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Revisiting 120 Minutes, MTV's Cult Alternative Music Show

In preparation for a celebration of MTV's cult alternative music show, we remember a golden age of television programming

A stalwart of pre-internet television programming, 120 Minutes was a show you’d stay up late for and tape on VHS. Born as a heady alternative to the premium packaged pop that has dominated the last twenty years of chart music, the show became a stop shop for fans of off kilter musical nourishment, feeding up interviews, live performances and videos from artists like Sonic Youth, Beck and The Beastie Boys.

Before having time called in 2013, 120 Minutes had racked up a shelf of followers who’d watched nearly three decades of music grow and sprout into genres like post-punk, garage rock, alternative hip hop and electronica. Acts like Nirvana were given a sturdy platform for chart domination, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” receiving its first ever play on the show. The studio became a space where artists like Robert Smith could host episodes showing The Cure videos back –to- back, and where The Beastie Boys and late Lou Reed could take turns playing interviewer themselves.

In the UK, 120 Minutes took a slightly different format: without the VJs bolstered by the States and a lack of commercial marketing, the show sought to showcase “innovation in music, both current and classic”. Playing bands like the Kaiser Chiefs and Bloc Party way before they were considered household, 120 Minutes drew lines between visual and musical style regardless of genre and age. Championing acts like TV On The Radio and LCD Soundsystem, the show came out at 1am on various nights of the week.

After coming to an end in 2013 in the States and 2009 over in the UK, 120 Minutes remains one of the most influential TV programmes in the history of alternative music. If it sounds like something you might have been into, Hackney Picturehouse are showcasing a one off night, ‘120 Minutes Revisited’. It’ll play a carefully crafted playlist put together by some of the show’s original programmers, and will no doubt be a glowing two hours of nostalgia. Tickets can be bought here.


MTV Classic will be airing a special edition of 120 Minutes on the 5th of May. Tear yourselves away from your laptops for it.

By Tamara Roper