I know it’s old news, but I just have to get it off my chest – December’s Girl Talk concert was a bunch of colossally overrated bullshit. To be fair to the Man Formerly Known as Gregg Gillis, I was drunk and pissed off about all the shoving and other garbage better left for a Minor Threat show. But the reason I walked out on his gangly ass was simple: his show wasn’t fun or interesting. I know the musical zeitgeist is trending towards mash-ups and samples at an alarming rate, but that doesn’t mean his mash-up culture is any good. The hype surrounding the show suggests that Wesleyan students have begun to put style ahead of substance and thrown taste out the window.
While the New York Times may praise GT’s ability to “combine hip-hop sex boasts with triumphal rock,” the Pittsburgh DJ is hardly the first producer to accomplish such a feet. Phoenix’s DJ Z-Trip was a Girl Talk before Girl Talk, releasing a mash-up record called Uneasy Listening back in 1999. Hearing this record, it is clear that Girl Talk is not only inherently unoriginal as a samples artist, but also unoriginal because he didn’t even invent his own shtick. He’s also not as good at it––Z-Trip’s hip-hop “Dust In The Wind” and “In The Air Tonight” are the sort of arena rock/rap Frankensteins Gregg Gillis has wet dreams about at night, especially since Z-Trip actually makes his own beats to combine with his samples. Go listen to it online for yourself. Google it. It’s free, too.
“But popular music is inherently based on artists stealing from one another,” the theoretical reader asks. “Even Led Zeppelin stole riffs and lyrics.” Well of course, theoretical shithead. As a fan of hip-hop artists from the Beastie Boys to Dr. Dre, I’m quite an aficionado of the sample. But even the best samples get boring after a few minutes–the lyrics and charisma of the artist make rap so fascinating. Blues singers were essentially samplers, copping chord progressions, licks, lyrical motifs, and even entire songs off of each other. What made Blind Willie Johnson’s A-D-E chord progression different than Robert Johnson’s or Tommy Johnsons’s was Blind Willie’s personality. He was a different man than those other singers, with his own stories and his own way of playing the A-minor pentatonic scale. I’m sure most Wesleyan students—or humans––couldn’t tell Z-Trip from Girl Talk when listening to either artists’ mash-ups for the first time.
A guy hunched over a laptop mashing up Top 40 hits is not visually or aurally interesting. I understand that Girl Talk is meant to be a spectacle, but what went down in the Bacon Fieldhouse was anything but spectacular. As an equally dissatisfied fan said, “They could’ve just paid ten bucks for a Girl Talk CD and played that for us instead.”
While Gregg Gillis seems content to arrest his development and remain a college campus novelty, his peers Danger Mouse and Z-Trip have released critically acclaimed albums of their own, original music. Z-Trip’s Shifting Gears got a 4-star review from Rolling Stone. Danger Mouse became a producer for Gorillaz, Beck, the Black Keys, and most famously, Gnarls Barkley. His beats for songs like “Crazy” will be giving pale imitators like Gillis material for years to come. Anyone who has been to a Gnarls Barkley show knows the group throws a hell of a better party than Girl Talk’s laptops and table set-up. In a battle for zany pop-culture supremacy, the psychedelic soul band dressed in Star Wars costumes wins every time.
I know that the 2000’s could become known as the “mash-up years.” But just because the internet and ProTools have opened up a whole new world of sampling and splicing does not mean we should sacrifice quality and originality in music. I encourage Wesleyan students to use their intellect to recognize a rip-off when they see one. No great rocker is a pure original. But at least some of their act is their own doing, and above all else, it is never, ever, ever as boring as Girl Talk was last month. Is it so wrong for Wesleyan students to expect more from their music?