2008: Girl Talk

Girl Talk

This piece is published in collaboration with writer Nick Sylvester and his blog Riff Market. For those wanting more background on how we came to write this extremely long essay together, please read Nick’s more extensive introduction here.

GIRL TALK, THE MASHUP DETONATOR

Gregg Gillis, a 26-year-old college graduate who likes pop music and owns a laptop, became Girl Talk in the first year of the 21st century. Taking cues from Britney Spears’ self-positioning circa 2001 — when she was famously “Not a Girl, Not Yet A Woman” — Gillis is not a DJ, but not a traditional musician either. With the aid of computer editing software, he creates danceable sound collages that often incorporate over 15-20 audio sources: namely, popular and less popular rock, rap, dance, and electronic songs, no era or genre excluded. The sources are mostly recognizable, and his songs — Gillis calls them “songs” — carry the force of nostalgia but are reconfigured and “mashed up” enough so as to sound fresh and new and free of the groan that collects when somebody insists on playing all four minutes and seventeen seconds of MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” at the holiday party. With Girl Talk, we get that blissful moment of recognition without having to suffer through the next three minutes and thirty seconds remembering exactly why it hasn’t been Hammertime for more than a decade now.

Like many others before and after him, Gillis found his success after the indie music website Pitchfork Media bestowed positive reviews upon his third album, 2006’s Night Ripper. “Pittsburgh native Greg Gillis (Girl Talk) absolutely detonates the notions of mash-up,” wrote reviewer Sean Fennessey. “As an illegal art form, it’s surprising no one came along with an idea like this sooner.” The review came out on July 17 — so maybe the summer heat kept the typically spot-on Fennessey from remembering John Oswald’s Plunderphonics, the all-stolen-sample recording from 1985.

Either way, for Pitchfork and many others, Girl Talk raised the bastard-pop bar. He was not just playing two songs on top of each other like 2ManyDJs or Freelance Hellraiser, nor was he playing two songs next to each other in an anything-goes free-for-all DJ set a la Optimo or Erol Alkan. Instead Gillis is something of a surgeon, scalpeling out drum breaks from one song, vocal melodies from another, a guitar riff from another, and stitching them into some danceable semblance of a new song. These Frankensteins were emblematic of the indie-rockcentric Pitchfork’s growing appreciation for Southern rap, modern pop, and dance music too, so it was no surprise when the site took the opportunity to award Gillis’s album Best New Music, its highest honor — to celebrate Girl Talk was, in a way, to celebrate the site itself.

Around that time, Gillis hooked up with the Chicago-based Windish Agency. He quickly began touring the world with his sweaty dance parties. He had a well-blogged reputation for inviting people on stage to dance with him as he huddled over his computer, triggering his samples live, and soon he became a festival headliner. A career in music firmly established, soon Gillis quit his Pittsburgh day-job as a biomedical engineer. And now Gillis is at the point fame-wise where MTV News is more than happy to run a story about his last show, to take place on December 21, 2012. That date counts for the end of the Mayan calendar — believed by some to be the day the world will end. For a guy who plays others people’s music, more or less, Gillis is not doing so bad for himself.

I’LL BE YOUR WHATEVER YOU WANT

Girl Talk, to his immense credit, is an avatar of the most important musical-technological developments and music-industrial complications from the last decade: (illegal) music hyper-consumption in the face of record industry meltdown; the blurring of distinctions in major and indie labels; the plumbing of indie cool; an indie-rock about-face towards “selling out”; an unprecedented participatory music culture, a next-next-level fan club. (i.e.: It’s not enough just to go to the shows, or buy the t-shirts, or track down the seven-inches.) The mega-fans are remixing their favorite songs, lacing them with dance beats and synthesizer presets, posting their remixes on their blogs, commenting on those of others. Even if there were precedents for these complications, the 21st century form of mashups is a very palpable convergence: an internet-mediated, meta-pop moment.

There was a time of openly loathing but secretly loving 2 Many DJ’s blend of Skee-Lo’s “I Wish” over “Cannonball” by the Breeders. But it wasn’t clear at the time (late 2002) that this would be a New Musical Movement with artist heroes and collectives. The mashup was at best the democratization of once elite techie show-off skills. Pro Tools Free or Fruity Loops or Live (cracked or otherwise) were now widely available, and so anybody with an ounce of computer know-how was able to twist and contort their favorite songs into a seamless mixtape. Soon, an army of sixteen year-olds would surely adopt the mashup as a standard protocol in their early musical careers. They’d figure out a way to impress girls by putting Indigo Girls tracks over “Tootsie Roll.”

HE WISHES HE WAS A BALLER

A month after Night Ripper received Best New Music, Gillis told critic Ryan Dombal, “I’m trying to separate myself from other people by having songs that would be considered — technically — original things. I don’t seek out mashups. I’m associated with the whole mashup movement, and it’s too bad because I’m not a huge fan of them.” Two years later, Gillis told Robert Levine of the New York Times, straight up, “I want to be a musician and not just a party D.J. ….and like any musician I want to put out a classic album.” Then again, Gillis doesn’t need to say anything of this sort, with the militia of sycophants he has lined up to defend his work. Our favorite is Chris Bodenner, a guest blogger at Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish blog. Bodenner not only insists Girl Talk is an artist, but believes him to be “the artist for the Age of Obama”:

[Obama]’s campaign — buoyed by young fans and volunteers — embodies that generation in so many ways, as does Girl Talk. Obama is a young, diverse, and unique politician running an innovative, grassroots campaign that thrives offs the Internet. Similarly, Girl Talk is a young, innovative, Internet-based artist whose level of sampling is unique and incredibly diverse — racially and stylistically. And both Obama and Gillis draw from the same demographics: African-Americans and young liberal whites. Plus, they both put on killer live shows.

Suffice it to say, we did not expect the glorification of mashers-up to the point of being artists — as if “talented DJ” just couldn’t suffice. Even Belgian duo 2 Many DJs kept their dark arts in the realm of the “DJ mix.” The Skee-Lo/Breeders track, for example, boasted no pretensions of song title other than a listing of its ingredients. But for some reason this Night Ripper set was an “album” rather than a “mix,” made of “songs” and not of “mashups.”

Perhaps this posing is required, however, because Night Ripper doesn’t particularly work as a straight DJ mix. There is no build; it doesn’t breathe. The genius of 2 Many DJs and some of the other first wave mashup artists was the naturalness of their blends. Without tinkering too much, the harmonic and melodic elements would align to make a sonically pleasing moment. Christina Aguilera sounded plausible singing over The Strokes in “A Stroke of Genius.” No DJ superhero could be heard pulling the strings. In the pre-Girl Talk days, the standard of judgment was the seamlessness, the beauty of a ridiculously paired, yet ironically similar set of songs.

But this is Girl Talk. Night Ripper is a “postmodern musical creation.” This posits itself as Art — challenging all prior definitions of what it means to make music.

A NITPICKY DIGRESSION B/W BEFORE THEY WERE GIRL TALKS

Technology obscures the fact, a simple one to me, that “mashing up” is the fundamental process for music making: i.e. combining and recombining different sounds into pleasing and/or at the very least hopefully-not-boring configurations. Lynyrd Skynyrd were known to mash up guitar and bass and drums into the configuration of “Sweet Home Alabama.” Weezer had a pretty good mashup called “Say It Ain’t So.” Some people/bands make terrible mashups. Other people/bands make pretty good mashups!

All’s to say, there is a context for Girl Talk’s cut-and-paste aesthetic. Technically he is working in the tradition of musique concrete, which when Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry and Stockhausen and friends did it, comprised cutting up physical vinyl records and tape reels and re-pasting them together — using prerecorded sounds and reconfiguring them and then playing them as pastiche.

These were compositions but not traditional songs. And most of these compositions, to be frank, are more fun to think about than listen to. But since then, the concrete nature of recording has been exploited tremendously as part of the modern recording studio setup. Most radio pop songs are cut-and-pastes of previous takes actually, looped and warped and seamlessly woven together. And so musique concrete, one could reasonably argue, has significantly altered the path of recorded music, not necessarily with its content but as a process.

ROMAN CANDLE IN THE WIND

What’s tricky is that Gillis wants the Art-ness of musique concrete and the Popularity of Pop Music. Unlike musique concrete artists, even more popular ones like Matmos, Gillis wants, needs even, his samples to be fully recognizable. He is using well-known songs too, not field recordings of, say, a squeaky door hinge — so there is an element of junior-high level trainspotting to the album’s appeal, right down to the title: Night Ripper clearly plays on the Beatles song title “Day Tripper.” The tracklisting of the Night Ripper song “Smash Your Head” counts (at least) 17 samples, from Fall Out Boy to X-Ray-Spex to the Pharcyde, whose “Passing Me By” itself samples at least two songs. The effect is an advanced version of that game on the iPod, which challenges you to figure out what the song is from a four second random clip. It’s a game, and because Gillis keeps a steady beat, it’s technically danceable too.

It’s rarely listenable though — at least in any traditional, “I am taking pleasure in the configuration of these simultaneously occurring sounds and words” sense of pop music listening. Although Girl Talk has a few choice moments like the “Where Is My Mind” vs. “Hate Me Now” blend, he relies on pitch-shifting and time-distorting everything to fit within the same BPM — cramming all his various found elements into the same one-size-fits-all bed a la Greek villain Procrustes. He is obedient more to his process than the finished product. His most beloved blend of Biggie Smalls and Elton John pitches up “Tiny Dancer” to a ludicrous degree, and to add insult to injury, Gillis lets John’s artificially-chipmunked lyrics step all over Biggie’s rhymes. (This would surely prompt a severe drubbing if done in real life.) Gillis’ labored matching of “Ain’t to Proud to Beg” over “Friends of P” just sounds like “I Love the ‘90s” projectile vomiting.

There are also sloppy segments on Night Ripper where the songs’ keys don’t match up — like Ciara’s “Oh” over Elastica’s “Connection” — which I doubt was an intentional experiment in audience-polarizing post-modernism. Maybe we shouldn’t say that the errors are “unmusical” but they have the groove of a elementary school violin recital.

The ultimate glory of Girl Talk is supposed to reside in a brand new expression of “pop obsession” for a radically-different generation. But as it stands, Girl Talk just seems to love pop music as a sadistic steward, morphing all the hooks and cherished moments of the last forty years into devalued fodder for a long stream of time-stretched mid-range EQ mush with no peaks or dynamics.

Notice we don’t find Girl Talk offensive to copyright, “the ontology of art,” or pop music in general. We just think the relatively innovative gimmick of his style has exempted him from critical thought put towards the actual result. Are we a pop culture generation easily placated to hear our “references” bounced back to us, no matter the context or skill? Recall the Weezer video for “Pork and Beans.” Is the whole game now: “Hey, I know what that is!!”?

I’M GONNA ADD SOME BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT

Late this summer, Girl Talk released his Night Ripper follow-up called Feed the Animals. (This is possibly a subtle reference to Belly’s “Feed the Trees,” but I doubt it.) Since Night Ripper, Gillis’s technical abilities improved, and there are fewer “unmusical” moments when keys don’t line up or samples seem sloppy. With fewer mistakes to distract us, the Girl Talk Thesis Statement seems more apparent, i.e. there is a Girl Talk Thesis Statement after all. Like a good crate-digging producer, Gillis aims to salvage what the past has discarded and wishes to figure out how to make worn-out songs sound good again.

A pretty clean example of that: He updates the build of “Dance To the Music” by Sly and the Family Stone, the part when Sly sings “I’m gonna add a little organ” and then the organ comes in, repeat with guitar, repeat with bass — except Girl Talk makes very simple substitutions for the original responses to Sly’s calls. If anything, it’s clever, a good party trick. Later Girl Talk rescues the one great chorus from an otherwise terrible Southern rap track (cf. Shawty Lo’s “They Know” or Cassidy’s “Drink N My 2 Step”) and finds it a better backbeat. Gillis sometimes just goes for broke and it works, combining awesome with awesome and giving us awesomer: For an all-too-brief time, Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” chorus glides over Kanye’s “Flashing Lights” instrumental. Getting paid is a forte; this is something else entirely.

Girl Talk is definitely Gillis’s Ongoing Project — and these records, as long as he keeps making them (four more years, dude!), could very well approach an Aesthetic if not a Point. From a technical standpoint, this is also a project that requires a certain degree of time and effort and patience (and an endless supply of a cappellas). He could just be combining any old songs, but he isn’t.

Obviously sometimes his combinations and sequences don’t taste good. But with music at least, the best moments are more value-indicative to me than the plethora of shitty ones. Shittiness is an inevitability. As pointed out, digital music manipulation tools have become cheaper and more available and the d-word, shudder, democratized. The ignobile vulgus doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to artmaking. Remember what happened when synthesizers became readily available in late disco, giving birth to house music: We first got Frankie Knuckles’ “Your Love,” but then we got, you know, everything else after that. Some of it was awesome. Most was terrible.

We’re not saying Girl Talk is the Frankie Knuckles of mash-ups. But compare him with the rest of what the internet has put out there for us — all the ridiculous song title puns — and you realize the extent to which he does care how he puts things together. His records have rough patches sonically, and he doesn’t have a handle on pacing, knowing only one speed (fast) and one density (brick) and one EQ setting (lots of mids). But he’s not exactly taking the piss, or the same kind of piss, as the rest of these people.

DJ HERO

That being said, Girl Talk’s insistence on not being a pure DJ is a key to why the music sounds like it does, why it has only one speed, one timbre, and one density: if he lets a sample or phrase or loop breath on its own without some kind of additional percussion or secondary element, he is violating his own semantic scruples. Rule Number One of Girl Talk Club: Everything must be mashed at all times or otherwise the whole musique concrete / “art compounded from other art” rationale falls away, and Gillis is “just a DJ.”

This is a bar of poetic, Babel-like heights — an exciting concept, one to which Girl Talk’s execution rarely lives up. But in doing so, Girl Talk has deftly avoided the mashup label, and the musique concrete label, in favor of a brand-new artform whose result, critics be damned, has no point of comparison.

If not an outright lie, most times uniqueness is a bad excuse for Not Art. Many artists recoil at the mere suggestion that someone is doing something else just like them. To that end, these artists create new rules so that no one is on the same court. They get away with it, in no small part because most snobby music fans hate the idea of music having a “playing field” anyway, where music becomes like sports — scratch DJs or guitar soloists who have to practice, practice, practice, who try to outdo their rivals through sheer technical skill, who play at Madison Square Garden for screaming fans, who wipe the sweat with actual towels. (Except when it’s a video game, then we suddenly love it.)

Girl Talk doesn’t want to go to the Wimbledon of mash-ups, so he created his own sport. Let’s call it Speed Mashball. I don’t think he’s the best Speed Mashball player he could be (he’s definitely gotten better since the Night Ripper Tournament), but with no competition stepping to the plate to kick a “goober-ball” (we will discuss the rules and jargon of this complicated athletic metaphor later), Girl Talk is the undisputed gold medalist. And by using every sample known to man (and every a cappella downloaded from Jam Glue), he basically outmoded the entire circa 2003 mash-up sport.

We can put Girl Talk under the umbrellas of musique concrete or loop-based pop music itself, but these titles further confuse Gillis, making him out to be some kind of outsider or misunderstood auteur. Truth is, however, Girl Talk is first and foremost a campus favorite, a party rocker, that serious DJ flown in for the Kappa Alpha party who you go and ask if he has any De La Soul; he screams at you indignantly “I just played some!” and then you go back to looking for where Carrie Ann went off to. Unlike Matmos or Pierre Schaeffer or anything musique concrete, Girl Talk needs “the critics” as much as Tay “Chocolate Rain” Zonday does — which is to say, not at all. Dude’s likely got every weekend for the next year booked without all the ink spilled from the pens of eggheads.

As a second cousin, Girl Talk has that guy who sped-up all the Beatles albums to fit in a single ten minute file. But that particular music auteur gets no love from Pitchfork, no respect as “an artist.” Must be his subpar Street Team.

THE LEGOMANIAC

Can a process truly be called “repurposing” or “recontextualizing” when Repurpose and Recontext is built into the content’s genetic code? When it’s all part of the master plan? Disco and funk producers didn’t intend for their drum breaks to become the stuff of rap samples — yet with Girl Talk compositions, one wonders how much of Gillis’s ease is a testament to his technical prowess, and how much is just an articulation of the fact that pop music has become increasingly standardized, its parts more or less interchangeable. All major rap singles, for instance, come with an instrumental and a vocal a cappella; the verses are mostly all the same length, about 16 bars; the choruses are all more of less the same length of time too. It is understood within the architecture of pop and hip-hop music these days that the song is waiting, begging even, to be mashed up.

A modern audience likely won’t find anything remotely violent or controversial or confrontational to Girl Talk presenting this information either. Rock has coexisted with hip-hop has coexisted with noise. Our ears are better-than-ever equipped to handle these kinds of recombinations. Girl Talk has a moment on Feed The Animals when he puts a rap over the French disco-house track “Music Sounds Better With You,” and another one when we hear Lil Mama over Metallica’s “One.” It’s telling how little these tracks sound out of the ordinary, because ten years ago I suspect they would have. Just last year, Kanye took Daft Punk’s electro track “Harder Better Faster Stronger” and put rapping over it, called it “Stronger,” and it went to #1 on the Billboard Pop 100. Discounting the precedent of the Beastie Boys, Jay-Z’s best-selling Black Album in 2003 was filled with Lil Mama/Metallica-type moments. In the public imagination, these artistic decisions are no longer scandalous.

We’re seeing this in other situations, as the idea of user-generated content delights our commerce so — that the line between Ultimate Fan and Actual Artist is rendered the same in terms of exchange value. In 2008, Girl Talk is pop music’s Ultimate Fan. But the extent to which the music he’s working with is so portable, so building-block ready, makes it seem like he’s not making art so much as merely following industry directions: Step by step, like he’s putting together a Lego spaceship. There is no violence in this process, in other words; he’s hardly repurposing much of anything. Instead it’s like a video game in which Gillis has found the warp level — yet keep in mind, somebody somewhere had to program that warp level precisely so that it would be discovered.

THE 21ST NIGHT OF SEPTEMBER

And as the Ultimate Fan, Girl Talk exists as a mover not of music but nostalgia. He is the guy at the party who says, “Remember slap bracelets?” Dude: How about devil sticks?

Although there are things to hate about the whole “mass nostalgia” angle, who can gainsay the fact that the first major role of our new internet-based culture is to dig back in the near past and scream, “Yo, you remember this shit?” — whether it’s 1970s toy commercials on YouTube or Super Mario Bros. mycology sets on BoingBoing or funny Russian Speed Racer overdubs on Some Awful Thing. There is no way VH1 could have a “nostalgia for this week” show unless they felt the pressure to one-up the Internet where it’s all nostalgia all the time. Girl Talk fits into our national cultural mood extremely well. Gillis is the musical equivalent of “Best Week Ever.” And I am sure that even that show could be legitimized as “a perfect manifestation of what McLuhan and Warhol augured” rather than Lowest Common Denominator TV.

(A personal note from David: As someone living in the far Orient and generally ignoring recent American “popular” music to listen to David Brooks and Mark Shields battle it out on podcasts, I am either the least or most qualified person to make a judgment on Girl Talk. I had no idea Kayne West made music; I just thought he was that whiny Fauntleroy in shutter sunglasses always hanging out at colette in Paris. Forget art. The question is, without a public hungry for the references, is Feed the Animals anything at all? Does Girl Talk hold up as “music” without all the extratextual information? If you had no idea about mash-ups or hip-hop or “No Diggity” or “Epic” by Faith No More would you really be all that impressed? It would just be a long stream of unstructured pop drone. Imaginary straw-men that have lived in a underground bunker for fifty years would totally hate Girl Talk!)

To extend the earlier Lego metaphor: Just as bloggers have two basic options — write original content or become a central link warehouse — musicians now can either mold the musical blocks for other “secondary” artists or build the “spaceship” from the publicly available kit. But these are not equal options. I doubt that anyone will ever sample Kayne’s “Stronger.” It’s a dead-end, a cultural vasectomy.

A REALLY EASY WAY TO CONNECT TO PEOPLE

“The whole basis of the music is that people have these emotional attachments to these songs,” Gillis told Pitchfork. “Being able to manipulate that is a really easy way to connect with people.”

If Girl Talk has done anything, his dead-end project is a reminder of how fiercely dominant Western pop music has become. This is a capitulation, an audio essay even, of the last 25 years of American pop music: loop-based, interchangeable parts that, turns out, are more similar than maybe we’d like to admit. The “isn’t it funny how ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ sounds like that Boston song” moment is taken to its darkest, veil-lifted extreme. That we’re back in the Tin Pan Alley, and all pop music might actually be the same after all. That the difference is truly manufactured, that the concerns of each song are not interesting. Taking cues from the Grand Wizard Theodor: pop music is not art, but sound design.

Therein lies the insidiousness. Adorno pulled no punches. But Girl Talk poses as a pop optimist. He loves pop music — all pop music. It’s all so unique. It’s all just so great to him. Implicit in his project is that: It’s all so similar to him too. That it all sounds the same in the end. That listening to a bunch of songs we used to care about in his refracted, rejiggered form is, at its heart, the same exact thing, compositionally and otherwise, as listening to a brand new song by a brand new musician. Why bother, right? This project, worse than any covert corporate sponsorship, he calls a celebration of pop music. What he himself doesn’t know is we already had a name for it: la danse macabre.

Nick Sylvester is a writer living in New York. He is a former editor of the Village Voice and Pitchfork Media, and he currently blogs at Riff Market.

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.

34 Responses

  1. dr. super panda Says:

    i didn’t read the whole thing. damn thats long.
    but its a cry ass shame. that the one musician you decide to write about at the end of the year is girl talk. imo. a damn shame.

  2. dr. super panda Says:

    ps. i didn’t mean musician as in. someone how makes music. but as in… someone who releases CDs.

  3. Connor Says:

    Holy hell. Number one, is this essay a Christmas present to me specifically? I don’t see how it could have just “come about.” I’ll be thinking of you two, too, this holiday season.

    Number two,

    Girl Talk is pop music’s Ultimate Fan […] ‘The whole basis of the music is that people have these emotional attachments to these songs,’ Gillis told Pitchfork. ‘Being able to manipulate that is a really easy way to connect with people.’

    This, I think, is the crux of the thing. Girl Talk is interesting to read in the context of fan culture; I think that beyond the obvious formal similarities between the stuff that he does and something like fan fiction, there’s a lot of common ground in terms of why an individual would choose to devote time to either one, and also in terms of how the end product is received.

    You are absolutely right that what Girl Talk does may in fact be hard, and he may even be really good at it. Likewise, writing the ‘The Dead’ of Fanfics* may be a lot of work and require a great deal of storytelling facility. But Gillis/The Fanfic King also goes into the Enterprise knowing that the receiver is only going to secondarily care about whether the end product is of quality; as he said above, the emotional payload comes with the recognition.

    I’ve got a buddy of a buddy who’s a World of Warcraft addict, and as I see it WoW:Career-building::Gillis:Making Records. Same skills are involved, requires a bit of elbow-grease, know-how, stick-toitiveness, etc. The draw is the lower bar between the player/Gillis and a feeling of accomplishment. Gillis might be able to make an “Endtroducing” if he wanted to, but at this point he’s addicted to making his audience feel “that blissful moment of recognition.” (Confidential to David, re:Pop-Music-Yokoi-Shoichi: Christ, no. It’s an unlistenable mess.) Sadly, I think “Best Week Ever” probably has a greater claim to general merit (not artistic merit, but a broader merit attached to human achievement**) because it exists in competition with other, similar shows, and because it lives or dies on the strength of the commentary regarding the items being covered, not the mere presence of the items themselves. As you pointed out, Gillis has not only copped out of competition with others, he’s copped out of competing with himself.

    *Climax: Kirk considers forcing himself on his alien companion, only to become alienated when he realizes that he doesn’t have the appropriate genitals.
    **Awarded to mankind, by me.

  4. Kim Jong-il Hater Says:

    I couldn’t get into Girl Talk. But my friend told me he did a remix of “Acid Police” by Boredoms. But I can’t fucking find it!

  5. NPC Says:

    Girl talk is basically a mashup DJ, he just has the computer do all the beat matching for him. He basically just copies and pastes waveforms into ableton live and away he goes. But hey, I’m not hating on the guy, he knows how to please the crowd and he’s obviously still getting gigs.

  6. Morgan Says:

    I saw Girl Talk perform in 2007 and he was tweaking so hard that when a girl threw her bra at him (really!) he just gnawed on it for the rest of the show.

  7. Raoul Vaneigem Says:

    In what way exactly does this piece fulfill the remit of neojaponisme?

    Wasted my time reading it… and I’m a busy chap.

  8. Adamu Says:

    Raoul,

    For a moment I thought the same thing, but on second thought this is the PERFECT article to feature on NJ. Keeping an eye on the cutting edge of world culture should be majorly relevant to Japan, and this country’s lack of anything that even comes close in terms of new cultural development stands in stark relief to the liberating genius of Girl Talk.

    I say that partly because I hadn’t even HEARD of Girl Talk before reading this article and it makes me kind of mad. Being in Japan puts you in danger of getting cut off from this sort of thing.

  9. W. David MARX Says:

    Néojaponisme is a journal about Japan and elsewhere. Girl Talk is elsewhere.

  10. Raoul Vaneigem Says:

    “Girl Talk is elsewhere.”

    Indeed. Stick it up on a personal blog where such verbose prattling belongs. I’d come to expect better things from this site.

  11. W. David MARX Says:

    Okay, Raoul. Fill out a complaint form and I’ll cut you a check to pay you back for your time.

  12. Ratiocinational Says:

    I’ve listened to some Girl Talk, and while it’s pretty good, I can’t help but compare it to the Ratatat Remix albums, which unfortunately Girl Talk can’t stand up to.

  13. Connor Says:

    Being in Japan puts you in danger of getting cut off from this sort of [Girl Talk] thing.

    That’s a decent argument for staying in Japan right there. I’ll add, you’re also in danger of getting cut off from stuff like Larry the Cable Guy and Nickelback.

  14. Connor Says:

    I’ve listened to some Girl Talk, and while it’s pretty good, I can’t help but compare it to the Ratatat Remix albums

    See to me, they’re not playing the same game at all. You can enjoy the Ratatat albums without having heard the original songs. The instrumentals are good enough that you’d probably listen to them whatever sort of rapping they put over it.*

    *Excludes Sheek Louch, Papoose.

  15. Ratiocinational Says:

    Connor, that’s why I don’t think Girl Talk stacks up. I don’t think Girl Talk stacks up to Flosstradamus, Danger Mouse, or MSTRKRFT either. It’s all subjective of course, but I think any of these deserve an equal spotlight. If you haven’t heard MSTRKRFTs remix of D.A.N.C.E. by Justice you’ve done yourself .. well, an injustice. Girl Talk does win my heart for one reason, he’s from Pennsylvania, my home state :D

    A bunch of my friends went to UPitt and were into it a while ago.

  16. Carl Says:

    I started listening to “Feed the Animals” while in Yokohama, so Girl Talk seems plenty Japan-centric to me.

    My verdict is it’s not bad, but yeah, it’s a little cheap. Fun though. And isn’t that the only thing that matters, right?

  17. Jason Says:

    I’ll be honest. I am a professional in the music business and after working with GT once, I just don’t get it. I could have set on stage and pressed play for the money. It was a joke. I mean he might as well have put his CD on and pressed play because that’s exactly what we heard. No style, no on-the-fly creativity… Just press play and have 4oo people on stage to stroke your ego. What a joke. Personally, I’ll be glad when this whole “mash up” fad is dead.

  18. soymilk revolution Says:

    you two are great writers and this was a very entertaining read: i particularly enjoyed some of your commentary on the state of “internet culture.” it’s unfortunate, then, that you mis-evaluate girl talk so thoroughly.

    you make many false claims and failed insights in this piece, such as: girl talk’s music lacking dynamics (seriously now?); feed the animals being an improvement over night ripper; girl talk existing in a compositional vacuum wherein no one else attempts what he’s doing, and he’s left with zero competition while we’re left with no critical barometer by which to appraise his work (there are folks like OCDJ, E603, apparently this jason forrest guy, that mix that diplo did for pitchfork about a year ago, a-trak, some of his illegal art compatriots, whoever did the fake FTA leak and many other amateur attempts at imitating GT — all of which tell us that our boy gregg really is damn talented at what he does — and then the fact that he also take the refinement of his craft quite seriously indeed, and competes with himself as much or more than anyone else on this list); the point that “stronger” will probably never be sampled (it already has been!); and many more. but again, i really enjoyed this piece and am glad it exists — you guys do the bitter cynic’s rant very well. many thanks, and happy holidays!

  19. Connor Says:

    that mix that diplo did for pitchfork about a year ago
    There’s a line in there about anything-goes DJ sets ala Optimo/Erol Alkan. That’s where Diplo goes. He doesn’t really do mashups, even when he’s doing mashups.

    you make many false claims and failed insights in this piece, such as: girl talk’s music lacking dynamics (seriously now?)
    What you should do to check on this is put it into a waveform editor like Peak or Sound Forge or even Audacity or whatever and just kind of look at where the levels go. I’m not some sort of Loundness-War compression purist here but there’s got to be some accounting for. Also, try running the stuff through a freeware EQ spectrum analysis plugin and just watching it. It’s like that experiment from grade school where you put the rusty nail in a can of Coke and you come back and the rust is gone and your teacher goes “imagine what it does to your teeth!”

    I mean he might as well have put his CD on and pressed play because that’s exactly what we heard.
    I don’t think that’s always the best standard- basically that’s what Daft Punk did on this last tour, and it was awesome. Girl Talk is not awesome.

    My verdict is it’s not bad, but yeah, it’s a little cheap. Fun though. And isn’t that the only thing that matters, right?
    No. But what up, IUC.

  20. W. David MARX Says:

    girl talk’s music lacking dynamics (seriously now?)

    I think you can make a case for and against this. I definitely think his music lacks the normal structural dynamics of pop music that make you want to listen to it repeatedly.

    the point that “stronger” will probably never be sampled (it already has been!);

    Interesting. What is the context? And is it a pop song that samples it? The question for me is whether someone could sample “Stronger” in the same kind of pop context that Harder Better and then Stronger were created.

  21. Ratiocinational Says:

    “I definitely think his music lacks the normal structural dynamics of pop music that make you want to listen to it repeatedly.”

    You mean you guys actually listen to pop music? I can’t stand pop music.

    Anyway, last time I saw Diplo live he did some mash ups, and I’m not sure how he was not doing them while he was doing them. He also throws awesome house parties after his shows. His place is about three or four blocks from my apartment too.

  22. Adamu Says:

    I just thought Girl Talk was catchy and listenable, but then I did once come in second at a karaoke contest for singing Oops I Did It Again. Naturally enough, the prize was a man-purse.

    As I listened I did think, hey this concept could be applied so much better to other music. So far it seems like it always has to be Southern rap plus nostalgic pop songs.

  23. Joseph K Says:

    Interesting piece. I come away feeling that GT is both the progressive boundary-pusher I initially felt he was and not doing anything of much interest or relevance…
    Enjoyed the connections drawn to the internet and nostalgia, and the vague nods at where music might be headed in this context especially.

    the point that “stronger” will probably never be sampled (it already has been!)

    I thought I remembered this happening, too, but I can’t remember who are when.

  24. Joseph K Says:

    hmmm… “who OR when,” I believe I meant.

    Also, you spelt Kanye wrong. Wouldn’t normally find that worthy of note, except that you did it twice. Either your typing method favours y-n over n-y, or you are actually misinformed…

  25. Wilford Says:

    On an unrelated note, I find the “Stronger” sample all the more interesting, since Daft Punk built “Harder Better Faster Stronger” off of “Cola Bottle Baby” by Edwin Birdsong. Any more samples, and it becomes the musical equivalent of a nth-generation fansub.

  26. Sho Says:

    Wow, what a great read. Came at it from an angle I really hadn’t thought about.

    I don’t buy it, though, really. You’re building GT up to be something he’s never claimed to be. I like the little straw man cutaway in the middle – but the whole article is rage against a straw man.

    I have to say, I really like Girl Talk. I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to the albums; I think they’re extremely well done.

    I don’t like the music for the “spot the reference” value, although I must admit I do feel a slight gratification recognising parts of it. I think the true value comes from the obvious care and attention which has gone into its making. Some of it doesn’t work, but some of it is just inspired, and that makes up for it.

    It’s interesting to me that you singled out Night Ripper’s Juicy/Tiny Dancer superimposition. I can’t believe you criticised it. That is my favourite moment on the whole album. That works absolutely perfectly. When I think of Girl Talk, I think of those 30 seconds of utter perfection. I wish it was longer, I’ve thought about recreating it myself. And you think that was bad?

    Why do you have to think in these apocalyptic terms of “the end of diversity”, etc? None of the music you love has disappeared. GT doesn’t replace, it’s just a remix. It’s a valuable contribution. I’m glad it exists, I’m far from alone. Isn’t that the final reckoning?

    Pretty funny that you claim GT is unlistenable, and then namedrop matmos – twice, no doubt – as an example of “real” electronic music. In my opinion, Matmos is boring, self-indulgent crap liked exclusively by those who think that listening to the unlistenable makes them somehow better. Insecure people with something to prove.

    GT is good. Everything else good is still good. What’s the problem?

    And btw, Mr Marx, your first “MXUT” mix – which I complimented you on, several times – were also good, and were in exactly the same genre, by my reckoning, as Girl Talk.

  27. W. David MARX Says:

    And btw, Mr Marx, your first “MXUT” mix – which I complimented you on, several times – were also good

    Thanks, but no, we aren’t the same genre. The MXUT mix is a “mix.” Those mashups are not “new songs.” They are just two songs on top of each other like what normal DJs do.

  28. soymilk revolution Says:

    @19 (Connor): Err, no, when Diplo’s doing mashups, it’s still a fucking mashup. This reminds me of why genre arguments are a total waste of time, but sorry, no dice there. Get off the man’s dick.

    Also, you’re completely muddling the point re: dynamics. The whole “loudness war” thing is unfortunate, but you’re mistaking dynamics in the composition for dynamics in the mix. And of course Girl Talk’s music is going to be subject to those problems, he’s taking elements from hundreds of records all part of the loudness war! But in terms of songwriting dynamics — quiet part, big tension build, euphoric release — Girl Talk’s got ’em in spades. You’re making red herring points like a hack lawyer here.

    @26 (Sho): Spot on.

    The MXUT mix is a “mix.” Those mashups are not “new songs.” They are just two songs on top of each other like what normal DJs do.

    …Thank you! That’s a perfect (if not entirely unintentional) summary of why people actually appreciate Girl Talk’s music.

  29. king of the slums Says:

    Ableton Live DJ playing to an audience of Nathan Barley clones, ugly fashion chicks and the four haircuts in one brigade. Not important!

  30. Rory P. Wavekrest Says:

    Did you guys wanna call our new genre Grunk or Crunge?

  31. Connor Says:

    I can’t help with that decision, Rory, because I am too busy here on Diplo’s dick.

  32. M-Bone Says:

    Why all the hate? I finally got around to reading this through and while it made me feel a bit like the straw man in the underground bunker, it is a very insightful and well written article.

    One thing – that “Stronger” gaffed its visual theme from “Akira” also supports your case.

  33. Chris Says:

    “to celebrate Girl Talk was, in a way, to celebrate the site itself” – Urgh, you talk about pitchfork reviews like they’re historical events. You probably have all the scores memorized aswell. Girl Talk = big load of hipster nothingness that NO ONE will remember in a years time. Get out more.

  34. Rod Says:

    he’s been around for 10 years. people were saying “no one will remember in a years time” about him 5 years ago.