Radioheads’ Thom Yorke & Johnny Greenwoods, The Smile, At Magazine London

The latest project from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood launched to live and online audiences at Magazine London in January 2022. The band played three concerts in less than 24 hours at the custom-built venue, in a feat of hybrid production supported by a pioneering livestream.

Comprising Yorke and Greenwood alongside jazz drummer Tom Skinner from Sons of Kemet, The Smile take their name from a Ted Hughes poem, which itself recalls the twinkling melancholy of early Radiohead. For many, The Smile is the closest Yorke has come to reviving the energy of that period.

There is something different produced by this combination of musicians, however: a freedom in the way focus skips between Greenwood’s electronic toplines and Skinner’s full-bodied percussion. From the nimbly plucked melody of ‘The Smoke’ to the post-punk force of ‘You Will Never Work in Television Again’, the set list is an eclectic parade of songs that celebrate the possibilities of collaborative and open-minded music-making.

‘Our singular challenge was to ensure that anyone who saw the show was blown away by it and enjoyed it equally, whether they were in the room or at home, and I think we got close to achieving that. I don’t think that’s ever been done before. And that’s really exciting because, as an industry, it gives us a new format that we can make use of.’

The concert began with a different poem – also called ‘The Smile’ – by William Blake, read in an echoing, disembodied voice by the actor Cillian Murphy. It set the scene for the band’s entrance, onto a custom-made round stage framed by LED pillars and bursting with musical instruments and equipment.

The performances at Magazine London were designed to give equal weight to physical and online audiences. For an album written during, and often in reference to, the UK’s successive lockdowns, the inclusion of a live stream seemed like a particularly appropriate approach to their first in-person event.

The film was produced by the director Paul Dugdale, who worked with the UK-based live streaming company Driift to capture the virtuosity and energy of the three musicians. The multi-camera feed was filmed using ultrawide and fisheye lenses carefully placed to avoid blocking the audience’s view, with the occasional appearance of a Steadicam, weaving around and within the stage architecture.

The production allows the strengths of each musician to shine, translating Skinner’s frenetic energy with such atmosphere that you can almost feel the stage vibrating. Yorke bops and croons, towards his bandmates rather than out towards the audience or the cameras. It feels intimate, like you’re watching a rehearsal in his living room. The most impressive shots capture Greenwood switching between instruments with dizzying skill – synths, guitars, a violin and a lyre – sometimes at the same time, as he plays keys with one hand and a harp with the other.

The Smile’s first album reflects the experience of life in lockdown, from existential reflection to moments of sadness, frustration and, at times, unexpected bursts of light. For their first performance in front of a live audience, the band brought this context into focus by combining the immediacy of a small live show with high-tech hybrid production that created a network of shared experiences around the world.

‘There is a Smile of Love / And there is a Smile of Deceit / And there is a Smile of Smiles / In which these two Smiles meet’