Eulogy for 120 Minutes
120 Minutes, which you’ll find on MTV2 every night between one and three in the morning if you live in the UK, is without doubt the pinnacle of all pop music television ever. The format is crushingly simple: two hours of music videos, one after the other. No presenters. No ads. No text on screen except for the name of the artist, the name of the track and the name of the album it comes from (if it’s on one, which often it isn’t). When “they” (whoever they are) are feeling impish they don’t even give you those. It took me a while to figure this out – I am slow – but what’s so effective about the format is just that: you are given no context at all for the thing you’re watching. No facts. No opinions. Just: here’s this. We think it’s good. But make of it what you will.
None of which would matter in the slightest if it wasn’t good. But the programming on 120m is smart as a pocketful of shiny pins. It has no regard for genre whatsoever. Whichever beardy old sage said “there are only two kinds of music: good and bad” was a fatuous cunt who almost certainly fell on the wrong side of his own divide (it’ll turn out to have been Ian Curtis, and I’ll have to hang myself in shame) but there’s massive virtue in a music programme that has no apparent manifesto except that it will try to keep you on your toes.
A typical sequence at the moment might run: Cool Kids – Oppenheimer – The Fall – South Central – Sonny J – Psapp – Teenagers in Tokyo – Talking Heads – Belle and Sebastian. Or: Public Image Ltd – Four Tet – Frankmusik – Lost Brothers – Can – Bearsuit – Sigur Ros – LFO – Sonic Youth. Or: Pink Floyd (1967, obv) – Laurie Anderson – Lou Reed (2008, less obv) – New Pornographers – Rolo Tomassi – Los Campesinos! – Rye Rye – Headless Heroes – Sebastien Tellier. Or: Panda Bear – FM Belfast – Future of the Left – M83 – My Bloody Valentine – Metronomy – The Dø – Stars – Stereolab. Or: Archie Bronson Outfit – Bjork – The Teardrop Explodes – Holy Fuck – Fuck Buttons – Ween – Portishead – MIA – Yo La Tengo.
Imagine being 14 in 2009 and stumbling across this little lot while listlessly surfing the ocean of banality. Imagine being 40.
There’s really nothing to add: if those lists don’t make you want to quit the day job and spend the rest of your life, or at least some of it, watching 120m you probably didn’t like pop music in the first place. Or maybe you just don’t like the telly. But this is very un-telly telly, as I’ve told you. It tells you nothing. I’m idealising it a bit: there are sub-Bloc Party whiners and anonymous blobs of dance music and the likes of Adam Green to wade through. But that’s sort of the point. Somebody else thinks those are the best bits. No size fits all. In that respect it’s like Peel. Its musical brief isn’t anywhere near as broad, of course – shame, cos a ten minute Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan headbanger would slot in seamlessly – but it appeals to this punter in exactly the same way. I trust “their” judgement and they (whoever they are) reward me with stuff I’d never have heard otherwise, or would have waited six months to hear while the rest of the pop media caught up and got round to telling me about it. The arrangement works fine for me.
In a perfectly-executed demonstration of the truism that "cunts are still running the world", MTV2 axed 120 minutes about a week after this piece was written. I left it as is because it's less depressing that way. If you'd prefer the amended version, click here.