Archive for October 2006
Summer is over and Girl Talk’s NightRipper seems to be surviving the hype without the legal battles. For those who missed out on said hype, Pittsburgh’s Gregg Gillis (aka Girl Talk) blew the sample-based music scene wide open on May 9 with the release of his second full-length album, NightRipper. The album boldly samples over 160 artists (all thanked in the liner notes) without going through any of the legal channels, and Gillis’s label/ art collective, Illegal Art, has been poised to use the Fair Use portion of copyright law in their defense. Lucky for them, Gillis hasn’t even gotten a cease and desist. If there was ever a “Girl Tuesday” it’d most likely be a dance party, not a protest.
For those of you who haven’t heard Girl Talk’s latest album, NightRipper, here is a brief synopsis. Imagine yourself falling asleep in the middle of the dance floor, say in the crossover period between The Black Eyed Peas “My Humps” and Annie’s “Heartbeat”. Then imagine yourself dreaming in music, and forget about the experts who say it can’t be done. Picture your brain piecing together all the songs you listened to that day, from the most recent dance hits you just heard to the songs you played in your room before you went out, and then throw in a few nostalgic grunge and indie-rock favorites that have been stuck in your head since adolescence. Finally, imagine that it is all cut up, spliced, and arranged in perfect time with the beat that you are somehow, magically, still dancing to.
It may all seem a bit far-fetched, but Girl Talk’s Gregg Gillis pulls it off. The samples he uses (over 200 in all, and none of them legal) are well chosen and eclectic, and yet his delivery steers safely clear of music snobbery and hipster irony. You may be too cool to admit to liking Neutral Milk Hotel, and you may secretly be sick to death of Juelz Santana, but when those samples come on (and they do—at the same time) you will be dancing.
Given the sheer intensity and volume of pop culture crammed into just one of Girl Talk’s three-minute tracks, it is easy to see why this album has been getting so much hype. This is postmodern music making at its finest, a tribute to excess and re-appropriation. Gillis doesn’t just spit out samples to create your standard mash-up, he turns these songs, through juxtaposition, into something totally new. And if anyone comes down on him for copyright violation, that is his defense. His label, Illegal Art, became infamous in ‘98 for their release of “Reconstructing Beck”, an album made completely out of Beck samples. At the time, Beck’s lawyer called the album “bad jungle” and Universal sent them a cease and desist order. Maybe the big labels are starting to get the picture. So far there’s been no cease and desist for Gillis. In fact, Beck invited Girl Talk to open for him at a show in London, and has commissioned him to do two remixes of his new song “Cell Phone’s Dead” from the un-DJ. Maybe he’s just too likeable, and danceable, to stop.
Listen to some tracks here.
After years in copyright limbo “Eyes on the Prize” airs on PBS this month. “Eyes” is widely thought to be the best documentary on the civil rights movement. During the Eyes on the Screen protest in 2005 we watched Part 1 at a packed screening in Worcester, MA, and it was incredible. The footage of Dr. King is simply bracing; you get to see him as a razor-sharp young organizer inspired by the struggle, not as an icon. When King led the Montgomery Bus Boycott he was twenty-six!
Check PBS’s local listings page to see when it’s playing on your local station. On our own WGBH Boston, part one airs this Wednesday.
Thanks to Jason at Textbook Revolution for the heads-up.