I have never written about my obsession before. I bore my wife with it occasionally and I create outlets that no one pays attention to like a nuanced Tumblr blog or a succession of unengaging tweets but on the whole, I’ve kept it to myself. Well that is until very recently when I realised I could do something creative with it. My obsession, put simply, is to trawl YouTube for television clips from the 1970s and 1980s – mainly commercial television.
Nostalgic clips started filling YouTube’s new tubes around 2007 and I can remember monotonous afternoons at my old place of work being peppered with emailed links from colleagues to children’s television theme tunes like ‘Chorlton and the Wheelies’ and ‘The Mysterious Cities of Gold’. It wasn’t long before YouTube became the number one source for retro video clips; no matter how obscure your memory of a television show was, rest assured a YouTube subscriber had not only uploaded the theme tune but also (thanks to the scrapping of a limit on clip length) posted several episodes.
Now here I am at the tail-end of 2015, searching endlessly for commercial television presentation from forty years ago. I should say I’m far more interested in television presentation than the actual programmes. I love continuity announcers, commercials, promos, public information films and ‘closedowns’. But I’m not doing it for the nostalgic buzz – that died away years ago – now I’m looking for something more. I’m looking for art. I’m looking for music, graphics, logos, colours, designs, hairstyles, costumes, anything that encapsulates the time, for there is something within these seemingly lifeless, prosaic clips that speaks to me.
I love so many things about old, commercial television presentation but the one constant is that throughout the 1970s and ‘80s, it seems as if a maximum of about twelve people were involved in its output. Television presentation is so quaint, so innocent, so charming and yet at the same time, wobbly and creaky and unrehearsed: Television station logos used to be printed onto card and hung up on the curtain behind the continuity announcer because back then, that was all they needed to do. And that’s what I love. I love the fact that no one had to extend their imaginations any further than a piece of cardboard pinned to a curtain. And I love the idea of a bit of cardboard pinned to a curtain being transmitted across the United Kingdom with not a single soul voicing their objection to its supposed amateurishness.
By the way, not for a moment do I want you to think I’m watching these clips from some aesthetic high ground, stroking my beard and chortling disrespectfully. I don’t even have a beard. No, the fact is I admire it. I admire it all. I admire what these TV crews had to do on a daily basis for virtually no reward except the presumably modest salary. But I also admire it from my position in the 21st century where different creative groups are dipping into the cultural melange of the ‘70s and ‘80s and reinventing the style for their own pursuits in music, television and film.
A good example of this would be my other current fascination, Vapourwave and similar ‘micro-genres’ in music. Vapourwave emerged only five years ago and is essentially samples of ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s pop, funk, jazz and soul slowed down, broken up, distorted and layered. Purists would say there’s more to it than that and I would agree with them but I couldn’t possibly go into all the many facets here. However, the fascinating thing about Vapourwave is that most of the people producing the music weren’t around in the ‘70s. Some of them weren’t even born in the ‘80s. The most prolific musician of the Vapourwave movement is a woman called Vektroid who has produced 40 albums and has just turned 23. She’s my current musical hero. It warms the heart to think of such young, passionate musicians producing work that is immersed in the popular musical genres of my own childhood.
And it is here that my two worlds have collided, for Vapourwave not only encapsulates and distorts music of the past but it has also embraced the visual trends too: Vapourwave music videos are often images from 1980s commercials, TV shows and other pop videos, chopped-up and given a wobbly, snowy effect as if everything has been recorded on a VHS player that needs a good cleaning.
Last December I came up with an idea for a sketch show that blended my love of dark comedy with the music of Vapourwave and the archives of commercial television. The result was Rec. 601. With the hugely talented Brighton-based editor and director Anthony Carpendale, I have made three episodes of Rec. 601 so far and I’m very, very proud of them. They are who I am and who I want to be. They are all around 15 minutes in length but are jam-packed with comedy, archive and music. In fact it’s so relentless, it’s probably worth a second viewing (which would also, coincidentally, help with the viewer-count). It’s an unsettling experience at times and admittedly comes close to Chris Morris’s Jam in tone, but I hope it connects with people who share my enthusiasm for those decades that were so tantalisingly close to the online revolution but thankfully not so close as to ruin everything.
Rec. 601 – Episode 3
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