For three years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Snub TV was central to the British indie music scene. That rare thing, a decent TV music show, it gave early exposure to bands from the Manic Street Preachers to the Stone Roses, as well as showing it was possible to televise music for young people without gurning presenters and idiotic camera angles. Although it is not as well-known as 1980s legend The Tube, for a slightly later generation of music fans, Snub TV was the early-evening gateway to a new world of music.
The show took a strange transatlantic path to British television, being created by a journalist (Brenda Kelly) and a video maker (Peter Fowler) for USA Network's late night strand Night Flight, broadcasting for one season in 1987. It reached British TV thanks to the efforts of BBC executives to pursue a newly-discovered late-80s teen market, which led to the installation of Janet Street Porter as the BBC's head of youth television and her founding of the Def II strand which ran twice-weekly at 6pm on BBC2.
Snub TV was commissioned by her deputy Bill Hilary, and the British version began transmission in January 1989 as part of Def II. Early episodes were presented by Jeanette Lee, but the presenter wasn't particularly important for the show. Like most TV music programs, Snub TV attempted to reject the traditional ways that music was televised. For Snub TV, this meant that bands would talk in their own words and rather than studio performances they would film live concerts or broadcast videos; because many of the bands couldn't afford their own videos the show's producers ended up making them for the bands.
The program's budget was extremely limited, but it still managed a distinctive visual look. Snub TV's memorable logo of a blinking eye was created by Vaughn Oliver's V23 design house, which already had considerable kudos in the indie scene for its work with 4AD bands like the Cocteau Twins and the Pixies. The theme music was provided by Dub Syndicate.
Any music show will stand or fall depending on the quality of its acts. The time around 1990 isn't the most historic period in rock music (post-Smiths, pre-grunge and pre-Brit Pop). Aside from the nascent Madchester scene (the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays featured), the dominant musical styles were shoegazing with its introverted guitar feedback textures (e.g. Slowdive, Ride, Galaxie 500) and a variety of heavier alternative rock bands that had developed out of the 1980s hardcore or post-punk scenes (Sonic Youth, Fugazi, The Fall, Pixies, Swans). But as well as this guitar-centered music they also found time for the socially-conscious dub of Gary Clail, the Serge Gainsbourg-esque pop of Momus, music industry pranksters the KLF, politically committed rapper KRS One, and the industrial sound of Belgium's Front 242.
After three series, the show was cancelled in July 1991. Possibly this was out of a feeling that dance music (covered in Def II's Dance Energy with Normski) was more important than rock, or out of an apparently decline in the BBC's interest in Def II (which by then saw fewer original programs and a realisation that what the youth wanted was Ren and Stimpy and old science fiction movies).
Despite this, the legacy of Snub TV remains. With its cult status and devoted fans, it played a small part but important in the rebirth of British music in the 1990s. And its serious and intelligent yet unpretentious style showed that having almost no money doesn't mean you have to make intentionally amateurish television.
Two videos were released with performances from the show:
Snub TV (1990) EMI MVP9912133
- Ultra Vivid Scene: The Mercy Seat
- The Fall: Deadbeat Descendents
- House Of Love: Man To Child
- Cathal Coughlin and The Fatima Mansions: Only Losers Take The Bus
- Pixies: Vamos
- Bim Sherman: Power
- Happy Mondays: Do It Better
- Wire: Kidney Bingos/Eardrum Buzz
- Throwing Muses: Downtown
- Momus: Hairstyle Of The Devil
- Band Of Holy Joy: What The Moon Saw
- Barry Adamson: Moss Side Story
Snub TV 2 (1991) Virgin VVD837
- The Fall: Bill Is Dead
- Tackhead: Mind and Movement Control
- Kid Congo: La Hisoris De Un Amour
- Happy Mondays: Wrote For Luck
- Ted Chipington: Pull Up
- A Certain Ratio: Tribeca
- Ride: Drive Blind
- Ancient Beatbox: Raining
- Loop: From Centre To Wave
- Blue Aeroplanes: .....And Stones
- Breeders: Iris
- The Cramps: All Women Are Bad
- James: Government Walls
- Big Hard Excellent Fish: Imperfect List
- Ian Jones. "Everyone Must Be Young and Beautiful: Def II Revisited". Off The Telly.
- Steve Jesson. Now That's What I Call 80s DVD.
- "Discography - Videos and DVDs". Official Fall Website.
- Night Flight. http://www.freewebs.com/nightflight/snubtv.html
- Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/
- Paddy Dillon. Manic Junk. http://www.manicjunk.co.uk/InterviewsandText/snub.htm
- "On-U Sound Videography". On-U Sound In The Area.
wertperch feels "It was smarter than the shoddy Top of the Pops but not as cool as The Old Grey Whistle Test!" Which is half-right.