Thursday, August 03, 2006

Nikc Miller's Garbage Can

Chaos suits Nikc Miller. His creative process is a pandemonium of inspiration, influence, and improvisation. As the filmmaker and musician says, he operates under a "garbage can philosophy," a mishmash of pop culture references and rifs and private jokes. "I take all my own oddities in my brain," he says, "and mix them all up," his movies and songs "a random collection of ideas, all thrown together." And in visiting him, I see this chaos in full swing. I arrived in the middle of band practice, and as I interviewed him, his band mates, members of the Dirty Marmaduke Flute Squad, strummed guitars, banged on drums, and interjected with comments, clarifications, and jokes of their own, turning the interview into a kind of collective performance. Meanwhile, in the next room, actors who have appeared in Nikc's short films, efforts of his Better Hollywood Productions, drank beer and practiced their lines. In the midst of it all, Nikc seemed not only happy and at home but flush with creative excitement.

What's surprising about this anarchy of approach is how productive Nikc and company are. The band was quite adamant that the album they were recording would be complete by summer's end, no more than two months off. After that, Nikc says, he would be back to film-making, finishing his script for a feature-length movie. To date, Nikc has completed 15 short films and contributed to Flute Squad drummer Ryan Graham's own feature film, "Livelihood." Even more significant is the outcome of all this activity, the products made. The movies, songs, live performances—though born of chaos and singularly reflective of that garbage-can, pop-culture mishmash—are remarkably whole. Disorder for Nikc becomes oddly cohesive.


Nikc's short film "A Special Message From CCAQZ [Christian Coalition Against Queer Zombies]" is, in part, a send-up of the zombie-movie genre. Shot in black and white to mimic "Night of the Living Dead," the zombie in Nikc's film isn't so interested in eating human flesh as he is in getting off on it, both the hunks in his gay porno mag and the young, red-blooded boys playing football in the cemetery. As the boys and their girlfriend (mis)quote from Leviticus and expound on various techniques for anal sex, the queer zombie stalks them, finally finding his opportunity for a bit of anal rape, undead style. The boys are understandably upset by this. And yet, not really. As one says afterwards, "That gay zombie ain't so bad. He doesn't want to eat our brains, he just wants to party."

That incongruity of the God-fearing, homophobic teens who also make cracks about "bear hunting" and "ass cream" gives the movie its humor. That and the fact that, as the title indicates, the footage of the kids in the graveyard is supposed to be an educational film about the dangers of queer zombiedom, with a cowboy on horseback appearing at the end to warn us of their mind-warping perversions: "Rimjobs and the ever-lovin' analingus. So sinfully sweet." Add to that the soundtrack, composed of 15 different song segments in the movie's 8 minutes, each serving as sort of theme for a character or situation, gay disco for the zombie, lush strings for the teens, and you begin to understand what Nikc means by "garbage can philosophy." The movie makes no bones about its seeming lack of logic or dramatic unity.

And the same might be said for the Flute Squad's live performances. As Nikc plays his guitar, Ryan drums, and Brian Adam Ant plays bass, front man Steve Thomas sings such Nikc-penned songs as "Unicorn" and "I Like Myself (I'm Worth A Lot)" while wearing an enormously oversized horse head. Meanwhile, Better Hollywood collaborator Mike Bennet, dressed in a Mexican wrestler's mask and a turquoise and pink wind-breaker, slugs from a bottle of liquor and gesticulates wildly to the crowd. The effect is, needless to say, rather hectic.

But it's also entertaining. As Nikc says, his overarching goal, for songs, movies, concerts, is "giving the audience a good time by any means necessary." And he accomplishes this through a rather deft feat: reflecting the chaos of our 21st century lives while producing a unified, if also hyperactive, product.

Take another of Nikc's short films, "Robot-ussin." In this one, a guy sitting at his drawing table takes a big swig from his bottle of "Tussin" (ie, Robitussin, the cough syrup with supposedly psychoactive properties), and the robot he is penning comes to life, jumping off the drawing tablet. The guy wanders outside, head full of fumes, and meets up with the very same automaton walking down the street, who offers him a can of chunk ham. This film, like "A Special Message From CCAQZ," is jam packed with music—yodeling, martial marches, choruses of psychotic voices. In the end, in some sort of homage to Scooby Doo or maybe Mission Impossible, the guy, after gunning the robot down with a laser gun, pulls its head off to reveal a puppet inside, one who looks a lot like the character from the Mario Bros. video games.

And what is it that ties this hodgepodge of influences and ideas together? The fact that each of the elements in the movie, each pop-culture rif, reflects back to us our cultural lives, the can of chunk ham, the puppet, the Tussin, each an echo of the chaotic, random, fast-cut, and kitsch-laden nature of late capitalist America. The references, in their seeming randomness, come to reinforce one another, become mirrors for each another and for what we know about our media-saturated environment. This movie, and the others, is therefore not just a spoof of Scooby Doo, or "Night of the Living Dead," but a remark, an observation on the aesthetics of our surroundings.

More than this, it's the attitude of the films, the music performances, that helps to shape them. Parody is easy. To affect a hip, ironic stance, grabbing at television and popular movies, mocking American Idol and gansta rap, looking snidely at Fox News and then throwing them all together for laughs, takes relatively little skill, the provenance of most pop-culturally savvy teenagers. What Nikc and his collaborators manage to do is bring both an energy to their performances and a care for the material, an artistic and emotional investment in the sources, that invests each separate element with purpose and vigor. When Nikc talks of mining "the lower realms of pop culture" for ideas, the sense I have is that he is talking not about a culture outside of and beneath himself, but rather the cultural history of his life. The movies and music convey an almost nostalgic warmth, and this mood, the overall unity of tone, more than anything conveys the feeling of cohesion.
As Nikc stated several times during our interview, the humor of his music, the mixed-up oddity of his movies has "evolved into some sort of style, become a hit I then feel like I have to keep up with." He is aware of the demands of his audience, conscious of the shape and effect of his products. He knows what his viewers and listeners are after and that's a bit of chaos, a taste of mayhem, a couple treats from the garbage can. Or, as his hallucinatory, foul-mouthed, robot from "Robot-ussin" might ask, "Do you want some chunk ham?"


Blogger Unknown said...

how freaking cool is this Joe!! I am loving these, this nikc guy is the best, totalllly outrageous and it's working for him and I love that, you've brought the feeling of his music, his movies, all of it together in this piece....wonderful work Joseph..xoxo
I so want to see these guys play!!

3:28 PM  
Blogger Baltimore Interview said...

They played last night I think. You should have come, Patricia. It's only, what, 3000 miles? Thanks a lot for reading.

5:56 AM  
Blogger Thomas White said...

Great interview. I am intrigued, fascinated, and a little scared.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Baltimore Interview said...

Thanks, Amos!

6:47 AM  
Blogger Myfanwy Collins said...

What an interesting guy. His films sound wild.

5:34 AM  
Blogger Baltimore Interview said...

Thanks a lot for coming, Myfanwy.

8:53 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Another nice piece. And you know, it's not often enough that you get to see the word rimjob in print. Thanks a bundle.

8:19 PM  
Blogger Baltimore Interview said...

Thanks, Laura. And how did you know I was having trouble measuring my driveway gravel, Amount of Gravel for Driveways?

10:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i must say this piece on BHP, nikc miller, mike bennett and company is great... more and more people need to go support BHP, DMFS.. they are great guys with great ideas and i am honored to say i have known them for almost 10yrs now, and at the same time am sad to be 3000miles away from their sucess. i spread the word out west about my homies though.. keep up with them joe..

12:06 AM  
Blogger Baltimore Interview said...

Thanks, Balto Joe. Those guys are great.

7:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey everybody,
nikc's band the dirty marmaduke flute squad will be at the talking head in baltimore on oct 19th. for more info visit their myspace ( or

5:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent article/interview! I'm a big fan of Nikc's music and film work...while I throw around words like "excellent", "awesome", and "crap" very freely, I rarely use "genius" to describe anyone. I think Nikc is a genius, a bit peculiar, but a genius all the same.

8:36 AM  

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