Fan Videos and the Hidden Gems of YouTube


YouTube fan videos are ubiquitous and almost entirely terrible. Often comprised of terribly cut-up anime “synced” (read: poorly slathered on top of) to the song you want to hear (effectively ruining the experience), they abound across the expanses of YouTube, waiting to unleash their shittiness on an unsuspecting viewer. Of course, you can always push play and switch to another tab thereby avoiding the visual experience entirely, but by clicking play in the first place you are helping support that person’s penchant for making horrendous videos. The more views they get, the more likely they are to make another.

Such was, and still is, my attitude towards YouTube fan videos. However, like anything in life, not all of it is entirely terrible. In fact, I have come across several fan videos that have managed to scrape together a song and a video to create an interesting new product. These videos made me reconsider the song, to hear it in a new light (as any good music video should do), to escalate the original product and allow my mind to approach it differently.

While basing music off of an existing piece of art is nothing new (e.g. The Ocean’Pelagial, Chroma Key’Graveyard Mountain Home), there was something special about the YouTube fan video – specifically, the artist’s lack of involvement in the combination of song and video. The creative input from a source outside of the video’s and song’s creative source allowed for both original pieces of art to take on a new meaning. Obviously most times removing the original creative inputs from the equation means the final product is poor – which is why this post is about the gems of YouTube fan videos, not the other 99.9%.

To compile a list, then, I needed a specific set of criteria through which to gauge any video’s merit. The merit would have to be entirely subjective, based on how I, specifically, felt about the video, yet broad enough for the list to contain videos with a greater public appeal.

So my criteria became:

  1. The video cannot be official. Both the visual footage and the music must be appropriated from two separate sources.
  2. The music and the video must be compiled by a third party; the music cannot have been based on the video (or vice versa).
  3. The visual footage must feel like it has come from one source. If multiple sources are used to compile footage, I need to be unaware. The key element here is the video must feel like a complete unit.
  4. The visual footage must feel, within reason, synced properly to the audio. No random cuts from the compiler’s favourite movie pieced together without thought of the music.
  5. While the lyrics do not have to correspond to the visuals, the finished product must feel like a new piece of art. It must convey some kind of new meaning.
  6. The video’s ability to convey this meaning can be purposed or accidental (as I have no way of figuring out whether or not the video’s creator meant to convey the meaning I derive from it).

Having these criteria as a starting place, I set out to find my favourite YouTube fan videos. After sifting through video after video, some of which were good (and most of which were bad), I was able to come up with six videos I felt fit into the criteria I had decided upon; six videos that broadened my perspective on the original tune and allowed me to experience it from a different place. Below is my list, each video with a short description of why I felt it deserved special consideration as one of YouTube’s hidden gems.

The videos:

1. Tool – The Pot / René Laloux – Les Escargots

By far the most popular video on this list, Tool’s “The Pot” synced with the 1965 French film Les Escargots was my first experience with a good YouTube fan video. It’s so good, in fact, when I first saw it I did not realize it was not the official video. While the lyrics have little to do with the message of the video, the two combined speak volumes about anger against the id, self-mutilation for the sake of material gain, and the futility of life (after all, do the snails not come and destroy all the farmer has gained through sacrifice?). In an odd way, it inverts the original message of the song (a railing against the hypocrisy of the government) by speaking to the futility of trying. A bleak message, but one worth pondering.

2. Boards of Canada – Everything You Do is a Balloon / Interlude Films – One Got Fat

An eerie, unsettling vibe permeates the “Everything You Do is a Balloon” mashup with this public domain film about bike safety. From the moment the children’s gorilla masks are revealed and the main groove begins, the entire video takes on an eerie, dreamlike quality. One by one the children are killed, signaled by cartoon explosions and a grisly countdown, all overtop of an ambient groove, exposing in its calm violence our indifference towards death.

3. Porcupine Tree – .3 / Footage of “Fat Boy,” the bomb dropped on Nagasaki

The most interesting aspect of this video is how well the music and footage work together. The first half of the video, showing the atomic bomb being manufactured, is set to an ostinato, woeful instrumental. The second half, peppered with Steven Wilson’s haunting refrain (“Black the sky, weapons fly/Lay them waste for your race”) as explosions rise into the atmosphere creates an oppressive sadness, a truly bleak look at the brutality of human nature.

4. Amon Tobin – Keep Your Distance / Richard Stanley – Hardware

It is only natural Amon Tobin’s field music would go so well with the 1990 horror sci-fi film Hardware. Its otherworldly, tribal groove only serves to emphasize the harsh and uninviting atmosphere of a dying world. The solitary feeling of being alone on a hostile planet, of scrounging against the odds to survive, feels real and immediate. While not a typical view, one could liken it to living with depression, where every day is a struggle in a wasteland of loneliness to scrounge out the bare essentials to live.

5. Meshuggah – Dancers to a Discordant System / Bo Mathorn – The Backwater Gospel

One of Meshuggah’s harshest pieces, “Dancers to a Discordant System,” set to the animated short film The Backwater Gospel, creates a terrifying, vivid world – a world of visages twisted by cruelty, of horrendous, bloody violence, of the angel of death reveling in the senselessness of nihilistic annihilation. Jens Kidman’s voice screams and whispers the priest’s controlling lies; the guitars weave a tapestry of confusion and anger, all culminating in an absolute bloodbath set to an ostinato groove and hair-raising guitar solo. Evoking the same horror at humanity’s propensity toward violence as Lord of the Flies is no easy task; yet the senseless brutality tangible in the video manages to do just that.

6. Massive Attack – Pray for Rain / Blutch, Charles Burns – Peur(s) du Noir

My favourite video on this list’s strength relies in its odd juxtaposition of a dark, brutal video combined with a relaxed Massive Attack track. The video tells the tale of a dog handler unable to control the savagery of his dogs – yet it is not the viciousness of the dogs that is so horrifying, but rather the look of glee on the handler’s face as they intimidate and attack random individuals. After an odd, perspective altering visual switch halfway through the video, coupled with a gradual escalation of the music, the final dog realizes what he has become and turns on his cruel master, ripping his body to shreds. A commentary on the evil that controls us, let it serve as a reminder to examine our impulses to cruelty, and instead destroy that which would make us beasts.

Header image from Peur(s) de Noir.

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