Left of the Dial: Girl Talk

Sampling is an aspect of modern music that has always fascinated me. The fact that a lot of artists have used snippets of other people’s work has caused a bit of controversy, but nevertheless has been used to create some of the most recognizable songs of the past thirty years, for better or for worse. I think one thing that a lot of people overlook is that it’s not simply cutting and pasting an already existing song and claiming it as your own. I view sampling the same way I view auto-tune: it’s a simple studio effect tool and there are right ways and wrong ways to use it. Hell, a lot of popular songs nowadays use samples and no one seems to realize it. Hip hop uses sampling all the time, and sometimes the artist they sample have used samples themselves (which is why I find it hilarious that people give Kanye West crap for sampling Daft Punk). And even then a lot of the time it encourages people to look up older artists, so in a way you can look at it as free publicity.

Another thing I love about sampling is mash-ups. The way I see it, if you add the instrumentals of one song and combine it with the vocals of another, it becomes an individual entity with a different mood from either of its parent songs. A good example would be Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album, where he combined Jay-Z vocals with Beatles music to make something new, even getting a seal of approval from both artists. There are other great examples like Jay-Z and Linkin Park’s Collision Course album and the Wugazi project, but those all limited themselves to only two artists. And why limit yourself to just two artists when you have the entire musical landscape to experiment with? That’s where Girl Talk comes in.

Pittsburgh native Greg Gillis, aka Girl Talk, has been called everything from “music for ADD kids” to “a lawsuit waiting to happen”. In his ten year long career he has used nearly thousands of samples from hundreds of artists spanning fifty years and countless genres to create endless dance jams where the beats and vocals all meticulously flow into each other. It may start with, let’s say, Missy Elliot telling you to “Get Ur Freak On” while “Blitzkreig Bop” blasts in the background, and then out of nowhere it will slip into Kelly Clarkson belting out “Since U Been Gone” over the guitar riff in “Wish” by Nine Inch Nails, and so on and so forth. By clashing such diverse and unlikely artists together into a pulsing, fist pumping train of bass, beats and vocals, he turns these snippets of recognizable tunes into a celebration of music past and present. In doing so, Girl Talk proves that even though music has divided itself into so many tribes, they aren’t as different as everyone thinks, and can be used to create something amazing. If you have a narrower taste in music or can’t stand certain genres, then Girl Talk’s music is probably not for you. But even then, you don’t even have to like all the songs to enjoy it. (I don’t like Soulja Boy or Aphex Twin, but combining “Pretty Boy Swag” with “Windowlicker” is probably one of the most ingenious things I’ve ever seen him do.)

Girl Talk’s First two albums, Secret Diary and Unstoppable, were a lot more glitchy and fractured, making it harder to pinpoint individual samples, but as time went on, his remixes became more tangible and put a bigger emphasis on flow. This culminated on his breakthrough album, Night Ripper, which he released in 2006 on Illegal Art, a label that specializes in sample based music. As opposed to his previous efforts which were more spastic and fragmented, “Night Ripper” was all about creating unconventional combinations. (Who would’ve guessed that Biggie Smalls’ “Juicy” and “Tiny Dancer” would fit together so well?) The samples range from a minute to just one second, and half the time the drum beats are made from micro samples played at the same time, like in “Smash Your Head” where the opening drums all come from Trina, Fall Out Boy and Clipse.

In 2008, Girl Talk reached even higher acclaim with Feed The Animals, which was more tightly controlled than its predecessor. Upon its release, he took some cues from Radiohead and released it online on a pay-what-you-like basis. To this day it’s considered by fans and critics alike to be his masterpiece, and while it’s not my personal favorite, I can definitely see the hype. Every sample is carefully selected and nothing feels out of place. While Night Ripper had some mind blowing combos, “Feed The Animals” is teeming at the brim with them, never lingering for too long and flowing into the next step almost effortlessly. Whether it be the skull smashing intro of UGK’s “Internationa Player’s Anthem” over Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’”, the cheerleader stomp of Avril LaVigne’s “Girlfriend” giving drive to Dolla’s “Who The Fuck Is That?”, or the Carpenters’ “Superstar” leading into Lil Mama’s rapping about lip gloss over the breakdown in Metallica’s “One”, this album is guaranteed to have more than a few combinations that will please the listener.

Finally we have my favorite album of his, 2010’s All Day. I’d be lying if I said this had less filler than Night Ripper and Feed The Animals, but All Day is bigger, longer, louder, and the most aggressively infectious. Clocking in at 71 minutes and using a staggering 372 samples, All Day has the most drive, the most energy, the more recognizable samples, and some of my favorite combinations. It opens with Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” and “Move Bitch” by Ludacris, hurdling you headfirst into a high voltage brawl, and from then on it’s whiplash change after whiplash change. It sounds crazy on the surface, but just like Feed The Animals, it’s all about finding new ways to fit a square peg into a round hole. Who would’ve known that Rihanna singing “Rude Boy” over a Fugazi bass line would be so sexy yet rock so hard? Who ever thought that Lil Jon and Simon and Garfunkel would fit together so well? Who could’ve imagined that DJ Funk, The Isley Brothers and Radiohead would be the ingredients for crazed, sweaty club banger? Want to make the Ying Yang Twins less obnoxious? Throw some White Zombie on top, strap on a helmet and make sure you’re at least ten feet away from anything fragile.

While his albums are great on their own, they’re only a taste of his capabilities. To really get the Girl Talk experience, you need to see his live performances. Even though he has some memorable combinations, because of what he does, he has no solid tracklist but is able to mix it up, never playing the same setlist twice. As someone who’s seen him live, I can assure you that he turns every performance into the ultimate dance party. Don’t believe me?

Here he is at Bonaroo.

Here he is at Coachella.

And here he is at Rokslide.

If you have a wide taste in music but have a hard time deciding what to listen to, then Girl Talk is right up your alley. Serious music nuts will love trying to guess each sample, while fans of dance music can get a kick out of the flawless flow and infectious groove. Girl Talk has created a soundscape where fans of pop, indie, classic rock and mainstream rap can put their differences aside and can be on equal playing fields. If you’re throwing a house party, throw any of these albums on the stereo see what happens. I think you’ll be surprised. For tour dates and links to download his work, check out this website. http://illegal-art.net/girltalk/ This has been Left of the Dial, I bring you the music because the radio won’t.

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