Music videos are so 80s/90s, right? They belong with the era when MTV screened wall-to-wall vids instead of 'reality' TV? Try telling that to the millions who bought Gangnam Style; were they really simply loving the music? 1.6bn (and still climbing) have viewed the video on YT, not to mention the many re-makes (school eg, eg2), viral ads + celeb link-ups (even political protest in Seoul) - and it doesn't matter how legit it is, this nightmare for daydream Beliebers is making a lot of money, even from the parodies + dislikes. All this for a simple dance track that wouldn't have sounded out of place in 1990 ... but had a fun vid. This meme itself was soon displaced by the Harlem Shake. Music vids even cause diseases it seems!
This blog explores every aspect of this most postmodern of media formats, including other print-based promo tools used by the industry, its fast-changing nature, + how fans/audiences create/interact. Posts are primarily written with Media students/educators in mind. Please acknowledge the blog author if using any resources from this blog - Mr Dave Burrowes

Saturday, 26 September 2015


Accompanying the lyric 'half asleep with a loaded gun' (Silver Snail) - there are few more inventive, inspiring, and downright stunning videos out there than The Pixies' collection, especially their videos since 2013
there is an embedded YouTube playlist of ALL videos covered at the bottom of this post
IN THIS POST: I embed and briefly discuss the music videos of The Pixies, an archetypal Indie or alternative rock band that date back to the late 80s and are still going strong, with a strikingly different set of videos since 2013. Their antagonism towards playing the promotional game, ironically, made them a key influence on a generation of video-makers. They initially refused to produce any videos then produced some challenging videos that consciously broke many of the most basic conventions of the format. No research into the conventions of music video as a format would be complete without some reference to this lot. The cinematography and use of colour (even the brilliant use of the generally cliched slo-mo tool) in their recent videos is simply STUNNING.

The Pixies are a seminal alternative rock (Indie) band who remain a key influence today, both for their music and their highly distinctive music videos. In the UK they're signed to 4AD, part of the Beggars consortium (Indie labels often join forces in co-ops to cut marketing costs and to get better distribution deals, economies of scale etc) - see wiki and this Guardian article on its iconic status. Their music fused Latin influences with rock; a bossa nova, 50s rock sound with a hard edge and dark, literary lyrical themes.

Key to understanding the Pixies is their sense of coming from humble working class backgrounds in Boston; they did not need to see themselves as a glamorous band and this is reflected in their videos. In a word, authenticity is the hallmark of their branding - this is not a band who would indulge in the fakery most bands will accept in order to maximixe their media exposure and record sales. Their everyday clothing, in contrast to the extravagance of bands like KISS and Bon Jovi that dominated much of the 80s, would bring back a vaguely punk aesthetic to the rock world, with the likes of Kurt Cobain reflecting the Pixies' look. They were edgy too - some of their lyrical themes are very dark indeed, though often based in classic literature, and were prepared to play with basic song structure too.


Yes, a shocker in some regards, but an uber risque effort, and commercial suicide in others. Or, simply: inspirational! Why don't you take on such an idea as an extra (not a main) production? There are several mainstream examples of such alternative, additional videos alongside the main production.

Their videos stand almost as anti-videos, an apparent refusal to play the promotional game:
As "Velouria" (their first single from Bossanova) was climbing up the UK Top 40, the band was offered a spot on Top of the Pops. However, a BBC rule stated only singles with videos could be performed on the show. To counter this a cheap video was made, with the band being filmed running down a quarry.[105]In the video, twenty-three seconds of footage (the time needed for the band members to reach the camera) is slowed in order to last for the duration of the song.[106] However, the effort in filming the video was in vain; the Pixies did not play "Velouria" on Top of The Pops while the single was in the charts.[107] [Wiki]

However, just as their anti-image stance (plain clothing for example) is in itself nonetheless an image, (one that would heavily influence the Seattle scene, not least Nirvana) the stripped down aesthetic of their videos has become an important influence on many Indie/alternative bands since. You can see aspects of this in Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit, a band who proclaimed the Pixies as a key influence.

Pixies videos generally eschewed the narrative approach in favour of performance, often wrapped up within a concept, often using B+W, grainy (signifying cheap, thus authentic) film stock, low key lighting (taking care to avoid presenting singer Black Francis as the conventional rock god frontman), canted angles, and in most cases a refusal to lip synch!

The following is an excerpt from the wiki entry, discussing both the initial lack of music videos (none for two albums!) and the sparseness of their subsequent, largely performance, videos ... which often featured blanket non-lip synching and elliptical framing:
Since the band were signed to the small alternative record label, 4AD, at the time of Come On Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa, no videos were released from their first two records. Starting with Doolittle, their first release with Elektra Records, the band released music videos with their singles, but the videos were often simple affairs. For example, in songs such as "Monkey Gone to Heaven," "Head On" and "Debaser," the videos often consisted of the band playing their instruments.
By Bossanova, the band had developed a severe aversion to recording music videos, as Francis refused to lip-sync to them.[105] For example, in the "Here Comes Your Man" video, both Black and Deal open their mouths wide instead of mouthing their lyrics. According to the record label this became one of the reasons that the Pixies never achieved major coverage on MTV.[105]

...Please note that I've indented the quoted material and varied the font, as well as provided the source, to make it clear this is quoted material and inform the reader where it comes from; each of you must get into the habit of routinely doing this. If the source of the material is likely to have an agenda this could be discussed too. For example, if your material came from a record company site, or a fansite, it is unlikely to be critical!

In Head On the band quite literally deconstructed the most basic music video, the performance video, cutting the screen into a 4x3 montage grid which misplaces the body sections of each. Just like the French New Wave cinema movement, which I'll return to, this was a very conscious protest against the smooth continuity of videos and their power over the audience.

The following notes are taken from the book which I'd most highly recommend you consider buying for this part of the course: Money For Nothing: A History of the Music Video from The Beatles to the White Stripes (Austerlitz, 2007), NY + London: Continuum.
Video minimalism, which reached its apex among the groups of the pre-Nirvana era, was grounded in a philosophy of respecting the integrity of performance. In place of the elaborate, and, in its opinion, unnecessary gussying up of the music video with rapid-fire cutting, special effects and the like, the minimalist video sought to strip video of its vanity, leaving it beautifully unadorned. "Head On," coming from one of the iconic artists of postpunk, embraces minimalism in surprising fashion, by taking the meat-and-potatoes live video and stripping it of any familiar markers. The Pixies' video was more at home in an art gallery than on a television screen, but was nothing if not respectful of the music. Splitting the band into its constituent parts onscreen, and then splitting each band member into pieces, we grow fully aware of the small tics, hand movements, and facial gestures that go into stage performance. "Head On" takes away the illusion of wholeness inherent to the performance video, the sensation of seeing all there is to see, and by doing so returns some of its intimacy. (pp. 67-68)
This approach of alerting audiences to the artificiality of the text has a lot in common with the French New Wave aesthetic, which saw filmmakers making use of jump cuts as one means of ensuring audiences couldn't be swept up and influenced by the mind-lulling power of continuity editing.
"Head On" was a cover of a track by iconic British Indie act The Jesus + Mary Chain. They too were highly reluctant participants in the standard practices of record promotion, and have just as iconic a status within UK Indie as the Pixies do within US Indie. In their video, they also deconstruct the image, smashing it up through elliptically shaped layering. Deconstructionism and montage are two common signifiers of postmodernism.

Austerlitz goes on to give more key examples of this minimalist, deconstructionalist approach, including The Replacements' "Bast*ards of Young" [even the BBC now accepts this term as suitable for daytime broadcast, but I don't want to be caught up in some poorly conceived web filter, thus the asterisk] and New Order's "Perfect Kiss". Perhaps most famously of all (this was a smash hit single worldwide), was Sinead O'Connor's cover of Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U", centring on a simple CU of her face.

He also gives further examples: various by The Cure; Sonic Youth's "Dirty Boots"; REM's early vids and perhaps their best known single, "Losing My Religion" which adds some gloss to the minimalist approach (see pp.72-73).

Search for 'the pixies official video' and you'll see a good number of fan-made videos high up the results list. As a band who embody the Indie (comparable to punk) DIY ethos, it should be no surprise that they have inspired some fan-made videos. This one takes a suitably offbeat approach, focussing on ... the videomakers' dog. It has racked up 5.5m views here, and another 100K on the director's own site, from where I've taken the embed code (its in HD on his own site):

He was not alone in making a video for this track. This one is 'Taken from a rare pro-shoot by a Dutch television company in Utrecht, The Netherlands, 1990, and synced with audio from Death to the Pixies CDII.' It has racked up a quarter million views (244k).

The track also featured in Fight Club, and can be seen below cut to the film:

Here's yet another bit of UGC; a film student's (ff7reborn) response to an assignment:
that required us to make a "cinepoem" that made the audience feel some emotion. So I decided to make my video using "Where is my Mind?" song and made the footage have a stark black and white.

There's a clear Joy Division influence (Anton Corbijn shot their iconic videos). This video has also racked up 2m hits, a great example of how unofficial videos can become more widely viewed than the official video, or fill a gap where no official exists.

What on earth was this song all about? This video has one brief lapse into mild swearing - and doesn't actually answer the question, though it has a cool story about rebooting the Mars Rover... They also discuss its use in Fight Club.

Here the band take on a cheesy, Beach Boys look, but their deconstructionist tack is clearly anchored through the panning shots revealing the studio backdrop, and the absurdist fisheye shots. Rage Against the Machine would also use the Beach Boys, classic 60s bubblegum pop with a pristine, innocent image (and Rammstein would take on and subvert Snow White in a similar fashion).

Fans have taken on this track several times with highly successful (in terms of views) alternate versions. This one is 'Taken from a rare pro-shoot by a Dutch television company in Utrecht, The Netherlands, 1990, and synced with audio from Death to the Pixies CDII.' It has racked up a quarter million views (244k). This one, shot in London during a 2009 tour, proves just how potent a new, revived music video can be; despite its rudimentary, app-style format, it has already racked up 1.5m views...

Okay, so its still an unusual video, but here you can see the band beginning to flex a little of the major label support they eventually attracted.

Probably their most iconic track, this video got a lot of TV airplay back in the day (I remember it with great fondness) even though it was studiedly lo-fi, with only brief moments of lip-synching, and even some inverted footage. Every inch an archetypal Indie video.
What I'd also note here is that it took their label, 4AD, until 2013 to put it on their own channel (it has racked up millions of views through fan uploads) as they sought to promote the 25th anniversary deluxe re-issue package, Doolittle 25.

GIGANTIC - Most Pixies' 'videos' are actually performance uploads?
Not an official video as such, but worth including as it represents the basis of their YouTube presence: there are many more live performance uploads such as this, with many millions of combined hits, than official videos.

DEBASER - Performance as bricolage
Once more we see the deconstructionist approach from a band who do not wish to follow the treadmill to success; the bricolage approach is a signifier of a postmodern approach (likewise the wider 'deconstructionism'). As the uploader 'My Little Underground TV' explains:
Even though 'Debaser' is the opening track from the Pixies 1989 album 'Doolittle', it wasn't until 1997 that it was released as a single to help promote the 'Death to the Pixies' compilation. 'Debaser' was their tenth single and peaked in the UK charts at 23. The single appeared in three forms: live, studio and demo.
The official 4AD upload is only on 480p; on this channel its at 720p - as boasted in the upload name!

ALEC EIFFEL - Extreme wind/smoke machine...
They just can't do conventional ... This is certainly no U2-like epic (was it Vertigo that was shot in the desert, swooping helicopter shots and huge CGI budget to boot?), but takes another common convention, the smoke and/or wind machine, and turns it to a warping extreme, often masking the band. Glamourising this isn't!

DIG FOR FIRE/ALISON - A Corbijn-like cinematic epic?
This is a great concept really: still reluctant to simply provide even a straightforward performance video, this one tracks their preparation for a performance! It doesn't take the epic Paradise City (Guns n' Roses) approach though, blending in a good dose of surrealism with French New Wave (shaky super-8 footage) and even German expressionism influences (look for some of the sombre framing and silhouetting going up steps), with added doses of sic-fi signifying colour filters; this is Easy Rider meets Spinal Tap (the famous lost backstage scene) as directed by Anton Corbijn!

Since 2013 the Pixies have been uploading new material onto their own channel.

Auteur-style director credit for Silver Snail, also seen in Andro Queen...
The creativity of the mise-en-scene is frequently stunning (a word I can't help but over-use here!)
In stark contrast to their previous stance, now the Pixies have provided videos for most of their tracks, not just singles! The cinematography is generally impressive, with the cliche of slo-mo also raised to heights rarely seen elsewhere, and some of the use of colour through mise-en-scene and lighting simply sumptuous. A short film or cinematic approach is often taken, in contrast to the performance-dominated videos of their earlier years. The cast are not conventionally glamorous, maintaining that key downbeat humbleness of the Pixies' brand. Some videos are better than others, but when they're good they're amongst the greatest examples you will see of music video - an impressive achievement for an Indie band now self-releasing their own material.

BAGBOY - Colourful brilliance
I've blogged in considerable detail on Bagboy, a great video.

Whilst the older official videos can be found on 4AD's channel, now the newer and future videos can be found on PixiesOfficialTV. The figures are relatively modest for many of the (often live) uploads, but with 2m hits for Bagboy and several times this once you combine all the uploads, its clearly a useful revenue stream, and, more importantly, helping to promote the band for potential concert ticket sales and merchandise.
When I wrote the detailed post on Bagboy, I didn't know there was actually a second video for it...

BAGBOY - the second video
Another animation (see Another Toe in the Ocean and Blue Eyed Hexe below) with some live B+W archive footage edited in - of people and a chicken...

RING THE BELL - Girls allowed...
The outsider protagonist of Bagboy is replaced by a pair of teen girls, but we see the seem successful emphasis on smart colouring through mise-en-scene and props (including the girls' hair and adornments), and sumptuous, simply gorgeous use of slo-mo, but with occasional rapid cross-cutting and a more elliptical approach giving this more of a French New Wave feel. The girls are slim and leggy, but can still be considered as outside the conventional parameters of glamour; this is no exploitative Miley Cyrus video.

It should be an inspirational example for would-be videomakers: the countryside gathering would have taken planning, but consider the scope for 'coverage' in a shoot like that! A simple concept beautifully executed, with a wisp of a narrative, but its the stunning visuals that keep the interest more than any narrative enigma. Also thinking practically, students could achieve a shoot on these lines by combining a party and shoot - providing some reward and motivation for your extras!

By the time I came to this one I had been watching Pixies videos and blogging for about 4 hours ... but felt my spirit soar viewing this. Wow! I would love to see this on an IMAX screen. The narrative is obscure and remains polysemic by the enigmatic, circular, ending, but with clear hints of true Detective (filtered through a Scandi-drama or Aki Kaurismaki lens), just take in the creative madness of the mies-en-scene, particularly the costume and setting. The cinematography is, yet again, sumptuous and stunning, with good use of variable focus made for alternately shallow and deep depth of field.
Shallow depth of field is expertly deployed at times
Slo-mo is sooo cliched ... but when matched to stunning cinematography and mise-en-scene it attains an immense impact

SNAKES - Sweet enough to eat...
Warning: this features some of the most stunning visual imagery you're ever going to see in a music video!
Love this video; there is one challenging element to the shoot, the Frank Sidebottom-like paper mache masks, but this is otherwise an achievable caper-style, filmic video with elements of a road movie thrown in. There are non-linear touches within the video, a good idea to help avoid the 'well, I've seen it now' response to a more linear, short film style video.

The pay-off scenes, satirising film violence, are just stunning, and the cinematography, with the use of colour again very striking, is always sumptuous. The slo-mo effect is also once more exemplary; a cliched tool is reclaimed as artful in the Pixies' modern videos.

GREENS AND BLUES - Frankly brilliant
This one manages to stand out from the rest for its even more experimental, abstract nature, combining moody shots of the singer with multiple layers of SFX. This is securely a video you could watch over and over, even on a continuous loop.
Frankly brilliant

If I was Josh Frank, the director credited in an end title, I'd be knocking on the doors of the biggest pop acts showing them what he can do on a low budget...

INDIE CINDY - Moving backwards
This one, I'm not so keen on, and its probably because it so closely takes the form of a short film (or even trailer), without the quirkier, more limited narrative of many of their other videos. It does add a few tricks: the found footage effect, and its VHS style reinforces the feeling of this being a tribute to low-budget Indie filmmakers like Robert Rodriguez or (early) Steven Soderbergh, and we have a backwards-action first half, with the VHS 'REW' on screen (not as tedious as Coldplay made it but still not exactly ground-breaking), and then see this played forwards through the second half. Some striking cinematography still, but just a little dull. True to form, and reflecting the band's brand, the female protagonist, partially as a result of the harsh naturalistic (low key) lighting, is not glamourised, her heavy acne showing up.
NB: features swearing around 1 min in

It takes a minute before we begin to get any real exposition, a brave approach but one that deserves consideration as that slow-burn can foster and maintain audience interest successfully. The narrative enigma extends to some smart framing, shoving our protagonist to the right edge of the frame and obscuring her face in fog - it takes a good 30 seconds before we see the face of our protagonist, usually a good ploy in my book.
Once more the female actor is not conventionally glamorous (albeit she is very slender, reflecting the song lyric of her being 'lean' - the track is an usually close reflection of the lyrical content). The subway scene becomes uncomfortable viewing, female-on-male abuse no better for turning the tables, but again a close reflection of the song lyrics. There is a shower scene which could bring expectations of a lazy, male gaze approach - but she appears to be showered in dried rice, with an added blue filter giving her an alien sheen - this could almost be an outtake from a Bjork video!
Notwithstanding the blue filter above, and the red sheer shawl applied later on, the colour palette is often quite dull which might fit the mood (and carry some connotations of Scandi-drama?) but won't help encourage repeat viewings. Taken in context of an album of videos, there is scope for different moods and approaches, but if this was your one-off production I'd be wary of the negative impact dull-coloured mise-en-scene can have on an audience. A Daft Punk (Around the World) video from a few years back had many superb attributes, but the dull colour of an alleyway scene jarred with the overall tone. This Pixies video might have been more impactive in black and white (giving it a La Haine feel?), maybe even with colour correction to single out the reds?

A performance and concept video (doesn't seem directly tied to lyrics?), this one takes a heavily psychedelic approach (as does Greens and Blues) but is also notable for featuring multiple layering much more than most of their contemporary range of videos. As ever, we get some outlandish costume...
Multiple layering is the hallmark of this psychedelic video

An opening 50-second time lapse shot (HA, ELS) suggests this will be another Velouria, until we sharply cut to a band member (and then have a series of further cuts back and forth on him).
This landscape shot eventually reveals a band member walking along...
We get one nicely executed special effect (surely CGI and not diegetic?).
Breath-taking scenery is the key to this (mostly) simple video

This is, after all, another Velouria, but an updated take on that - using breathtaking scenery and a very basic narrative (the sort of thing that has Vernallis arguing that music videos are too elliptical to justify the term narrative for what they feature) to create a video that could easily be reviewed many times over as it features such natural beauty, and SFX that add a little extra interest. It brings to mind Depeche Mode's Enjoy the Silence - only in that video Corbijn famously took the band around the globe (to the point where singer Dave Gahan eventually refused to do any more, and a stand-in was used for several locations).

BLUE EYED HEXE - Crazy montage
Interesting example of a montage, animated - an Indie equivalent of Peter Gabriel's groundbreaking (and still technically impressive) Big Time.

Here's Big Time as many of you won't be familiar with it...

This is the only video on the PixiesVEVO channel rather curiously. Animation still takes a lot of man hours, but is achievable without mega-budgets now (I've also blogged on Brazilian thrash meatless Sepultura using animation), especially when its Flash animation like this.
Singer Black Francis is our protagonist, with a romantic plot underpinning the journey, and a psychedelic stream-of-consciousness one way of summing up what we see!
An animated Black Francis has just seen the girl pick another...
This is as psychedelic as other videos discussed above
(Vevo settings - why do they still do this??? - may prevent the embed from playing; here's the direct link)

4AD seem to have tagged virtually their entire video range with 'The Pixies', and no wonder as they are such giants of the Indie scene and genuine influences on much of that loose 'genre'. They also created a 30-min feature to help push the 25th anniversary reissue of Doolittle, the deluxe Doolittle package, featuring clips from multiple videos:

C4 did a handy documentary back in 2002, Gouge...

loudQuietLoud is a feature-length documentary that follows the band on their noughties comeback, and looks back on their career, including their unique stance on videos and image.

David Bowie is a fan...

Just what it says on the tin, kids interview bands...

This is a clip from a late 80s/early 90s BBC2 show, Rapido, a real pioneer of magazine-style youth TV:

What's their take on social media?

Female bassist Kim Deal would go on to form her own hit band, The Breeders, with her sister, also well worth a look for their videos.

In short then: The Pixies' music videos reflect their self-image as a serious non-pop band from humble origins, signed to an Indie label, who reject conventional wisdom on the need to develop a brand image centred around the glamour of the band, especially the singer. Their anti-corporate approach is clearly seen in their videos, for example "Head On", which manages to counter and deconstruct all the familiar tropes of the performance video. Performance, however, is the approach taken in most of their videos; above all else, this band insist on their sense of integrity and authenticity as rock performers being reflected in what, no matter what stance they take, are essentially adverts for their music. Their anti-music video approach has become part of the palette of music video, but remains notable as archetypal examples of the minimalist approach.

Their videos from 2013 are as good as it gets in terms of creative costuming and mise-en-scene, including colour detail within this, and slo-mo.

As promised:


No comments:

Post a Comment

Please ensure your comment is appropriate for publishing; all comments are vetted before publication