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?

  • you kinda suck

    i dont think people care about “originality” when they listen to girl talk. i dont think theyre deciphering who influenced his music, or how mashups are sooo this decade. i think theyre just getting crunked and dancing.

    its not exactly music for thought, and thats probably why you cant enjoy it. stop thinking about it.

  • Active critic

    I totally agree with you, which is why I started pushing people in frustration upon hearing such obviously unoriginal style.

  • Hank

    who cares who did it first? everything is derivative, like you mentioned.

    the comment of “They could’ve just paid ten bucks for a Girl Talk CD and played that for us instead” is just ignorant. it’s like someone who never listens to jazz going to see some avant-garde work and being like “my kid could play that.” girl talk does everything live. every show has new and different selections. it’s why his shows have gotten such rave reviews. it’s been covered in the media many times how girl talk does it live. he’s a critically acclaimed live electronic performer.

    girl talk’s sound is original. it’s based on people before him (john oswald, z-trip, beastie boys, negativland), but he’s taking it somewhere else. since you seem to interested in accolades, girl talk’s past two albums have both been featured in rolling stone’s, spin’s, blender’s, pitchfork’s, and many other’s top 40 albums of the year (2006 and 2008). no one else doing sample based work has ever done anything like this. he has been discussed in congress. he’s featured in a new documentary movie about copyright. he’s in lawerence lessig’s new book on copyright. he sells out larger venues than any laptop artist EVER (other than possibly kraftwerk). his work has been praised in the new york times and npr. wayne coyne (of the flaming lips) and beck have both spoken about how they are big fans of his music.

    even if you aren’t a fan of his sound, you can’t ignore his impact. in my opinion, i think he’s truly trailblazing.

  • Anonymous

    I think a lot of people went just to see what all the hype was about and to have a good time at a show that they knew a lot of other students would go to.

  • hunk

    Whether his mash-ups were good or not, that show in particular was horrible and that’s a FACT.

  • old fart

    Way to name drop Minor Threat, kiddo. Here’s your street cred.

  • anonymous

    “Colossally overrated”? No, the show was not overrated at all. Nearly everyone I talked to who was there thought it sucked. No one is saying particularly good things about it.

  • Anon

    Oops, Girl Talk is getting popular time to dock Gregg of his Indie cred!

  • Grace

    Nice article! I had an extremely similar Girl Talk experience last month at UMASS. While many of the people in the pit seemed to be having a good time (which I do not begrudge them in the least), I almost fell asleep during Gillis’ set. The only reason I stuck around was to see Lupe Fiasco (who was solid, but not amazing).

    What’s funny is that my friend made almost exactly the same observation as you made in the above article: Universities and colleges – purportedly the center of all things academic, and the places where many of us are paying thousands of dollars in tuition money each year – are shelling out thousands of dollars (our dollars) for a show that would be just as good as an MP3 packet downloaded (for free, if you want) on the internet.

    I am enjoying your music themed blogging. Thanks! Check out my music blog, if you get a chance: http://musicsnob90.blogspot.com/

  • Music Veteran

    couldnt have been said better, there is a new show a day in the life and they had him on it.

    i pretty much thought everything you had just from seeing how weak his compositions are and the fact he has never had the urge to ever compose his own songs in any way other than samples.. there is something really disturbing about people claiming such originality like him also, he kept talking about that so much yet his music mimics that of every other house party sampler ive seen since i was 13.

    there is something also really disturbing about a person who claims the right of a musician but has never played a single instrument in their live let alone composed their own actual song.

    its not just those students sadly.. the world is being flooded with this garbage and what upsets me the most is every time these people play a show they inspire some other drunken tool to do the same and further progress a new generation of crap… as if we havent lived through this moronic hip-hop fad long enough, now they are destroying electronic music once again.. its been over 20+ years since the beggening of deminished hip-hop.. they still play the same stupid songs on radio literally from 20 years ago same of with all these other crap artists we had in the 90’s.. of course there are some who keep it real but goodness its over whelming these days its so hard for anyone to find good music just because there is more crap than anything now.

    i just feel like this aint right for someone to make a living like his skating by with shortening his samples so he doesnt get sued, how lame is that to limit your own creativity because you dont want to get sued from all the music youve stolen for your own benefit. he is by far good at mixing.. i can even call him a DJ.. he mixes of course the most popular douche bag artists known to date simply to give into the masses.. thats just weak and shows how un-original his real nature really is.

    i wouldnt have a problem with the guy if he just said that, im un-original and my music and is nothing special.. people can rave all they want then but when its talked about like it some life changing musical experience or he is a genius with his samples set at 1 bar apart… give me a freaking break..

    his lack of interest to actually care about music show in his music. his composition skills blow badly, just look at how he composes songs its seriously like a child.. his effects are overly simple but only complicated by him in the sense he wants you to feel they are, because they arent..

    in the episode he brags about his effects what a joke it was when i heard his live set, that guys is nothing but talk. he will die being un-original and its not even about being original its just about making music with a purpose a true sense of feeling and a real atmosphere created from that individual.

    this is great if you want to get laid by pre-teen girls who are in college and are dumb as rocks anyway for being at his shows. sadly all of his fans the huge majority are stupid college kids that act like complete bimbos, im not picky about fans but they do tell you little something about your music. stupid music will attract stupid people.

    • Music Veteran

      forgive my keyboard, some of my keys are abused and im not going back to correct all that.