Aphex Twin Video Director Chris Cunningham On Why Age Ratings On Music Videos Are A Terrible Idea

After a ‘successful’ pilot scheme, all music videos produced in the UK will now have to be sent to the British Board of Film Classification before they are placed online, coming complete with age ratings – from U to 18. British director Chris Cunningham – who was behind the controversial Aphex Twin videos ‘Come To Daddy’ and ‘Windowlicker’ in the 1990s – speaks to NME about why putting age restrictions on music videos restricts our own creativity

Chris Cunningham: “When I was 11, you’d have to go to extreme lengths to see things you wanted to see. But my favourite memories of being a kid are being curious, and being free to discover things for myself. Everything I discovered that way was amazing – it led to one great thing after another. I used to watch video nasties. Was that a bad idea? I don’t know, but being able to make that decision for yourself is magical.

“As a kid, I didn’t really distinguish between looking through a book on surrealist painters, a book on how Tom Savini did gore effects, or a music video. It’s all art to me. So the idea of someone else coming in and saying, ‘No, this is disgusting, you shouldn’t be looking at it…’, it’s like, who are you to tell me? I’d rather it was up to me to decide, even when I was 11.

“For a while, music videos were a replacement of what avant-garde cinema was doing. If you wanted to see anything avant-garde, or surreal, you’d more likely see it in a music video than a movie. Mainstream cinema is a narrative format, but a music video just has to draw someone’s attention for three to five minutes. For me, once you take away that narrative, you can’t take the horror aspect seriously. If I was to see devil imagery when I was 14 in a narrative, something like The Omen, it would freak me out. But if I see it in a Madonna video, it’s laughable.

“I don’t have a strong opinion about sexuality in music videos, but I think it’s good that FKA Twigs is so convicted about it. [Twigs has said, “Why shouldn’t younger people learn and explore about what sexuality is as an adult? Do we want to have these kids doing weird things behind closed doors, or should this be a country that is leading by example in explaining to people?”] She’s for sure making surrealist videos. It’s exactly the stuff that any kid, if you’re curious and like art, would love. When I made ‘Windowlicker’ I got so much shit about it, but now it’s almost embarrassing that that would look risqué or offensive. It feels more sophisticated to be more open. I think it’s better if things are free.

“Having said that, maybe if this regulation had been there from the start of the internet, no-one would be complaining about it. It’d be the same as watching TV, or going to the video store; people wouldn’t feel like they’ve had something taken away from them. Also, I’m not a parent. I’ve got friends whose opinions on that kind of thing have changed since they’ve become parents. But really, I wouldn’t want to tell my kid he couldn’t watch something, because I wouldn’t want him to think I was a twat, you know? Fingers crossed, your kid’s well-adjusted enough to make their own mind up. Because what’s creepy to one 11-year-old isn’t creepy to another.”