I've been depressed by the lack of music on telly for a number of years. First, Top Of The Pops was dumped. Then the utterly brilliant Channel 4 show Abbey Road Debuts was discontinued (it featured performances from Mount Kimbie, SBTRKT and Lower Dens). BBC4 occasionally broadcasts some good documentaries but the programmers don't realise music exists past 1979. Television in Britain does music fans a disservice.
You may say it's all on the internet anyway, to which I'd answer: where? Point me to a genuinely clever series that isn't made for LOLs and hits, paying lip service to the music itself. I'm not nostalgically baying for a return to the weekly national event of TOTP, but isn't there room for something other than Jools Holland? Something fresher, in celebration of what's happening right now? A show that concentrates simply on the music. No bullshit. No tabloid presenter in tie-dye and wacky glasses. No banal interviews. No honky tonk. Cue the third series of From The Basement made by Nigel Godrich and John Woollcombe. It starts this weekend on Sky Arts and for the first time it's filmed on 3D.
The "Basement" of this series is The Chaplin Stage at the Charlie Chaplin Studios in LA, now owned by the Jim Henson estate. From 1921's 'The Kid' to the Scissor Sisters: it's a cool place to film a show. How does Godrich feel about the state of music television today, six years after his first series?
TV became more of a closed shop. People are less able to take risks because of budget constrictions. But as much as I love Jools Holland, I thought it would be good to have an alternative
The idea of From The Basement remains the same. It's focussed and stripped down with zero frills. You feel as if you're right there, seeing your favourite band up close, with none of the corporate gloss and paraphenalia. As Godrich says: “The whole idea is to document something and capture a performance… it’s not closed in by its surrounding, or a presenter’s agenda”.
Godrich mentions Bill Withers' 'Ain't No Sunshine' (1972) and Talking Heads' 'Psycho Killer' (1972) at the Old Grey Whistle Test as classic examples of music TV performance that "you can't place".
From The Basement allows people to watch their favourite artists “just as a fan”. Godrich explains: “It’s not something hot that’s happening at the moment. It’s counter-intuitive.” And who isn’t thirsty in this quickfire, click-happy, dead-by-lunchtime world for something a little more thoughtful, with depth and a focus on music; to hell with what’s cool or hip.
Still, the problem of commercial viability is a real issue, especially if you're filming in 3D, which costs three times as much: “It was a labour of love that left me out of pocket", says Godrich, "I can’t afford to do it in 3D again".
This season will feature Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Scissor Sisters, Feist, Moby, Foster The People, The Shins, Thundercat and Willis Earl Beal. Godrich chooses Beal as his standout performance, describing him as “painfully present on his own”.
We’ve got an exclusive clip from the Chilli Peppers episode for you to watch above. We’ve also picked out a few of the finest clips since the show first aired in 2006, including some of Godrich’s favourites.
From The Basement will be screened in the UK from 12th January at 10pm on Sky Arts 1 & Sky 3D