Every two months since 2007, a celebration of music video has taken place at the BFI. Hosted by comedian Adam Buxton, BUG has showcased the best visual accompaniments to popular music and spoken to the directors who made them. It’s grown into a bit of an institution among the advertising and video production industry and with a TV series on Sky Atlantic behind them, it’s a pretty big deal. They’re celebrating this later this month by putting on a big show - The Best of BUG – at the Odeon Leicester Square on 19 March.
We spoke to BUG’s founding partner and curator about what’s in store for the audience.
What sort of thing can we expect from The Best of BUG show?
It’ll be recent greatest hits [of the BFI BUG shows] plus a few things from the TV show. So we’ll show a couple of the videos that we’d made especially for the show. We’re also going to have a special guest: Edgar Wright [director of Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World] which is great. He’s actually done a BUG show before, but weirdly, it wasn’t with Adam [Buxton].
It was a strange one. A few years ago now we did a BUG Halloween special and the host was Corin Hardy. Corin is a video director and he’s done various things we’ve featured at BUG. But he’s kind of like a horror fanatic. At this stage he was making real horror shorts. That’s how he started and that’s the same way that Edgar started – making little Super 8 films as teenagers – and that’s how they met. This wasn’t long after Hot Fuzz had come out, but because Edgar’s got his material and his music videos also fitted into the horror theme, he was invited as a guest. And Edgar invited John Landis, the director of Thriller, who was our secret special guest.
It was a great night, but weirdly Adam hadn’t hosted it. I think he feels a bit bad about that, really. So we’re sort of putting things right. And he’s an old friend of Edgar’s, so it’s strange that we’ve never had him on as Adam’s guest. This is kind of like the perfect setting for it.
We’ll no doubt show some excellent music-related Edgar Wright stuff, both music videos and clips from various films. So that’s going to be a good part of it. Edgar’s going to come up and have an on-stage chat, show some stuff and goof around in the inimitable Buxton fashion.
Do you think Adam is integral to the format?
We started nearly six years ago, unbelievably, and I could count on a few fingers when Adam hasn’t hosted a BUG show. I think he’s done every one at the BFI. He was always in our mind as the ideal person to do the show because he’s got such a feel for videos. He knows what it’s about. He’s mates with some of the top directors, including Edgar and Garth Jennings, Dougal Wilson, Shynola. He’s even made a few music videos and obviously now he’s made a few more with the TV show.
How was BUG first created?
Taking it way back I was the editor of PROMO magazine – the music video trade mag – for years. And at the beginning of the millennium me and this producer from MTV2 – when they were quite and arty adjunct of MTV – Nick Hutchens. We did a co-production between PROMO and MTV2 where we did these millennial best music videos ever made shows, where we’d filmed interviews with the directors. They went out on MTV and at the same time they were shown at the BFI.
It was the first time they’d shown music videos at the BFI, or the NFT as it was known then. They would just sell out. They were hugely successful. And we did a few more.
And then the BFI got a regular music video night than ran from about 2002-2007, which was called Antenna. But it was different. It was quite straight. It was very popular with ad agency people, full of great creative work.
At the end of 2006 they said they weren’t going to do it anymore. But then they got Adam to host the very last show. He’s got this character called Ken Korda, who’s a movie nerd who fancies himself as a great critic. He often likes really terrible movies. He did the whole of this Antenna night as Ken Korda and I was like ‘this is good but why?’ So when we wanted him to do BUG, I said ‘Adam, it would be great if you can do the show, but please do it as yourself. I don’t think you need to do a character.’
He knew it would involve him interviewing people and he was very reluctant about [that]. The very first show we had about five guests all on stage at the same time, so I really sort of punished him. It’s settled down since then. His interviewing technique has improved but he wouldn’t call himself an interviewer. He’s more of a fan.
What do you think people love about BUG?
Obviously people come to the show for the comedy, for Adam’s YouTube comments etc. – the important thing is that we put everything in context. That’s our remit at the BFI. This is a show with the best creative work we can find (well, what we think – others may disagree). It’s to explain who these directors are, what they do, where they are in their careers. And Adam’s very much down with that. He wants to tell the story around the video. And then the YouTube comments are part of the story.
The lucky thing was in 2007, when we started BUG, YouTube had just started. The growth of videos as a YouTube phenomenon had already started but was just getting going. We called it The Evolution of Music Video because it was a way to take it on from Antenna that had preceded it, but also it was a way to refer to everything that was going on at a particular time.
The internet affected the music video pretty much more than anything. At least, it was the first thing. It needed that injection of excitement. It’s always been the thing about music videos, being the length that they are, that’s the perfect length for the YouTube generation.
Music videos, as they’ve always been, you can quite happily watch on YouTube. It’s not like they’re out of place because you should have watched them on TV. The classic music video lives and is actually being seen online, whereas previously it was getting increasingly not seen on TV.
How do you decide what to put in the shows? As editor of Promo News you must see practically everything.
It’s impossible to see everything. There is so much stuff. It’s like you’ve got the videos that are commissioned out of labels, which is pretty much the same as it always has been. But then there’s the other massive tsunami of material that comes from everywhere else.
The whole scene and music industry has changed so much and then there’s a lot of stuff being made that’s not been commissioned at all in the conventional way. What I’m trying to say is I get sent so many videos from all over. Essentially it’s completely changed from back in the day, which means I can never take a holiday, basically.
It’s incredible how you can miss things. Everyone else knows about it then you find out about it. You think everyone has seen something and then Adam asks the audience ‘have you seen this?’ [and they haven’t].
Gangnam Style is the perfect example. It was still a vaguely minor viral and hardly anyone in the audience had seen it when we showed it at BUG. At that point it hadn’t gone absolutely ballistic global. Somebody had sent it to me a few days before the show. I think that was in May last year.
It’s about trying to show people things they haven’t seen. And obviously there’s a lot of very obscure videos that deserve to be seen and we provide that service.
Do you feel it’s your duty to focus on the obscure, rather than the stuff people will see anyway?
I tend to think that the mainstream stuff is generally by definition not as interesting. Obviously there are exceptions that can be extremely well made. We will show videos from big bands as well. It doesn’t really matter. The definition is if it’s good enough as a piece of film. It’s got to at least hold your attention for the whole length of the film. There are a lot of things that don’t do that, but that’s really the criteria, otherwise people are walking out the cinema.
Click here to reserve tickets for The Best of Bug.