The Best Music Video Show Ever Is Returning (Sort Of)

Before YouTube, 120 Minutes was THE place to watch videos that would fuck with your mind.

23 April 2014, 10:28am

Before three PayPal employees had the genius idea for a website where you can watch video, 120 Minutes was the place to watch music videos that would fuck with your mind. The UK version aired on MTV2 between 2003-2009 - the late night programming slot allowing the station to showcase the “newest, most innovative acts in rock, leftfield, and electronic music”; clean-speak for being able to play literally anything.

Watching a music video online is not the same as watching music videos on 120 Minutes. The format of the show —which didn’t include any adverts or dumb lyric videos —meant that you would sit for two whole hours monging out and waiting for something to blow your mind. On average, this would happen almost every five minutes; the show brought artists like LFO, Mogwai and Aphex Twin into the homes of stoned teenagers who had no other way of watching them. We discovered so many artists through 120 Minutes we wouldn't know where to start.

It’s been five years since 120 Minutes got cancelled and to celebrate/commiserate, they’re bringing it back to the Hackney Picturehouse for one night only. We caught up with Will McGillivray—who programmed the majority of episodes—and Alex Hoffman (who's now Head of Music at VICE) to take you on a whirlwind ride of the show's story and some of its classic videos.

Will McGillivray

Back in 2001, I was working on MTV2 and the head of digital channels thought that we should definitely be showing more nu-metal and Muse videos, all night as well as all day. We disagreed and launched a show with a terrible name called 2Eclectic. It used to go out at 2am and showed all the crazy, random, cool stuff we used to play in the daytime on MTV2 but weren't allowed to anymore because Fred Durst was basically in charge back then - not actually in charge (I think our boss was called David or something), but Durst was KING.

After a while, we realised that 2Eclectic was a pretty shit name. We re-named it 120 Minutes because people already knew what that show stood for and was the same thing as 2Eclectic, only with a way better name. We used to play anything that pushed boundaries and innovated - past, present and future - in both music AND video. Unfortunately it wasn't always possible for musicians and record labels to achieve innovation in music AND video at the same time, so most of the time it was only one or the other. We used to put a lot of old and new stuff together that showed similarities and influences, like Can into the Beta Band, or Liquid Liquid and LCD Soundsystem. We would also show stuff that would shock, titillate and annoy people, like Melt Banana or MC Pitman - we were on telly and wanted people to complain.

MTV were pretty cool to us because they let us programme 120 with no adverts. When I became channel manager of MTV2 I put it on every night at midnight because I could.

People say there’s no need for a show like 120 Minutes now because we can watch whatever we like on YouTube, but that’s missing the point. You'd end up watching videos you didn't particularly want to watch because it made sense in context - at that time of night, with the knowledge that others were watching too - and especially when you were high. That doesn't really happen anymore because we all skip stuff if it hasn't immediately melted our minds or given us a stiffy within the first 15 seconds.

I programmed 120 Minutes from 2002 – 2007. Sometimes I would spend hours making a really awesome show that had loads of cool "flow" and connections between the videos; other times I would programme it so that, in a list, the first letters of each video spelt rude words or things like "Fred Durst is a prick". Here are some of my favourite videos:

The Beta Band - "Inner Meet Me"

This one was fun because it was over six minutes long and was really sinister and really stupid all at once. It also reminded me of the "I am the Walrus" bit in the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour which seriously haunted me as a child.

Squarepusher - "Come on my Selector"

Chris Cunningham at his most playful and cinematic. Features spooky Japanese children and a talking dog.

Simian Mobile Disco - "Hustler"

There was a period of time when bands who considered themselves a bit alternative produced videos that were intended to parody and comment on the overt misogyny & sexism inherent in dance music videos of the early-to-mid noughties. Unfortunately, they ended up being as offensive and sexist as the videos they were parodying. This was one of them (see also: "Sexy Results" by Death From Above 1979, which featured a pair of singing boobs and was pretty fucked up.) It was directed by our ex-intern Saam Farahmand (who ended up becoming way more famous than us) and just featured a load of students that he fancied snogging each other in his flat, which is pretty genius.

Jeffrey Lewis - "Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror"

One of the most self-conscious, self-referential and neurotic music videos ever made. It continues to serve as a timely reminder to all of us that no-one is actually cool and that we're all basically idiots.

LCD Soundsystem - "Tribulations"

This video is too clever for its own good - much like the band.

Alex Hoffman

The first time I was allowed to programme 120 I got a bit overexcited because I was a genuine fan - I spent two days trawling through the archives for nuggets and nearly got sacked for not doing my actual job.

Most jobs get boring after a while, the thrill wears off and it just becomes a thing that you do – but 120 was different. It always felt sacred; like a little club that I was suddenly in charge of. Some geeky viewer used to stay up for every episode and post the full tracklist on a blog the next morning with a bit of a review (really important stuff like “grrr they played that Andy Votel video AGAIN, must be the third time this year.)

Cornershop - "6am Jullander Shere"

The videos I got most excited about programming were the ones that I had originally discovered through watching 120 Minutes in my teens - the ones that got me into “weird music”. This one really stands out because I was obsessed with it and assumed they would disappear forever, but then somehow they ended up having a number 1 record in the late 90s.

Bobby Conn - "Never Get Ahead"

This is probably my favourite music video ever and I played it almost every time I programmed the show. I wish Twitter existed back then so I could have seen the one person who watched the show tweet that he’d just seen the best music video ever. Bobby had some other decent tracks and I saw him live a few times but nothing came anywhere close to this.

Ultramagnetic MCs - "Poppa Large"

Once I’d done it a few times, I started slipping in a few amazing bits of hip-hop that would never get played anywhere. That used to wind up some of the virgins at home but I could always get them back on side with a bit of Can.

David Holmes - "Don't Die Just Yet"

I pretty much always used to play this, which I think used to wind Will up but a) it's fucking great and b) it was the closest thing to Serge Gainsbourg who sadly didn’t have any videos in the MTV archive.

There are so many amazing unloved gems in the MTV archives, it’s pretty sad they never ever get seen - not even at 2am on a Monday morning for those few who keep believing. Guess it doesn’t matter so much now as you can find pretty much anything you like within a few seconds but nothing beats that feeling of not knowing what’s next. After a few boring ones, something would always come on and blow your tiny mind.

You can see all of the above videos and more at "120 Minutes Revisited" at the Hackney Picturehouse on Thursday 24th April. Tickets available here.