Discovering musical compounds
Dating back to 2002, Gregg Gillis aka “Girl Talk”, has been compounding handfuls of tracks by various artists and turning them in to what became the mashup. Layers of vacillating beats taken from distinctive songs create new life and take on new meanings. It’s guaranteed that there will be a bass line, chord or hook that will have you scratching your head wondering where you’ve heard it before.
The problem with Gillis, to some listeners, is that his style lacks talent and effort.
Here’s the thing: Objectively speaking, Gillis is talented. Results such as “Nightripper”, “Feed the Animals” or “All Day” take a keen ear and understanding of the basic flow of beats to pair them up, slab them on top of each other and make sure the product is cohesive. Some claim Gillis merely pushes a play button, letting the music go and putting little thought into what spews from the speakers. This could not be farther from the truth. To come from the speakers, Gills must break down each track, each sample and each bit from dozens upon dozens of individual songs in order to create one bigger, more boastful, album.
A major point of contention is that Gillis repurposes songs illegally. Through a “fair use” clause, anyone is able to use copyrighted material bypassing allowance from the holder of those rights with limited usage. To back his stance, Gillis does not sell his material. Rather, full length albums are released through Illegal Art and listeners are given the opportunity to donate what they feel is appropriate.
Another artist, Ethan Ward aka “E-603”, operates by the same method. However, Ward demonstrates a much more restrained, dare I say elementary, approach to his typical recipe. Listening to the two artists (who are, by genre, very similar) it’s clear Ward still has much practice to take on and leaves little to be desired. It’s his use of tracks that show lack of imagination, although you can’t blame him for trying. Creating mashups, despite what critics may say, takes years of systematic testing, practice and that keen ear for sound.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen Girl Talk several times – the now-defunct Congress Theater in Chicago as well as larger venues such as Lollapalooza – and each time, I can state the same opinion. Gillis puts on one the best live shows, hands down. Awarded points for execution of props, he’ll get the crowd up (literally, on stage), dancing until drenched in sweat, anticipating exactly what party jam is going to come next. It’s a rush you need to just experience.
Here’s a (very amateur, cell phone) clip from Gillis’ 2009 Coachella set. You’ll get the idea:
Gillis’ most recent full-length release, from 2010, “All Day”:
For comparison, below is E-603’s go at it with “SMOKESHOW”
Reach the columnist at Katie.Self@asu.edu or on Twitter @rallykate. You can also find her on Spotify at Katie Self.
Katie Self is a fan of all things music-related. Having spent many years traveling to see bands all over the country, she has been fortunate enough to visit venues such as Madison Square Garden, Alpine Valley, Red Rocks and The Gorge. Katie has essentially put Dave Matthew’s children through college with the amount of money spent on DMB shows (78 and counting), and has recently gone on a country kick. She also enjoys carbs and her munchkin kitty, Buster.