Q&A Niall Trask – founder of The Kill Shop
Since the death of MTV, music fanatics maybe under the impression that the music video industry is dying horse too. However, thanks to “infinite” possibilities of YouTube and the great minds of independent filmmakers’ music videos which break the mould still remain a feature of the way we consume musical talent. This line of creativity often strays away from the clean-cut fantastical videos from the likes of Katy Perry and other big budgeted possies or even the slick HD simplicity of performing to a camera that you expect from an Adele track or something of the moist sort.
That’s not to say that all major music videos are like this, there are still some that can be equally as harrowing as the independent ones and do deliver on the unexpected (‘This is America’ for example). But when it comes to finding the daring, delightful and, at times, damnable you got to look at the little guys who speak fluently in the language of taboo and push shocking boundaries with a low a budget. While there’s no doubt that working on such a small scale has its limitations, we’ve all heard independent music video making can be a rough gig (if you pardon the pun), it’s the hard work of these creatives that propagate organic ingenuity – a breath of fresh air that is contaminated with any repulsively frilly ostentatiousness (with some exceptions I am sure).
To find out more about primitively creative world of indie music video making, Underground met with the DIY-renegade master Niall Trask, who founded The Kill Shop production company. We met in Brixton’s Ritzy, where we were unencumbered with intense jazz instrumentals as a backing track for interview and having to contend with the loud scrapes of tables being moved for an event that evening- just to add some comedic flare. If you’d sat with us you would have also been able to spot the infamous dildo that is strategically placed on the roof of the local MacDonald’s — Brixton’s weapon of choice against capitalist culture that extorts the poor with unfathomable house prices in the area – which was found by Niall himself (kill your curiosity here: https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird-news/passer-confused-giant-sex-toy-9116333). Basking in the fitting atmosphere, and full of late night fatigue, distaste for the misappropriation of the English language and antipathy against the rich who pose as flag holders for the working class, I began my chat with Niall about The Kill Shop: it’s past, present and future…
First, can you describe your style in three words?
Niall Trask: I should have a go to quirky answer…. can I come back to this one.(later, we agree on“naivety and malice”) *
How did you get into film making?
N:So, I studied film as a degree and then sort of ended up in London kind of as an art director in an art department, doing set design. On the side, I was editing, directing and writing, like, real DIY bits and pieces. After that, I found the best way to get budgets was with bands and that’s how I ended up doing music videos basically. Then I toured for a long time doing visuals for Flamingods…
Oh I love them!
N:Yeah, I’m there in the early press shots or whatever as a VJ/groupie with a projector/spirit guide. I didn’t play an instrument. So, I got to tour quite a lot, and got contacts through that. Now I pretty much solely create music videos.
Where does the name The Kill Shop come from?
N:Oh yeah, so when I was studying everyone had to form a production company name, and I couldn’t take myself seriously to call myself like “The London Media” or whatever. One day I was on the phone to my mum, and my cousins were bickering and one of them said to the other one “I’m going to take you to “The Kill Shop”. And I thought it was the perfect balance of malice and naivety, so I just sort of used that and that was 10 years ago. That relates to the 3 words I think… *naivety and malice, I think it kinda works to sum up my work. I don’t really feel like I’m very good with aesthetics, and honing in on what’s fashionable
So you create whatever you feel like doing?
N:Yeah I just sort of wing it. Which is probably not a good thing…
Why wouldn’t it be a good thing?
N: I think in terms of getting work. I find it tough working on things I’m not interested in and would rather earn money as a labourer or working in Burger King, than put energy making films I’m not feeling. It’s probably a weakness too not being able to hone in on a band’s aesthetic if it’s not my thing. I think a lot of the videos I’ve done stick out like sore thumbs for the respective bands.
What was the first thing you ever created?
N:Umm, the first thing must have been sketches when I was 12 or 13, when Jackass was popular. I was filming being in shopping carts and falling over, jumping off multi-storey car-parks, and jumping out of bushes. We used to use HI8 and Mini DV. Recording over a baby video of my brother much to my mum’s horror once.
Do you still have those videos?
N:Yeah, I do somewhere, I haven’t watched them since I was kid. I’m not sure why I’d watch them again, but I have them in a box somewhere I think…
Moving on… your videography takes on a unique style, it’s both very immerse and psychedelic. Is there anyone or anything that particularly inspired your film making style?
N:Yeah… as far as influences I would say I’m more influenced by musicians or comedians than I am by film makers. I have favourite film makers for sure, but I wouldn’t say that my work is anywhere near what they do. But, people like Ariel Pink, for example, just in terms of work ethic and the DIY element; a comedian called Lee Kern as well who made Mini DV short-films and video poems. I feel like looking at my stuff it’s probably more informed by musicians and comedians, but that’s my just in my own head maybe to other people it’s not about that. The word psychedelic I also think that’s such an overused word, a lot of stuff that’s seen as psychedelic isn’t really psychedelic. It’s not just like a pyramid circling around with a lightning bolt in the background, then some guy takes acid and there’s a spiral etc, etc. That’s a real thing now with people just ripping off Jodorowsky – he did like The Holy Mountain. Pastiche and psychedelia are not the same thing, last time I checked the dictionary.
Do you have any kind of routine when you’re looking to get creative? Do you have a particular creative process that you do when you’re working on a project?
N:No, which is probably unhealthy to be honest. I pitch a lot via the agency that work with, so they’ll send me a brief which they think I am suitable for, which can be really vague or could even be nothing at all really. From there I am pitching and pitching all the time — which can sometimes essentially be like chucking shit at a wall…. With freelance work, there are certain times of the year it can be really, really quiet. Then there are other times when it’s busy. I do get pretty depressed down when I am not working. So in-between staying up late and doing odd jobs it’s not a healthy routine I would say. My happiness and workload correspond with one another, I must be tough to live with.
Do you have a video or film that you are particularly proud of?
N:I think the Pumarosa one must be it. I think that most of the stuff I have done has been taking the piss and working with a small budget and being maybe a little self-deprecating or too much of a compromise. The ‘Lion’s Den’ was definitely the first time I felt like I had written something that’s come to life so well. Subversive, unique, with a low-key psychedelic element to it too. Massive props to the DoP Jack too.So yeah, I am proud of that one the most. It got nominated for an UKMVA, which is cool and the first time for that too.
Watch it here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eo3f3kl3utE
Is there a musician who you aspire to work?
N:In terms of my style and what I’d like to make, Ariel Pink would be amazing… In a short answer. I don’t think he puts much into his videos anymore, but I think he has a good marriage of a lot of the stuff that I am into like comedy and horror. I did get to work with Animal Collective years ago, and they were my favourite – that was fun.
Here at Underground we embrace those who propagate rebellion and look to push the boundaries of the status quo. Have you ever been involved in any kind of controversy or caused a stir with your work?
N:Yeah, have been called out for some stuff, will make myself cringe if I talk about controversial I think I am. You can alienate yourself quickly by being controversial at this moment in time. Most comedy for I grew up with for example wouldn’t get on TV now; Shooting Stars, Brass Eye even South Park if it started out now. It’s the same Oxbridge actors, the comedy is mundane and PC. Anything controversial doesn’t stand a chance, with either side of the political spectrum whether you read the Guardian or the Daily Mail. Not that I think crap I direct is woke or needs to be broadcast on people’s televisions. Best thing to do is just swallow the opium and make some lukewarm crap and pretend it’s about mental health or austerity, even if it’s just some self-indulgent, fascistic, fashion piece. Use the skinniest models you can find too. Controversy will get you nowhere, don’t risk offending anyone.
Film making always seems sound like a very glitzy career path, however do you think that, despite possible struggles to obtain a big budget, independent film-making gives you more freedom creatively?
N:I have always found independent shoots more fun. For example, when I was in production design there were times you’d end up in the countryside, low budget and you kind of just have to make do with what you have. Whereas when you work somewhere like Pinewood studios and your kind of just part of a machine. In terms of what I do now, with video commissions, the lower the budget the less involved the label are or the commissioner is. The higher the budget/the bigger the name of the band, the more people who are poking in wanting to tweak. This is especially when the band is featured, it can be a total nightmare to edit because A&R people or whatever won’t want the bad side of the singer’s face (or whoever) edited in etc. But yeah the less money involved, the more freedom there is. The more money there is, the more people get involved: every decision has go through a producer, an executive producer, a commissioner, label, management, Ryan Giggs, Noel Edmonds, my grandma…. Just a massive list of people. As much as I would like to work with bigger budgets, I do find smaller budget stuff to be more in tune with what I want to do.
Do you have any advice for someone who is just starting out as an independent film maker?
N:Not really, considering my own existence I would feel a bit daft giving advice. But for me, music videos have been a vessel to get budgets and makevideos, like I don’t think I could get a short video funded in the same way. So, I would say the best way to do it is to find a band that you are into that are starting outand invest your time in that without necessarily getting paid for it. Just messing around and experimenting would be the best way to do it. Maybe learn a trade or have a side-line, so you don’t need to solely work on videos and waste your time on crap you’re not into and become disillusioned!
What can we look forward to any exciting projects from The Kill Shop anytime soon?
N:I got one thing, but I can’t say what it is… bated breath and all that…but it is coming out in the next 2 to 3 weeks. Sort of an Algerian Myth of Sisyphus in the Peak District.
Watch a whole lot of Niall’s glory for yourself:
Insecure Men – ‘Cliff has Left the Building’
Meatraffle – ‘London Life’
Flamingods – ‘Gojira’
Q and A by Aimee Maynard-Williams