BUG: An oral history
With the BFI's regular celebration of pop promos entering its 13th year, we speak to its creators (David Knight, Louise Stevens, Phil Tidy and Adam Buxton) about playing host to some of the greatest music video directors and films of the past decade.
Ever since The Buggles first decried the death of radio on MTVs first broadcast, music videos have been a way for artists and, more importantly, directors to explore their creative depths.
However, aside from being seen on the small screen (back then) and the even smaller screen (now), pop promos are rarely celebrated in the way that short films or movies tend to be.
Launched in April 2007 as an ongoing series of events at the BFI Southbank in London, BUG’s ethos has been to give big-screen exposure to the most awe-inspiring new work in music videos - from the high-profile, well-known masters of the medium to fledgling newcomers working on less-than-zero budgets.
Founded by Promonews editor David Knight, Squire Studios founder Phil Tidy and event producer Louise Stevens, the bi-monthly show soon became a phenomenon in the field due to its careful curation and effervescent presentation from TV/Radio/Podcast comedian Adam Buxton.
We live for that stuff which is completely off the wall. Hilarious. Amazingly creative. Imaginative. On the far end of what music videos can do. That's what Bug is all about.
With a creator-friendly format consisting of promos (presented with the director’s name so as to recognise the real star of the show), comedic skits from Buxton and, more often than not, a celebratory one-on-one interview with a director or directing team, the show’s instant popularity enabled it to bring in big names from the start (Dougal Wilson, Keith Schofield, CANADA, Kim Gehrig, Garth Jennings, Shynola and Tim Pope, to name but a few) as well as creating spin-off specials, celebrating artists like Radiohead, The Chemical Brothers and the everlasting Bowie.
As it heads into its 13th year, and with our Music Video Focus coming to a close, we thought it opportune to bring in Knight, Tidy, Stevens and Buxton to give us an oral history of the BUG evolution.
Above: A shot from the BUG Bowie Special at Manchester Albert Hall in 2016. [Photography: Jack Kirwin]
LOUISE STEVENS: David [Knight] and I used to work together at Music Week, where David had a magazine called Promo and I was working in the music events team.
We considered doing some shows at the BFI, around 1999, so contacted Stuart Brown, who was in the events team [now Head of Programmes & Acquisitions] and, together with MTV2, put together a series of events that were all about music videos from the previous century.
PHIL TIDY: A round-up of the greatest videos of all time, up to that point.
LS: The events were a real success and Stuart was really proud of them, because it’s the first time the BFI brought in a younger crowd. He knew there was a really exciting opportunity with music video to get new members on board, and also to speak to directors who would go on to make features and documentaries.
However, shortly after that, we left the Music Week fold to do our own thing, so Stuart commissioned two other people [Jordan McGarry and Vez Hoper] to do a show called Antenna.
There was a really exciting opportunity with music video [at the BFI] to get new members on board, and also to speak to directors who would go on to make features and documentaries.
That ran for a couple of years and was really successful with the audience, but when they had to stop to go off to do other things, and Stuart called me and said, “Look, we really want to keep doing music videos, do you have something you could bring?”
I rang David, David rang Phil, Phil rang another chap called Chris [Blakeston - a senior member of the Getty Images team who helped with funding]. We got together, came up with an idea and then David got Adam on board.
Above: The BUG team: L-R David Knight, Miland Suman (part of the post-production team since the start), Louise Stevens, Adam Buxton, Phil Tidy. [Photography: Ben Meadows]
PT: I went to the last Antenna and knew that the show needed to carry on. There was some energy there.
ADAM BUXTON: I went along to an early Antenna with my friend, Garth Jennings, because he was interviewing Spike Jonze on stage.
It wasn’t the promos you saw on The Chart Show; these were pieces of mysterious, incredible, explosive creativity just happening in the margins, seemingly just for the benefit of other people in the industry
I just remember thinking all of the videos were amazing. Actually, no, not all of them. Some of them were fucking boring and pretentious.
I really loved Antenna. I thought it was brilliant. Jordan and Vez were inspirational and they really communicated their enthusiasm for the medium.
It was great to attend as I never even knew that people were doing all this stuff. It wasn’t the promos you saw on The Chart Show; these were pieces of mysterious, incredible, explosive creativity just happening in the margins, seemingly just for the benefit of other people in the industry, like a calling card. It was like a secret club.
Above: A typical BUG setup, with Buxton interviewing director WIZ. [Photography: Ben Meadows]
Bringing on Buxton
AB: I was phoned up by David, I think, and he said do you want to host this music video show we’re doing. I had come across David before because in Promo, the magazine, they did a feature on a video that I made with Joe Cornish for Frank Black called Dog Gone back in 1998. We were very excited that an industry publication had recognised our genius.
DK: When we were commissioned for BUG, it was a no brainer to talk to Adam. We knew of what he had in terms of his skills of comedian and presenter, as well as a great audience, but also that he has an instinctive love for the form and he knows all about it.
Plus, he’s mates with quite a lot of very good directors - Garth Jennings and Shynola, people like that.
Above: Some pics from BUG's early days, including [L-R] Corin Hardy, John Landis and Edgar Wright at a Halloween special; Adam with directing duo DANIELS; Adam with Martin de Thurah.
DK: When Lou and I met him, we asked him to present and interview people as himself. He wasn’t particularly comfortable with that, which is ironic considering what’s has happened to his career, but we assured him he’d be fine.
We knew of what he had in terms of his skills of comedian and presenter, as well as a great audience, but also that he has an instinctive love for the form and he knows all about it.
For the first show, it was my bright idea to have him with multiple directors and producers on stage at the same time, all being interviewed. That was a unique one. It was a clusterfuck.
Beforehand we’d reassured him by saying, “We’ll be careful with you, we won’t throw people at you, it will be fine with the interviewing, we’ll make it really easy for you”... and then we did the exact opposite. It’s kind of surprising he ever came back to do the next one.
After that, we decided it would just be one director and him on stage.
Above: Adam interviewing [L-R] Ninian Doff, Dawn Shadforth, Metronomy’s Joe Mount and recording artist Róisín Murphy [Photography: Ben Meadows]
The changing landscape
PT: Well, at that time , it was really difficult to actually see your videos.
MTV, was fizzling out. YouTube was only just starting to be an entity.
So, in a way, the need was for somewhere to see them and to celebrated them in their ultimate form - on the big screen with excellent sound.
Antenna, and the early days of BUG, were fairly industry-focussed, but we wanted a celebration of the craft of music video. Seeing all of these amazing people who careers have blossomed.
I don’t think it’s a problem with people as seeing the work before they come, because the experience of seeing it on the big screen in the theatre is special. You sense the reaction of everybody around you in the dark.
DK: The timing was opportune, in a way. YouTube had only started a year before and the iPhone was launched in 2007.
LS: I love that you’re putting us up with names like YouTube and Apple!
DK: I’m just saying, it’s not a coincidence. [Laughter]
LS: In regards to YouTube, nowadays I don’t think it’s a problem with people as seeing the work before they come, because the experience of seeing it on the big screen in the theatre is special. You sense the reaction of everybody around you in the dark.
Even if it’s a video you’ve seen many times before, I think seeing it in the theatre is always going to be different.
Above: Some BUG alumni: L-R Oscar Hudson, Steve Barron, Ian Pons Jewell. [Photography: Ben Meadows]
Building a BUG
PT: David and I tend to sit down after collecting a load of videos in the three months since the last show. To be fair, David, for a man of his age, watches more music videos than anyone else in the whole world. He’s an expert. [Laughter]
We fly things around and then collate all these things. In between then, we will share, occasionally, with Adam…
LS: ...and he will occasionally send things through as well.
PT: It’s a two-way thing.
Above: A handful of the BUG team's favourite vids screened in the past 10 years.
PT: About three weeks before the show, we come up with a definitive list and then we start having a debate on the running order. Some things stimulate ideas, like what director we might be having conversations with or some other crazy funny idea that Adam’s found.
It always seems to be the case that, right towards the end, there are a couple of things that fall into your lap.
DK: We find, if you’ve got, like, five or six videos, then you have the rump of the show. Ultimately, we just want to get the best. It always seems to be the case that, right towards the end, there are a couple of things that fall into your lap, or we just find at the last minute.
The last film screened in the latest show [Very Noise by Igorrr] was exactly that - we saw it very late in the day, but it’s basically what Bug is all about. We live for that stuff which is completely off the wall. Hilarious. Amazingly creative. Imaginative. On the far end of what music videos can do.
LS: We build relationships with the directors as well. We’ll get in touch with them and say, “We would like to show you the videos”, and no one says no.
Comedy from commentary
AB: I started incorporating YouTube comments after a couple of shows.
Initially, all I was doing was saying that was blah, blah, blah, and now here’s a video by so and so. This is what it’s about, and I would make some glib comments saying “I didn’t really understand this one” or whatever.
I started reading these comments and I thought ‘wow, these are stupid’. It just made me laugh.
But in the process of looking at the videos before doing the show on YouTube, I scrolled down for the first time. I was like, ‘oh, there are comments under here!’. This is 2007. YouTube has only been around for a year or two at that point.
I started reading these comments and I thought ‘wow, these are stupid’. It just made me laugh.
There were more insightful comments in the old days than I would say there are now. Also, there weren’t so many comments. It was a big deal if a video had 25 comments. It didn’t take too long for me to check them out and pick my favourite ones.
Above: Buxton reads YouTube comments for Dennis Liu's Again & Again promo for The Bird & The Bee
AB: Initially, I would write them down and read them out off of a piece of paper.
After about ten shows, we started hooking my laptop up to play bits and pieces. I used to do the comments on Photoshop and then reveal them layer by layer.
Oh my god, it was so laborious. After a while, it was taking so long to do them it was not practical.
I remember looking at the comments for OK Go's treadmill video [Here It Goes Again], and there were something like 12,000. I just thought, ‘12,000! Fuck you, OK Go!’
There were times where there were just too many comments. I remember looking at the comments for OK Go's treadmill video [Here It Goes Again], and there were something like 12,000. I just thought, ‘12,000! Fuck you, OK Go!’
That took me a day or something. I think I tried to read them all..
BUG's best bits
LS: As well as the regular shows, we do some specials and I think the biggest one was the David Bowie special. I think Adam must have performed that something like 25 times.
That show is extraordinary, and he keeps adapting it and adapting it. My favourite show must be one of those: when we did it at the Odeon Leicester Square, which was pretty amazing.
We also did it in LA, which was pretty fun for us.
DK: I wasn’t there. I went to the Union Chapel in Islington....
LS: Those shows feel different. They’re really about the audience connecting with the artist. The Bowie one has to be a favourite of mine.
Above: Some of the BUG specials from the past.
DK: There have been a lot of special moments, when you think about it.
The Radiohead special, which was the first show we did at Leicester Square, had just an incredible number of people attending. We had the Greenwood brothers [Colin and Johnny, bassist and guitarist for Radiohead] on stage being interviewed by Adam and showed their first EVER video… to which they had their heads in their hands.
AB: I like doing the shows out and about.
I really love doing BUG. It’s very stressful beforehand. Everything is right up until the last minute because everyone working on it has other jobs, so it’s always a scramble.
AB: We did Green Man one year and I think Gangnam Style had come out four days before, or something. I found it and it had 10 million views, or something, which was a LOT.
I asked “Has anyone seen Gangnam Style?” and no one had!
I asked “Has anyone seen Gangnam Style?” and no one had!
I showed the vid and the whole place just erupted. I might have shown it twice. It was such a good vibe and they had a great sound system and a big screen.
It all came together.
We’ve had lots of fun BUG shows, but that one sticks in the memory: Gangnam Style BUG.
PT: One of my favourite moments of every show is just watching Adam. He’ll just do stuff that we had no idea about.
The YouTube comments have been a source of immense pleasure to many, many people, including us.
Amazing videos, brilliant comedy and Adam Buxton being Adam Buxton.
DK: We’re always hoping he’s going to pull out an amazing nugget from the internet, and he always does.
Amazing videos, brilliant comedy and Adam Buxton being Adam Buxton. That is BUG, isn’t it?
Above: A normal dose of Buxton fun.
BUGging the future
LS: Next month we’re doing a new band special, which is Supergrass.
DK: I would like to do Depeche Mode. They’ve been around for so long. The great thing to dive into really old stuff, from back in the day.
PT: I saw a film called Be Natural, which is the undiscovered story of Alice Guy-Blaché, who was a film director for possibly the first narrative film, directed in the early part of the last century.
I’d love to do a BUG history of music videos.
In the documentary, they say was she the first music video director, because she played wax cylinders, people mimed and she filmed it. Then they synced up the sound in the theatre.
DK: I’d love to do a BUG history of music videos.
We do, kinda, dip into the origins of this form. It’s just fascinating, bringing music and film together.
The actual form has existed for as long as films existed.
That’s always been the thing about BUG: music videos aren’t something to get po-faced about.
That being said, I think if we did a history, it would be irreverent. That’s always been the thing about BUG: music videos aren’t something to get po-faced about.
LS: The main thing is that BUG is a massive collaboration.
PT: I mean, I call it a hobby - arguing with David about strange things.
LS: It’s none of our main jobs and there are lots of other people who help us as well, whether that be people at the BFI, production partners, our designers and our photographers.
There are a whole load of people who give a lot of time, for not much money, just for the love of it.