Girl Talk makes a populist statement from pop ephemera | Music Feature | Indy Week
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Girl Talk makes a populist statement from pop ephemera 


Listen to a track from Night Ripper by Girl Talk. If you cannot see the music player below, click here to download the free Flash Player.

Girl Talk
Local 506, Chapel Hill
Saturday, Dec. 2, 10 p.m.
with Kerbloki, Robo Sapien and Ricky Dollars
Tickets: $10

click to enlarge One big sweaty, populist party: Girl Talk comes to town
  • One big sweaty, populist party: Girl Talk comes to town

In a review on, Cameron Macdonald criticized the latest Girl Talk record, Night Ripper, for its lack of "subversion." He argued that the album wasn't explicit with its implicit social commentary. It was a criticism brought on by what the writer considered an undeserving public endorsement Night Ripper received from Negativland's Mark Hosler.

To be fair, promotional material said Hosler called the album a "plunderphonics party record," which is high praise, especially considering the source. Those acquainted with the work of Negativland ought to be familiar with the term "plunderphonics"--the act of sampling and rearranging a recorded song without permission. The practice was made most (in)famous by Hosler and company back in the early '90s, when Negativland came under serious legal fire for melding expletive-laden outtakes of Kasey Casem's weekly show with manipulated portions of U2's "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."

But Macdonald makes his mistake in assuming that the important part of Hosler's sales pitch is in The Plunder (perhaps for the simple fact that Negativland was overtly critical). On the contrary, it's the latter part--the "party" part--that really matters.

Night Ripper is a carefully chaotic collection of over 200 samples--from Phantom Planet to The Clipse to Bruce Hornsby to X-Ray Spex. Nirvana grunge crawls beneath Young Jeezy coke raps. Kansas looms over Boyz II Men. Neutral Milk Hotel scuffles with Dipset. It's the importance of the knock-down-drag-out that Macdonald failed to note in his review. The value of Night Ripper is in the mirror it turns to post-filesharing, Jack FM music listeners.

Today, we have access to more information than ever, and Girl Talk sole proprietor Gregg Gillis is attempting to tell every story available to him at once. Like a roomful of kids screaming each syllable of a ten-dollar word, the album cycles through snippets of hip hop, R&B, grunge, indie and soft rock at a breakneck pace. Cultural ephemera become a strange new blur. With each 30 seconds, we're reminded of the context in which the source material originally existed. We're reminded of the story behind each piece, and what it meant the first time we heard it.

But Night Ripper is about more than nostalgia--or novelty. It's about us, and what we listen to. And, luckily, it's nowhere near as heavy-handed as Macdonald had hoped. So, no, "Oh Bondage Up Yours" doesn't holler at "Wait (The Whisper Song)" and smack us in the face with commentary. Instead, it lurks behind "Sugar, We're Going Down Swinging," pointing subtly to the misogynists in the pit and on the stage at Warped Tour. And, no, Gillis doesn't use Elton John to make a comment about homophobia in hip hop. Instead, he slaps "Tiny Dancer" under Biggie Smalls' "Juicy" and lets the music and oxymoronic collocation do the work. Night Ripper is overtly experimental, but it's essentially far from pretentious. This is populist art at its best. It's a new form of cultural storytelling. It's ours to enjoy.

INDEPENDENT: Where the hell did Night Ripper come from?

GREGG GILLIS: I never made any direct decision to make an album like Night Ripper. It just kind of happened naturally. For my live performances, I mix and match a bunch of sampled loops on the fly. Before the shows, I organized different templates of loops, which is kind of like me writing a song before performing it. Three or four years ago, these loops were mostly "original" sounding beats and melodies made from small pieces of other people's music. I decided to start incorporating more recognizable samples, melodies, beats and vocals. These more blatant elements became the highlights of every show. Slowly over the course of a couple years, my live performances developed into the sound and style of Night Ripper.

Were you at all intimidated by this massive undertaking?

By the time I decided to make an album based around the style I was performing live, I already had a bunch of material organized. Starting the editing process was intimidating, and it took me a good while. But throughout the process, I had plenty of shows to go through a trial-and-error process with the material.

How did you choose the tracks for Night Ripper and what did you have to leave out?

For every combination you hear on the record, there was probably at least 10 alternate versions put together at some point. And for every sample on the record, there were probably 50 samples I didn't use. I just began building the album as three separate chunks and just kept trying to piece it together. The stuff I didn't use wasn't because I didn't like the samples. It was more because it didn't naturally fall into place as I was putting the album together.

Do you think, as a whole, music listeners are more omnivorous these days?

In general, as information exchange becomes easier and more ideas are recycled, I think genre and style barriers will naturally crumble, which makes it easier to be into a lot of different things. Maybe it's just my own little world that I live in, but it seems like everyone is breaking out of their own personal genre taste constraints these days.

The Internet has practically forced us to be aware of more music. Do you see Night Ripper as a product of the way people consume music now?

Yeah, I think it's very connected. Ideas and music like Night Ripper have definitely existed before file-sharing, from musique concrète to John Oswald to sample-based hip hop. But the Internet and file-sharing have made something like Night Ripper a lot easier to construct and distribute.

So, what is Night Ripper for?

Well, first of all, I've never considered it a novelty. I've spent six years of my life dedicated to sample-based music, so this is my instrument of choice. As far as what it is for, I think that's entirely up to the listener. My own personal goal was to make something that you can party to and also something you can sit down by yourself, dissect and enjoy as a sound collage. Traditional dance music is based around repetition, but I was trying to put something together with a dual, conflicting style: danceable and experimental. Overall, though, I'm mainly focused on just putting together fun music.

Some reviews of the record have criticized it for not being subversive enough. How does that criticism sit with you?

The album's not meant to be subversive. I'm a huge fan of all of the source material, so it's meant as a celebration of that particular music. The mentality that Top 40 music can only be worthwhile in a subversive context seems a little juvenile to me. The only thing really subversive about the album kind of happened by accident, where more indie-minded music fans are now getting down to James Taylor and Slim Thug because Pitchfork said they liked the album.


Over 200 samples made Night Ripper. A few thousand didn't make it. Here are a few that crafted an album that's among the year's best.

"Once Again"
Ying Yang Twins' "Wait (The Whisper Song)" vs. The Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony"

We all remember what happened to The Verve. After failing to clear the sample of "The Last Time," a 1965 Rolling Stones song on which the entirety of "Bittersweet Symphony" was built, a big fat lawsuit bit them in the ass. Here, the song's swelling strings flirt with the gutter-mouthed Twins and completely change the character of the line "Wait till you see my dick." In this go-round, the proposed sex sounds almost consensual.

"Hold Up"
Mariah Carey's "It's Like That" vs. James Taylor's "Your Smiling Face" vs. Ludicrous' "Number One Spot"

This is one of the strangest portions of Night Ripper. The big Austin Powers-sampled orchestral stabs of "Number One Spot" are at melodic odds with the synth-grind of "It's Like That." But then our very own James Taylor comes in singing "Nobody can tell me that I'm doing wrong." Presumably, it's the voice of Gillis telling us to quit bitching.

"Smash Your Head"
Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" vs. The Notorious B.I.G.'s "Juicy"

The laughs! First, there's the visual gag of seeing "Tiny" and Biggie side by side. Then there's the absurdity of Big and his weed-smoking lyrics lacing Elton's anthemic arena pianos. Two worlds colliding never sounded so hilarious.

"Friday Night"
Chris Brown & Juelz Santana's "Run It" vs. The Waitresses' "I Know What Boys Like"

When Dipset's Juelz Santana launches into the party line "I know what girls want...," he's answered by The Waitresses' Patty Donahue (reminding us who was there first) with the original song's refrain, "I know what boys like...."

"Peak Out"
2 Live Crew's "We Want Some Pussy" vs. Wings' "Silly Love Songs"

2 Live Crew had their fair share of legal trouble when it came to sampling, but that's not the point of this one. Its laughs come when Paul and Linda McCartney are cooing the words "I love you" and a gang of voices repeatedly screams "Hey! We want some pu-say!" Talk about conflicting.


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