background image

In some ways it’s surprising that the humble music video still holds such cultural importance in 2013. There are, after all, hardly any music shows on terrestrial television these days to showcase them, while MTV, the channel that famously killed the radio star, hardly ever shows any actual music videos these days. Yet the increasing sophistication and omnipotence of video-playing digital technology means that the format is not only flourishing, but able to capture entirely new audiences of goggle-eyed link-clickers. After all, let’s not forget that the primary music streaming site is Youtube, not Spotify.

This is reflected by the fact that many of the year’s most controversial music stories were centered around music videos, although admittedly rarely for the right reasons. But while Robin Thicke, Kanye West, Miley Cyrus, Lily Allen and Beyoncé may have all released dodgy promos this year, at least they opened up a series of clearly necessary conversations about sexuality, feminism and cultural appropriation (Jameela Jamil’s brilliant ‘Booty and the Beast’ blog being our most favourite recent missive).

Yet while Miley Cyrus’ ‘We Can’t Stop’ did come close to making our favourites of the year list (in nominator Alex Allsworth’s words, “terrible song, horrible cultural appropriation, but also a masterclass in teenaged surrealism”), there were just too many incredible vids this year to include the usual suspects. Gone are the days when you had to sit through five hours of MTV2 just to see the video for ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ by Avalanches again – now the power of The Internet allows us to bring the very best straight to you, to consume at your own leisure. So sit back, pour yourself a Baileys, and enjoy the 25 finest audiovisual treats the year had to offer…

ALB – Whispers

What better way to kick things off than with a video that we, er, can’t actually embed on the site. Sorry. Instead, you have to head here and download it in order to experience a video that doesn’t just break down the fourth wall so much as blow it to bits with semtex. The only music video we’ve been sent that could actually destroy your relationship, we don’t want to give too much away. Just make sure you have your printer plugged in when you watch it…

Bob Dylan – Like A Rolling Stone

Another innovative creation that hints at where the music video may be headed next. It took almost fifty years for Dylan’s classic ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ to get an official visual accompaniment, but this interactive effort was well worth the wait. Created by Interlude, you’re able to flip between several fake TV channels (featuring several real programs) from cookery shows to tennis matches, all linked solely by the fact that everyone onscreen is lip-synching to the song; it even features a cameo from rapper Danny Brown. No one would’ve expected Bob to be pushing technological boundaries when on the wrong side of 70, but this breaks as much visual ground as the song itself did when it was released back in 1965…

Bonobo – Cirrus

Director Cyriak lent his animating talents to probably Bonobo’s best track to date, visually sampling old public information films and placing them within a twisting kaleidoscope, in an almost overwhelming exercise in perspective alteration. Apparently he was inspired by an Oscar-winning short film by Zbigniew Rybczynski, which apparently took the Pole seven months to make. While modern technology ensured Cyriak’s effort didn’t take quite as much time, that doesn’t mean it won’t make your jaw drop.

Dan Deacon – Konono Ripoff N°1

You know those ‘hologrammatic’ stickers you used to get as a kid, where you could make the picture change very slightly by moving it from side to side? This video from barmy Baltimorian Dan Deacon is basically a series of those, set to his own idiosyncratic take on the music of Congolese kalimba-plucking noiseniks Konono N°1. Features an appearance from old favourite the Glowing Green Skull at the end, and can also be improved by watching via his own official app.

Darwin Deez – You Can’t Be My Girl

Like portly widower Bill Dauterive in Mike Judge’s King of the Hill, when it comes to love Darwin Deez is always on the outside looking in. Or so it appears in the video for ‘You Can’t Be My Girl’, which sees him superimposed into the background of a number of airbrushed romantic scenes conjured from stock corporate footage. Then, during the deliciously squawky breakdown, he rides a lion, gets hit by a fire engine and is shoved into a meat grinder. Poor guy. He only wants a little love! Although he should probably start by getting a haircut…

Django Django – WOR

For those unfamiliar with the concept, a Wall of Death is a huge wooden cylinder that lunatics race around on motorcycles at increasingly terrifying speeds and angles. Usually while sitting on the handlebars. It turns out they’re particularly popular in India, where they don’t just drive motorbikes around them but actual cars too (with the drivers hanging out the window, naturally). More a mini-documentary than a music video, it still helps that the song is ace. Centrifugal force has never sounded so good.

FEMME – Heartbeat

Laura Bettinson is the proprietor of our favourite one-stop pop shop, FEMME. She controls every part of her operation, and that extends to directing all of her own videos, of which ‘Heartbeat’ was our favourite this year. Possessing a selection of great props from a cow’s heart to the biggest gold earrings you’re ever likely to see, FEMME and friends present the best pajama party you were never invited to…

FIDLAR – Cocaine

Securing a cameo from a cult television actor is one thing, but it’s all about how you use them. California punks FIDLAR get the best out Nick Offerman, better known as Ron Swanson from Parks & Recreation, by, well, getting him to urinate. Everywhere. From the iconic Hollywood sign, to Nick Cage’s star on the Walk of Fame, nowhere is safe from Offerman’s relentless bladder. Puerile, yes, but if this doesn’t raise at least one guilty chuckle then you probably need a sense of humour MOT.

Gesaffelstein – Hate or Glory

What do you get the gangster who has everything? Well, how about having him plated in gold? That’s the idea behind this satirical video from directors Fleur & Manu, who explore the extremes of bling with a truly explosive ending…

Gorgeous George – John Wayne Enterprise

Another well-judged celebrity appearance here, featuring former footballer Jimmy Bullard. He’s clearly fallen on hard times since being forced to retire judging by this vid, swapping his trademark free-kicks for the tradesman’s entrance and becoming a builder, albeit one, as you can probably tell from the title (and the fact Jimmy fires up a “stick of Apache grass” the moment he arrives at a new job) who is something of a cowboy…

Histibe – Elements

Smashed glass, kebabs, people pissing against walls and falling into skips… yep, that’s pretty much the average day out in Tottenham. This fantastic video from director Maria Pia Fanigliulo goes much further though, providing momentary glimpses into the lives of passers-by on the Seven Sisters Road, and also encouraging volunteers to wire their faces up to machinery that alters their facial expressions in time with the accompanying beats. Said beats are provided by Ukraine’s finest Histibe, who definitely don’t need the help of any new-fangled devices to get you moving…

I AM UN CHIEN !! – Humanity

Providing rich ammunition to any xenophobes who like to deride the French as a bunch of animals, this video from electro-rock Parisians I AM UN CHIEN !! is one of those brilliantly simple concepts that belies an incredible amount of time and effort. Having trawled nature documentaries for amusing footage, the band have then attempted to mimic the animals’ motions and poses – often quite brilliantly. The sheer amount of shots makes the mind boggle as to how long it must have taken to put together, especially seeing as the colours, brightness and angles are often surprisingly well-matched, but considering it’s one of the most inventive and amusing videos we saw this year you have to say it was worth the effort…

Islet – Tripping Through the Blue Room (Part II)

Produced by Monitors’ favourite Sweet Baboo, this song by Cardiff’s Islet can readily be described as glacial, and director Casper White, an up-and-coming Welsh artist, seemingly thinks the same. His idea was to paint portraits of all the band members directly onto blocks of ice, then let them slowly thaw. He then layered that over shots of the band themselves, so that their features slowly melt away from their faces in a way that is both surreal and strangely moving (although the emotional effect may be enhanced by the exquisitely ethereal music). A truly beautiful effort.

Jenny Wilson – The Future

In the grand scheme of things, the machinations of the meat industry aren’t particularly funky. Yet in the hands of occasional The Knife collaborator Jenny Wilson, the least Swedish-sounding Swede around, everything from vacuum-packed chicken to factory farmed pigs suddenly become as funky as fuck. Having never intentionally eaten meat in my life (apart from one unfortunate incident with a box of own-brand mini scotch eggs) I’m usually reasonably repulsed by the sight of it, but when the images are set in time to the pounding 4/4 beat of Wilson’s ‘The Future’ I just can’t tear my eyes away.

Josep – Success

The last solo video from our Barcelona correspondent Josep Xortó was a retro-futuristic beauty, and this follow-up, though very different in style, is just as good. Gorgeously shot in black and white, we follow a suited, booted and, quite literally, smoking Josep (looking not unlike a Catalan Serge Gainsbourg) as he strolls through town to the sound of slap bass and a crisp disco beat. He is, you could say, dressed for success (hoho!). The cinematography and close-ups are fantastic, and the whole shebang is, much like the song, impeccably smooth. Destined for success? Looks like it.

Lapalux – Without You (feat. Kerry Leatham)

You know that awkward moment when you bring your new partner home to meet your parents? Well, imagine that scenario if your partner was permanently dressed in a gimp suit. Yeah, pretty awkward. This amusing and strangely moving video allows us to follow the rest of the relationship too, including a somewhat disturbing shower scene…

Midnight Juggernauts – Ballad of the War Machine

The idea for this video, a surreal slice of CCCP Chic, came when the Australian electro-pop band watched a few Tarkovsky films and decided they “liked the idea of being an anonymous Soviet art-pop band from decades ago” while on tour in Russia. Dressing up in military gear, they made the video look sufficiently dated and added a load of cyrillic text for authenticity (sadly we have no idea how it translates). Then they got some Russian friends to start circulating the video on Russian blogs and message boards, in order to see how people responded to this bizarre, apparently real, rediscovered obscurity. Responses ranged from people saying it was a “comment using religious iconography within a communist context”, while others simply said they danced “like drunk morons”.

The video itself sees the uniformed Juggernauts playfully decapitating big cats, sharing baths, sitting in electric chairs, playing gigantic Swiss horns, and generally exhibiting some excellent Dad dancing. The fluid pace fits the tempo of the track perfectly, and the whole thing recalls that old footage of British soldiers being fed LSD in 1964. Lovely stuff.

Misty’s Big Adventure – Aggression

In these grim, recession-stained times, we could really do with a band like the Specials telling us just how shite it is living in the UK, set to a jaunty ska soundtrack (you know, to stop us getting too depressed). With Jerry ‘n’ Terry too busy bitching about each other to give us that hit, Misty’s Big Adventure took on the challenge and channeled that spirit with this entertaining depiction of Midlands-based violence.

There are ‘Ghost Town’ references a-plenty, but this video has a charm all of its own. Misty’s singer Grandmaster Gareth dons a motorbike helmet in order to patrol the streets of “Broken Britain”, witnessing heads being smashed into car bonnets, discovering dead-eyed fornication behind the bins, and getting caught between too lardy lasses in a chip shop brawl (the scene where the chippy owner plays the pickle jars like a xylophone is a stroke of genius). If you like this, the band’s X-Factor-destroying video for ‘The Bigger the Front’ is also worth a look.

Oneohtrix Point Never – Still Life

Feel bad about how much of your pathetic life you waste on the internet? You know, like you’re doing right now? Well, this excursion into the world wide web’s weirdest avenues is unlikely to make you feel better about that. On the plus side, it’s more interesting than pretty much anything else you could be doing right now…

Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

The veteran desert rockers clearly couldn’t decide which song off their latest album to make a video for, so just got artist Boneface and animator Liam Brazier to make an epic cartoon that features pretty much half the album instead. A gleefully violent piece of pulp, it matches QOTSA’s saucy strut perfectly.

Shugo Tokumaru – Katachi

One of those videos where you think, bLoody hell, just how long did this take to make? Well, that’s what you would think if your brain wasn’t busy being bounced by a never-ending wave of shapes and colours. This video from directors Kijek/Adamski apparently involved over two thousand PVC silhouettes, shaped using a computer-controlled cutter. Yet the laborious process is transformed into something playful and perky, a fine accompaniment to Shugo Tokumaru’s chirpy tune.

Slava – Girl Like Me

With this video, director Eugene Kotlyarenko claimed that he intended to “film a sex scene that had psycho-visceral repercussions rather than just moral ones”, going on to state: “These sorts of thematic and formal interests can make listeners or viewers uncomfortable. I think that’s a good thing as long as the material is compelling enough to maintain their attention throughout. It’s important to challenge accepted morality and also important not to be pedantic or boring while doing it”. Well, the best compliment that we can give is that he achieves his aims, helped by some fantastic acting, editing and cinematography. Just prepare to feel somewhat unclean after watching it…

The Last Skeptik – That Old

The Last Skeptik knocked out videos for every single track on this year’s Thanks For Trying album, and this one, directed by Sonny Malhotra, was perhaps the best of the bunch. An unpainted city scene is populated with tiny figurines, bringing to mind the street art of Slinkachu only completely drained of colour – a bit like a Subbuteo set designed by Rachel Whiteread. The colourless facade is then gloriously drenched in waves of marbled paint that slowly splooges over the scene like a psychedelic volcano has just erupted, leaving the figures submerged in vivid colour. It’s a stunning scene, and the huge kick drums, gorgeous space-jazz samples and roving flutes of the track provide a suitably sultry accompaniment.

Verity Susman – To Make You Afraid

An unlikely combination of Star Trek and brass instrument based pornography, this video, based on Jack Barraclough’s live visuals for the former Electrelane singer, sounded too good, or at least too weird, to be true. Retro space backdrops and crudely animated collages compete with legions of green-breasted figures with saxophones for penises. Soon there are saxophones floating through space, liberally spurting…well, you can use your imagination. Meanwhile, Star Trek’s Captain Jane takes a doomed space cruise to Mars with fellow Voyager Seven of Nine. As you do.

The lurid colours and Atari ST graphics are almost in danger of giving you a headache, but fortunately any cranium pains are soon soothed by a truly brilliant song. We’ve been playing Electrelane’s incredible electro-pop classic ‘I Want To Be The President’ a lot while Djing recently, and every time we wish they’d written more stuff in that vein. Well, ‘To Make You Be Afraid’ is like an answer to those prayers, a blissful, crystalline track not unlike Grimes at her best, only with Susman’s charismatic voice gliding over the top.

Kier Wiater Carnihan

Previous in Features

The-Monitors' Fifty Favourite Albums of 2013

The-Monitors' Fifty Favourite Albums of 2013
Still not finished your Christmas shopping? No problem, just buy every member of your family our Fifty Favourite Albums of 2013 and the season will be saved. You'll be skint, granted, but it will be worth it...
Read More


EP Address: Datassette, Sudan Archives, Mighty Lord Deathman and more…

We look back at some of the best EPs released over the summer, including debuts by Sudan Archives and Mighty Lord Deathman…

Read More