I cannot understand night people. Sure, I love being out and socialising with people whose faces are partially obscured by blackness and slowly freezing in the ever-advancing night, but being tired is just really tiring. Since moving away from the relative normalcy of an editorial-based existence, I’ve found myself spending far more time awake past midnight than I have since I was a teenager. This has resulted in me spending me days avoiding the bright light I once basked in, eating breakfast for lunch and generally trying to avoid all of the loud and aggressive music that I so enjoy regularly. It is in these twilight-meets-afternoons, these midday sleeps and drooping eyelid mornings that I rediscover my affinity for the downtempo, the trip-hop and the ambient among us. My ears seem even more receptive to what’s going on when things are a bit quieter than if they were blasted at 47 dB through car speakers. Somewhere in between the not being bothered to put in earbuds and being even less bothered to find something new I should be listening to, I stumble back into Zero 7’s orbit. And it’s the best half-mistake I’ve made the whole week. Particularly when it also involved Radiohead.
If you haven’t heard ‘Climbing Up The Walls’, off Radiohead’s era-defining OK Computer (and really, what is wrong with you), then all you need to know is that it’s a seriously beautiful but totally fucking claustrophobic alt-pop song that uses strings as a blunt forcible instrument to create a growing sense of unease that doesn’t abate. Thom Yorke feeds his voice through eight levels of distortion hell and sounds like he’s having a fit and the chords are glorious if you’re in the mood for a massive head trip and lashings of self-flagellation, which frankly, I usually am. It should not come as a shock to anyone that Zero 7, best known as the chiller legends who launched Sia’s career and made Jose Gonzales extra-credible, completely flip this on its head. What is amazing is how good it is. People often dismiss these guys as making generic, Buddha Bar elevator music, but that stuff is dumb. Zero 7 are seriously smart, and you can hear it really well in the way they’ve managed to completely warp the subtext of this tune while still keeping the anguish and emotion somewhat intact. All this amid rim-click snares, lush synth beds and hefty samples of the original. It should not work at all and yet it totally, utterly does.
I don’t know what Zero 7’s studio looks like but I’d love to have a peer inside of it one day. It’s not that they create something otherwordly with their zen reworks (this is a B-side to ‘Karma Police’), but rather that the quality of the sound is unbelievable. British music in general was never consistently better in the 90s and 00s (discounting, obviously, The Beatles) as almost every practitioner of genre upped their game and showed America who was boss. The main groove in this remix is so good that it’s almost a crime to have taken it for another song, pianos chiming out of the right speaker, that lounge guitar line in the middle and a beat that Massive Attack must have tossed out at the last minute. Harmonically it’s also not an obvious fit for the tone of ‘Climbing’, using more than as few parallel keys to make it work. And the great thing about being electronic producers is that the guys can tease and and phase in different drum sounds, vocal staggerings and parts for the kind of variation that you’ll only really appreciate when you’ve been hungover for two days and nobody will bring coffee to your house. I have always loved Zero 7 and now I’ve just been reminded why. If you need me, I’ll be on planet bliss. You should join me, there’s plenty to go around.
Radiohead – ‘Climbing Up The Walls’ (Zero 7 Remix)