"Idioteque" is the eighth track from the British alternative rock band Radiohead's 2000 album Kid A. It was seen as a departure for the rock band, as the song is driven by electronic beats. The song has been played at nearly every concert since 2001. The song is listed at #8 on Pitchfork Media's top 500 songs of the 2000s.
According to Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, "Idioteque wasn't my idea at all; it was Jonny's. Jonny handed me this DAT that he'd... he'd gone into our studio for the afternoon... and, um, the DAT was like 50 minutes long, and I sat there and listened to this 50 minutes. And some of it was just "what?", but then there was this section of about 40 seconds long in the middle of it that was absolute genius, and I just cut that up and that was it..."
"Idioteque" contains two credited samples of experimental 1970s computer music. The first is several seconds of Mild und Leise, a piece by Paul Lansky, forming the four chord progression repeated throughout the song. Mild und Leise is 18 minutes long and through composed. The portion sampled by Radiohead is only heard once in the original piece, very briefly. Also sampled is "Short Piece" by Arthur Kreiger, now a professor of music at Connecticut College. Both tracks were compiled on the 1976 LP First Recordings — Electronic Music Winners, which Radiohead instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood stumbled upon while the band was working on Kid A.
Paul Lansky approved Greenwood's sampling and has since written an essay on "Idioteque", found in the book The Music and Art of Radiohead. Radiohead members Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood often compose music on their laptops, even while on the road touring, making it possible to create an electronic song in several minutes. Lansky also noted that, while Radiohead's song may hinge on a sample from his work, the mild und leise chord progression they used was itself "sampled" by Lansky from a leitmotif of the Richard Wagner opera Tristan und Isolde. On the original album release, the song was credited as having been written by Radiohead with an additional credit for the samples used. On the group's later album I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings, the songwriting credit is given to "Radiohead & Paul Lansky".
Yorke does not directly explain his lyrics, but "Idioteque" has been described by others as an "apocalyptic" song, with possible references to natural disaster, war and technological breakdown. Many fans interpret "Idioteque" as having something to do with climate change, an issue on which Yorke is outspoken and which he has admitted inspired subsequent songs, such as 2003's "Sail to the Moon" and those on his 2006 solo album The Eraser.
Several of the "Idioteque" lyrics (as well as those of certain other songs from the period) are audibly different in live performance. The "Idioteque" lyrics, like others on Kid A, were created from cutting up phrases and drawing them from a hat.
The song opens with the lines: "who's in a bunker, who's in a bunker, women and children first..." Yorke has not explained the reference, but has said other songs, such as 2003's "I Will" and "Sit Down. Stand Up." were about civilians killed in military conflict and genocide ("I Will" had originally been written before Kid A. Its lyrics also reference a "bunker," likely based on an incident in which Iraqi civilians, most of them women and children, were killed by air raids on the underground Al Amiriyah shelter in the 1991 Gulf War).
Near the end of the song, a line that sounds like "the first of the children" is repeatedly sung, possibly a reference to the album's title Kid A (this line is actually a sample of Yorke's vocal from earlier in the song, played halfway through the line "women and children first, and the children", making the line "the first, and the children"). However, when Yorke sings the song live, it varies between "the(re's) fathers and the children," "this one is to the children," "this one is for the children," or "if I asked you to kill me."
The lyrics are paralleled in the visual artwork for the album Kid A by Stanley Donwood and Thom Yorke, under the pen name "Tchock". Donwood's paintings depict a wasteland covered by sheets of ice and snow, with fires in distant forests and genetically modified bears and other mysterious shapes taking control of human civilization.
The cover of the band's 2000 album Kid A, Donwood says, was inspired by a Guardian front page photograph he saw during the Kosovo war. "It was of a square metre of snow and it was full of the detritus of war, all military stuff and fag stains. I was upset by it in a way war had never upset me before. It felt like it was happening in my street."
The graphic novel Brought to Light by Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz, has been acknowledged by Kid A cover designer Donwood as the source of the blood-filled swimming pool on the "Kid A" cover.