Adam Buxton: Plug In, Bug Out
As he prepares to bring his Best of BUG and BUG Radiohead shows to Manchester, broadcaster, comedian and writer Adam Buxton traces the development of his fascination with pop culture into a touring phenomenon
Calling Adam Buxton by phone is not an intimidating experience, but it is a surreal and strangely hypnotic one. Along with his best friend and long time co-conspirator Joe Cornish, Buxton has been responsible for some of the funniest, warmest and strangest radio ever broadcast. Having benefitted from the advent of the podcast, Buxton and Cornish’s pop-culture obsessed BBC 6 Music and Xfm shows – by turns savvy and silly, and perfect hungover Saturday morning radio – are archived for posterity and discovery, and remain incredibly popular. Since a short run of shows with Edith Bowman before Christmas, Buxton's tone has been absent from 6 Music – so listening to him down the blower, as you could happily do for hours on end, it's easy to imagine him about to introduce a record or feature at any moment, and a reminder of how much his presence is missed. To get it out the way, then: what are the chances of an Adam and Joe reunion?
“I'd feel really sad if it never [happened], but Joe's so busy,” he understates – Cornish is currently working with Edgar Wright on Marvel's upcoming Ant-Man adaptation, following on from his successful foray into feature film with Attack the Block and a writing credit on Steven Spielberg's recent The Adventures of Tintin 3D spectacular. “I'm always telling him that I’ll do all the work, he can just turn up for three hours and pour scorn on me, but I don’t think he wants to be seen as a lazy git.
“We haven't really seen each other socially for a long time,” he continues. “We live completely different lives, I have kids, and I don't live in London anymore. So we’d only really see each other in the studio. But no, we haven't fallen out or anything; we'll just wait for the planets to align.”
While Cornish has been gadding about making films, Buxton has been slowly but surely building his BUG empire into a live phenomenon. Subtitled ‘The Evolution of Music Video,’ BUG aims to offer “big-screen exposure to the most awe-inspiring new work in music videos.” Each show is anchored by Buxton at his most charming and enthusiastic, sharing visually arresting work – as well as new discoveries from the DIY scene – on a canvas somewhat bigger than a YouTube window. Since debuting with a bimonthly residency at BFI Southbank in London in 2007, BUG has toured as far as the Sydney Festival and Los Angeles, and all over the UK, including to Latitude and Reading festivals.
“I'm like a pig in shit, basically” – Adam Buxton
BUG is the outcome of Buxton’s lifelong love of DIY and obscure culture. From 1997 to 2001, Channel 4 broadcast The Adam and Joe Show, a hotchpotch comedy revue programme shot in a ‘bedroom’ featuring skits involving Buxton and Cornish’s collection of Star Wars toys, and ‘Vinyl Justice,’ which memorably featured the two riffing on an agitated Mark E. Smith's record collection. Over on cable from 2000 to 2002, the pair would gently but relentlessly mock terrible European pornography on E4/Bravo's Shock Video. Looking back, much of Buxton’s early work feels ‘viral’ before the word meant anything beyond the origins of a crippling disease.
“I’m like a pig in shit, basically,” he says. “In the olden days, if you had cool friends they might have a VHS of some weird stuff they’d found. There was a film called Faces of Death, which was supposedly a snuff movie, a collection of deaths. Nowadays you could probably buy it on Amazon, but back then, nobody was even sure it existed.”
Music video culture used to be similar, he feels. “You were never sure when things were going to be on TV; you sat with a finger on the record button. The choice we have now is great, but you still need that cool friend, you know? I’m not saying I am that cool friend, but it’s all about curators now, isn’t it? Rather than some fucking YouTube algorithm that’s noticed you’ve been watching David Bowie, so maybe you’d like to watch more David Bowie.”
One of the mainstays of BUG is Buxton’s fascination with impotent online fury, and his amusing and endearing deconstruction of the raging and absurd YouTube comments he finds during his web trawls. However, he remains refreshingly optimistic about the fans behind their computer screens.
“I think people want to feel engaged, and sometimes people are constructively critical, but the easiest thing is to be negatively critical, because it makes you feel powerful,” he observes. “I can relate to that, but I try and hold back, because I know how it feels to have work criticised. I started reading out YouTube comments [on] my own stuff partly as a form of therapy, and I don’t think I’m ever horrible. I don’t read out any nasty ones, just stuff that’s funny or a bit weird.” There’s a pleasant irony in the success of BUG – a celebration of the internet in the live forum, away from commissioning editors; or, as Buxton succinctly describes the event, “a group of people in the same room enjoying things that are generally consumed in a solitary setting.”
With Buxton and his video-hunting BUG team having curated special showcases for labels such as Warp and Ninja Tune, his choice of Radiohead as subject for another themed BUG show seems natural – especially as he co-directed the video for In Rainbows' Jigsaw Falling Into Place, where the band’s performance was captured using cameras attached to poles worn on their heads. On its release, this was a unique angle – in more ways than one – on the previously famously enigmatic band; particularly in the case of lead singer Thom Yorke, who Buxton, along with close friend and co-director Garth Jennings, managed to persuade to put his head in a box for a hilarious Se7en parody video.
“It was actually Louis Theroux that got me into Radiohead,” Buxton recalls. “That was around Pablo Honey and I didn't like big, sprawling rock songs. But I listened to it, and sure enough he was right. By the time OK Computer came out, it felt like they were speaking directly to my needs and anxieties.”
Buxton had met the band's producer and engineer Nigel Godrich at a gig, but Godrich was protective about introducing anyone to the group. Ultimately, through Jennings, Buxton befriended Ed O'Brien, then Jonny Greenwood and Yorke, before eventually assisting with the band's In Rainbows webcasts. From a fan’s perspective, he has “a soft spot for Amnesiac, but it’s OK Computer that I keep coming back to, rather predictably, and the No Surprises video by Grant Gee is unbeatable. I love a really simple concept executed well, and it also has a great performance from Thom.” In regards to the possibility of directing more music videos of his own, Buxton says he’d like to, “but needs an idea first.”
The thoughtful, family-man Dr Buckles of today may seem far removed from the twenty-something late-night scamp that people may recall being thrown out of a brewery, in the second series of The Adam and Joe Show, for trying to a) film and b) host a piss up in it. But his passion for pop culture has clearly yet to falter – and despite his claims that throwing around concepts is not his forte, fans would suspect there’s plenty of comedic life left in long-running characters such as his pompous film producer, Ken Korda. While he claims to be “skirting around” the idea of writing something narrative-based, Buxton remains most enthusiastic about his current endeavour. “I'd be perfectly happy just doing BUG for another couple of years,” he tells me. Good news for us; bad news for trolls.
Adam Buxton's BUG, prog. 1
Adam Buxton brings two BUG shows to Manchester:
Best of BUG, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, 15 May, 8pm, £16
BUG Radiohead, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, 16 May, 8pm, £16
For tickets, visit:
And BUG to Edinburgh:
Best of BUG, Filmhouse, Edinburgh, 7 May, 9pm, £16.50 (£15)
For tickets, visit: