfork wrote in 2016 that, over the decades, Yorke's voice had evolved from "semi-interesting alt-rocker" to "left-field art-rock demigod" to "electronic grand wizard".
In 2006, Yorke said: "It annoys me how pretty my voice is. That sounds incredibly immodest, but it annoys me how polite it can sound when perhaps what I'm singing is deeply acidic." He said he keeps vocals in mind whenever he builds music, no matter the genre: "It's almost impossible for me to listen to a dance tune from beginning to end without picturing a voice."
In 2005, readers of Blender and MTV2 voted Yorke the 18th greatest singer of all time. In 2008, Rolling Stone ranked him the 66th, writing that "by the turn of the century ... Yorke's voice had made him one of the most influential singers of his generation," influencing bands including Muse, Coldplay, Travis, and Elbow.
As a child, Yorke's favourite artists included Queen. He said the acts that "changed his life" as teenager were R.E.M., Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division and Bob Dylan. He also wrote that Mark Mulcahy of Miracle Legion had affected him "a great deal" at this time: "It was the voice of someone who was only truly happy when he was singing ... it changed the way I thought about songs and singing."
When he was 16, Yorke sent a demo to a music magazine, who wrote that he sounded like Neil Young. Unfamiliar with Young, Yorke purchased his 1970 album After the Gold Rush: "I immediately fell in love with his music ... It was his attitude toward the way he laid songs down. It's always about laying down whatever is in your head at the time and staying completely true to that, no matter what it is." Yorke credited Young as a major lyrical influence.
Yorke cited the Pixies, Björk and PJ Harvey as artists who "changed his life", and in 2006 he told Pitchfork that Radiohead had "ripped off R.E.M. blind for years". He cited Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante as an influence on his guitar playing for In Rainbows, and Scott Walker as an influence on his vocals and lyrics. He said that Michael Stipe of R.E.M. is his favourite lyricist: "I loved the way he would take an emotion and then take a step back from it and in doing so make it so much more powerful." The chorus of "How to Disappear Completely" from Kid A was inspired by Stipe, who advised Yorke to relieve tour stress by repeating to himself: "I'm not here, this isn't happening."
After OK Computer, Yorke and Radiohead incorporated influences from electronic artists such as Aphex Twin and Autechre. In 2013, Yorke cited Aphex Twin as his biggest influence, saying: "He burns a heavy shadow ... Aphex opened up another world that didn't involve my fucking electric guitar ... I hated all the music that was around Radiohead at the time, it was completely fucking meaningless. I hated the Britpop thing and what was happening in America, but Aphex was totally beautiful."
Though Yorke's early lyrics were personal, from Kid A he experimented with cutting up words and phrases and assembling them at random. His lyrics often use cliches, idioms and other common expressions. Pitchfork wrote that Yorke did this "to suggest a mind consumed by meaningless data"; the Kid A lyrics, for example, feature "hum-drum observations twisted into panic attacks". New Republic writer Ryan Kearney speculated that Yorke's use of common expressions, which he described as "Radioheadisms", was an attempt "to sap our common tongue of meaning and expose the vapidity of everyday discourse". A 2021 study found that Yorke had among the largest vocabularies of pop singers, based on the number of different words used in each song.
On Radiohead's ninth album, A Moon Shaped Pool, Pitchfork felt Yorke's lyrics were less cynical, conveying wonder and amazement. Many critics felt the album's lyrics might address Yorke's separation from Rachel Owen, his partner of more than 20 years. However, in 2019, Yorke denied writing biographically, saying he instead writes "spasmodic" lyrics based on imagery.
According to Yorke, many of his lyrics are motivated by anger, expressing his political and environmental concerns and written as "a constant response to doublethink". The lyrics of the 2003 Radiohead album Hail to the Thief dealt with what he called the "ignorance and intolerance and panic and stupidity" following the 2000 election of US President George W. Bush and the unfolding War on Terror. Yorke wrote his 2006 single "Harrowdown Hill" about David Kelly, the British weapons expert and whistleblower. In a 2008 television performance of "House of Cards", Yorke dedicated the "denial, denial" refrain to Bush for rejecting the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty to reduce greenhouse gases. The 2011 single "The Daily Mail" attacks the right-wing Daily Mail newspaper.
In a 2015 interview with the activist and writer George Monbiot, Yorke said: "In the 60s, you could write songs that were like calls to arms, and it would work. It's much harder to do that now ... If I was going to write a protest song about climate change in 2015, it would be shit. It's not like one song or one piece of art or one book is going to change someone's mind." Working on A Moon Shaped Pool, Yorke asked himself whether it was still possible to write political songs, worrying they alienated some listeners, but decided it was better than writing "another lovey-dovey song about nothing".
Yorke often incorporates dance into his performances, described by the Times as his "on-stage signature". He began dancing on stage after Radiohead released Kid A in 2000, as "I suddenly didn't have a guitar around my neck". His dancing features in music videos for songs such as "Lotus Flower" and "Ingenue", and the short film Anima. Critics have described it as "erratic", "flailing", and unconventional. In 2011, Rolling Stone readers voted Yorke their 10th favourite dancing musician.
Politics and activism
Yorke has been critical of the music industry and has pioneered alternative release platforms with Radiohead and his solo work. Following Radiohead's 1993 Pablo Honey tour of America, he became disenchanted with being "right at the sharp end of the sexy, sassy, MTV eye-candy lifestyle" he felt he was helping sell. After a 1995 Melody Maker article suggested that Yorke would kill himself like Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain, Yorke developed an aversion to the British music press.
The 1998 documentary Meeting People Is Easy portrays Yorke's disaffection with the music industry and press during Radiohead's OK Computer tour. After Radiohead's fourth album, Kid A (2000), was leaked via the peer-to-peer filesharing software Napster weeks before release, Yorke told Time he felt Napster "encourages enthusiasm for music in a way that the music industry has long forgotten to do. I think anybody sticking two fingers up at the whole fucking thing is wonderful as far as I'm concerned."
After Radiohead's record contract with EMI ended with the release of Hail to the Thief (2003), Yorke told Time: "I like the people at our record company, but the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs one. And, yes, it probably would give us some perverse pleasure to say 'Fuck you' to this decaying business model." In 2006, he called major record labels "stupid little boys' games – especially really high up". Radiohead independently released their 2007 album In Rainbows as a download for which listeners could choose their price; Yorke said the "most exciting" part of the release was the removal of the barrier between artist and audience. However, in 2013, Yorke told the Guardian he feared the In Rainbows release had instead played into the hands of content providers such as Apple and Google: "They have to keep commodifying things to keep the share price up, but in doing so they have made all content, including music and newspapers, worthless, in order to make their billions. And this is what we want?" In 2015, he criticised YouTube for "seizing control" of contributor content, likening it to Nazis looting art during World War II.
In 2013, Yorke and Godrich made headlines for their criticism of the music streaming service Spotify, and removed Atoms for Peace and Yorke's solo music from the service. In a series of tweets, Yorke wrote: "Make no mistake, new artists you discover on Spotify will not get paid. Meanwhile, shareholders will shortly be rolling in it ... New artists get paid fuck-all with this model." Yorke called Spotify "the last gasp of the old industry", accusing it of only benefiting major labels with large back catalogues, and encouraged artists to build their own "direct connections" with audiences instead. His music was re-added to Spotify in December 2017.
For Yorke's second solo album, Tomorrow's Modern Boxes (2014), released via BitTorrent, he and Godrich expressed their hope to "hand some control of internet back to people who are creating the work ... bypassing the self-elected gatekeepers". Asked if the release had been a success, Yorke said: "No, not exactly ... I wanted to show that, in theory, today one could follow the entire chain of record production, from start to finish, on his own. But in practice it is very different. We cannot be burdened with all of the responsibilities of the record label."
In 2000, during the recording of Kid A, Yorke became "obsessed" with the Worldwatch Institute website, "which was full of scary statistics about icecaps melting, and weather patterns changing". He said he became involved in the movement to halt climate change after having children and "waking up every night just terrified".
Yorke has been a supporter of Friends of the Earth and their Big Ask Campaign since 2003. He and Jonny Greenwood headlined the Big Ask Live, a 2006 benefit concert to persuade the government to enact a new law on climate change. In a Guardian article, Yorke wrote:
At first I told Friends of the Earth that I was absolutely the wrong person to be associated with their campaign. I've based my life on touring, and the rock industry is a high energy-consuming industry. But they persuaded me that that was exactly why it was a good idea for me to be involved; that they didn't want to present a holier-than-thou message. Initially, I attracted some criticism, but you just have to accept it, drink some cold water and get on with your life.
In 2006, Yorke refused an invitation from Friends of the Earth to meet prime minister Tony Blair to discuss climate change. Yorke wrote on Radiohead's site that "I have no intention of being used by spider spin doctors to make it look like we make progress when it is just words", and told the NME that Blair had "no environmental credentials as far as I'm concerned". He told the Guardian that Blair's advisers had "wanted pre-meetings. They wanted to know that I was on-side. Also, I was being manoeuvred into a position where if I said the wrong thing post-the meeting, Friends of the Earth would lose their access. Which normally would be called blackmail."
In 2008, Radiohead commissioned a study to reduce the carbon expended on tour; based on the study, they chose to play at venues supported by public transport, made deals with trucking companies to reduce emissions, used new low-energy LED lighting and encouraged festivals to offer reusable plastics. In the same year, Yorke guest-edited a special climate change edition of Observer Magazine and wrote: "Unlike pessimists such as James Lovelock, I don't believe we are all doomed ... You should never give up hope."
In 2009, Yorke performed via Skype at the premier of the environmentalist documentary The Age of Stupid, and gained access to the COP 15 climate change talks in Copenhagen by posing as a journalist. In 2010, he performed a benefit concert at the Cambridge Corn Exchange for the British Green party, and supported the 10:10 campaign for climate change mitigation. The following year, he joined the maiden voyage of Rainbow Warrior III, a yacht used by Greenpeace to monitor damage to the environment.
Yorke was one of several celebrities who endorsed the parliamentary candidacy of the Green party's Caroline Lucas at the 2015 UK general election. In December 2015, he performed during the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris at a benefit concert in aid of 350.org, an environmental organisation raising awareness about climate change. His performance and others from the event were released on the live album Pathway to Paris in July 2016. Yorke contributed an electronic track, "Hands Off the Antarctic", for use in a 2018 Greenpeace campaign.
2017 Israel concert
In April 2017, more than 50 prominent figures, including musicians Roger Waters and Thurston Moore, social rights activist Desmond Tutu, and filmmaker Ken Loach, signed a petition urging Radiohead to cancel an Israel performance as part of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, a cultural boycott of Israel. In a Rolling Stone interview, Yorke said of the criticism: "I just can't understand why going to play a rock show or going to lecture at a university [is a problem to them] ... It's really upsetting that artists I respect think we are not capable of making a moral decision ourselves after all these years. They talk down to us and I just find it mind-boggling that they think they have the right to do that."
Yorke said that the petitioners had not contacted him; this was disputed by Waters, who said in an open letter in Rolling Stone that he had attempted several times to contact Yorke. In a statement, Yorke responded: "Playing in a country isn't the same as endorsing the government. Music, art and academia is about crossing borders not building them, about open minds not closed ones, about shared humanity, dialogue and freedom of expression."
In 1999, Yorke travelled to the G8 summit to support the Jubilee 2000 movement calling for cancellation of third-world debt. In a 2003 Guardian article criticising the World Trade Organization, he wrote: "The west is creating an extremely dangerous economic, environmental and humanitarian time bomb. We are living beyond our means." In 2005, he joined an all-night vigil for the Trade Justice Movement.
In September 2004, Yorke was a key speaker at a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament rally outside the Fylingdales air base in Yorkshire, protesting Tony Blair's support of the Bush administration's plans for the "Star Wars" missile defence system. In 2011, alongside Robert Del Naja of Massive Attack and Tim Goldsworthy of Unkle, Yorke played a secret DJ set for a group of Occupy activists in the abandoned offices of investment bank UBS.
To celebrate the 2008 election of US president Barack Obama, Yorke released a remixed version of his single "Harrowdown Hill" as a free download. After the election of Donald Trump in 2016, he tweeted lyrics from Radiohead's single "Burn the Witch", interpreted as a criticism of Trump's rightwing policies. He opposed Brexit, and in March 2019 joined the People's Vote march calling for a second referendum.
In June 2016, following the Orlando nightclub shooting in Florida, Yorke was one of nearly 200 music industry figures to sign an open letter published in Billboard urging the United States Congress to impose stricter gun control.
Yorke is vegetarian and has criticised the meat industry. He stopped eating meat partially out of the desire to attract a girl he liked. In a 2005 film for the animal rights foundation Animal Aid, he said: "Society deems it necessary to create this level of suffering in order for [people] to eat food that they don't need ... you should at least be aware of what you're doing rather than assuming that that's your right as a human being to do it."
For 23 years, Yorke was in a relationship with artist and lecturer Rachel Owen, whom he met while studying at the University of Exeter. Their son, Noah, was born in 2001, and their daughter, Agnes, in 2004. Noah played drums on two tracks on Yorke's 2018 album Suspiria. According to The Times, Yorke and Owen married in a secret ceremony in May 2003 in Oxfordshire. In August 2015, the couple announced they had separated amicably. Owen died of cancer on 18 December 2016, aged 48. In September 2020, Yorke married Italian actress Dajana Roncione in Bagheria, Sicily.
Awards and nominations
|A2IM Libera Awards||2020||Himself||Marketing Genius||Nominated|
|Anima||Best Dance/Electronic Album||Nominated|
|Brit Awards||2007||Himself||British Male Solo Artist||Nominated|
|Chicago Film Critics Association Award||2018||Suspiria||Best Original Score||Nominated|
|David di Donatello||2020||Suspiria||Best Score||Nominated|
|Denmark GAFFA Awards||1998||Himself||Best Foreign Songwriter||Nominated|
|2001||Best Foreign Male Act||Nominated|
|The Eraser||Best Foreign Album||Nominated|
|Grammy Awards||2007||The Eraser||Best Alternative Music Album||Nominated|
|2020||Anima||Best Alternative Music Album||Nominated|
|Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package||Nominated|
|Best Music Film||Nominated|
|"Suspirium"||Best Song Written for Visual Media||Nominated|
|Mercury Prize||2006||The Eraser||Album of the Year||Nominated|
|NME Awards||2008||Himself||Hero of the Year||Nominated|
|Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association||2018||Suspiria||Best Score||Nominated|
|UK Music Video Awards||2019||Anima||Best Special Video Project||Nominated|
|Best Production Design in a Video||Nominated|
|Best Choreography in a Video||Won|
|2020||"Last I Heard (...He Was Circling the Drain)"||Best Alternative Video - UK||Nominated|
|Žebřík Music Awards||2000||Himself||Best International Male||Nominated|
- When the Dragon Swallowed the Sun (2010; additional music only)
- The UK Gold (2013; with Robert Del Naja)
- Why Can't We Get Along (2018; Rag & Bone short film)
- Time of Day (2018; Rag & Bone short film)
- Suspiria (2018)
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