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The Rise of Girl Talk

Wednesday, Nov 8 2006
It's been a bit of a hectic year for Gregg Gillis, aka Girl Talk. Six years ago, the Pittsburgh native started work under this moniker in college, constructing albums that relied heavy on samples as their creative force. Now that his third release, Night Ripper, is available, it's been steadily making the rounds — from heavy club rotation to mainstream press adulation — striking chords beyond normal "fad of the month" mash-ups.

From the moment one hits "play" on Night Ripper, it's quite infectious. Much like Gillis' way of speaking, the record is fast and frenetic, jumping between samples in a matter of seconds — and sometimes, in split seconds. The sound is a menagerie of hip-hop beats, Parliament-style funk, and electro stutters, occasionally referencing the warped sound of Aphex Twin and Autechre. It's also a grab bag of the guiltiest pleasures (Gwen Stefani, Paula Abdul) alongside hipster points of reference (Boredoms, the Rentals). In other words, Ripper offers something for everyone.

To set the record straight, Gillis considers himself a producer — he crafts beats, and layers and loops his source material. And while Night Ripper has been said to boast more than 200 different samples, ranging from George Benson to Young Jeezy to Jefferson Airplane, he's not just pairing two songs together to make a new one. Gillis instead creates what he calls a "sample bank."

"My process is really trial and error," he explains via phone. "I don't hear a drum sample on the radio and think, 'I want that'; I'll hear something, then I'll take that little sound I just heard, loop and hook it, and catalog [it]. Combinations then just spring up. At the same time, there are also my own melodies and my own beats that I'm putting in."

Night Ripper was the result of two years of hard labor; an on-again, off-again process that was mostly tested live. After eight months of "construction," his "label," Illegal Art, released it through its Web site — via Paypal or CCNow only. And it's a cryptic operation for a reason: In a climate of hefty copyright lawsuits, Illegal Art is a major-label legal headache. The company never seeks the "proper" approval (along with Gillis, Illegal Art argues that all its rosters' samples fall under "fair use" clauses), and its staff maintains anonymity.

Illegal Art rose to notoriety when it released Deconstructing Beck in the late '90s. That album was a collection of underground artists using Beck songs as the foundation for sample-based music. Gillis heard this, and started sending his work to the label. "No 'contracts' are set with Illegal Art; it's all handshake deals," says Gillis.

These days, Gillis is busy moving Night Ripper from home stereos to dance clubs. "A few years ago, I thought it was all important to put on an entertaining live show. At the time, it was experimental. I had a lot of theatrics — synchronized dance routines, lighting of fireworks, costume changes," he says.

"Now, people just show up, ready to party. The need for a crazy show has fizzled. I'm up there, each night, doing everything on the fly. But I still open it up, and invite people on stage. It becomes this place where people can show up, and go crazy for 45 minutes."

About The Author

Michael D. Ayers


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