Review: Pitchblack Playback at Riverside Studios: Radiohead’s OK Computer (20th Anniversary Edition)

Review by Bartley Chipchase

We all get off our ass and we drive to a theatre and sit down in silence, turn our phones off, and in the dark watch a movie. That’s incredible that we’re still doing that. I just want that same reverence for music.” – Jack White

This week, I went to Pitchblack Playback, a series of immersive listening sessions inviting the music-loving public to hear classic LPs like never before in cinemas and other intimate spaces.

Set up in 2016 by DJ, producer and promoter Ben Gomori, the events have built up a bit of a cult following in other venues across London and other cities worldwide, and fortunately have become a somewhat regular occurrence at Riverside’s 192-capacity main cinema. I had been meaning to make a trip since December when they did a play through of Tame Impala’s Currents (2015), one of my all-time favourite albums.

Since that time they have played a variety of classics such as Fleetwood Mac’s Tango in the Night and U2’s The Joshua Tree, as well as more contemporary albums such as Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak. I figured it was high time I went to try it out for myself, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

OK Computer is still considered by many diehard music fans as one of, if not the, greatest albums of all time. It’s one of those behemoths of the industry which is often alluded to but is very rarely equalled. It boasts a number of Radiohead’s biggest singles but also has the perfect balance of slower, softer numbers which punctuate it for a regular listening experience.

Images above: Riverside Studios’ Cinema; Pitchblack Playback’s complimentary eye-mask

The lyrics depict a world fraught with excessive consumerism, social isolation and political malaise; and it’s often seen as giving a prescient insight into the mood of 21st-century life. It is therefore no surprise that it continues to feature heavily in shows such as Black Mirror and After Life, which have a dystopian gloom that Thom Yorke seemed to allude to.

However, It’s not just the lyrics of the album which make it stand out. The unique production qualities are an essential part of the experience as the band used unconventional techniques, including natural reverberation through recording on a staircase, and no audio separation for a more ‘live’ sound. 

Songs like No Surprises and Karma Police would stand up on their own as great tunes stripped back or played acoustically, but it’s the weird, distorted sounds and synths which really warrant this album being played on a big ‘**** off’ sound system for extra detail.

Performances typically start around 8.45 pm, so there is plenty of time to enjoy a pint in the main bar which overlooks the iconic Hammersmith Bridge. The outdoor tables are hot property, so make sure to arrive early if you want one, although there is plenty of space inside if you can’t.

Image above: Riverside Studios

Once inside, after a quick, to-the-point introduction from one of the Riverside staff (a duty that we’re told is often carried out by founder Ben Gomori himself), the lights are switched off and then a quote from Thom Yorke booms across the auditorium.

What follows is an utterly captivating experience, the sheer volume is incredible. The heavy guitars of opening tracks Airbag and Paranoid Android sound absolutely monstrous, a bit like being at the front of a gig but with incomparably better quality.

On the other hand, tracks like Subterranean Homesick Alien stand out for having these weird but serene waves of synths which twist and shimmer around the room. The speakers also help instrumental moments like on Exit Music for a film really stand out and sound intimate.

One of the things that struck me most was how attentive and engaged the audience were, despite the theatre being almost completely full. This was almost the polar opposite to a recent visit to see Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which had a particularly annoying horde of teenagers that whooped and cheered the entire way through. By some miracle, in Pitchblack Playback’s case, the whole theatre stayed silent for 53 minutes, savouring every detail from start to finish, even during the silences between the tracks.

I left Riverside with a new appreciation for the album, and will definitely make a return. I’d highly recommend going for an album you love already, but it will also help you appreciate less familiar albums if you want to give it a trial run. If possible, I’d also recommend booking early to get a seat in the middle of the room in order to appreciate the full stereo field at its best.

Pitchblack Playback will next be playing Taylor Swift’s Folkore at The Castle Cinema in Homerton, followed by a playthrough of Prince and the Revolution: Live at Acoustics Creations in Highgate. Keep watching our events calendar for the next playthrough at Riverside Studios.

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