LISTENING TO GIRL TALK'S CD Night Ripper goes something like this: throttlethrottlethrottle—"Hey, it's 2 Live Cr—"throttlethrottlethrottle—"Is that Neutral Milk Ho—"throttlethrottlethrottle, ad infinitum. Depending on your temperament, this will either delight or exasperate you.
Mashing snippets from over 150 Top 40 and indierock anthems into a 40-minute CD, Night Ripper is a balls-out slaughter of popular music, from Dem Franchize Boyz to the Pixies to the Ying Yang Twins to Elton John. But Girl Talk, AKA Gregg Gillis of Pittsburgh, doesn't want to be called a DJ (he even had T-shirts made saying so), and that's a good thing. Because taken as a traditional DJ mix in the vein of Diplo or DJ Krush, Girl Talk's CD is engaging for approximately 160 seconds. But taken on its own terms, autonomous from turntable and mash-up conventions, Night Ripper is a gleefully furious sonic homage to the guilty pleasure of mainstream radio.
DJ sets, as recently redefined and perfected by the Philly duo Hollertronix, stick to a fairly (but deceptively) simple formula. Play a ton of songs that people like, genres be damned. Occasionally throw in some songs most of the audience won't know. Play two tracks at once if you're good enough. But most of all: Keep the transitions smooth and the crowd dancing. Do this all night long.
Girl Talk takes about 50 percent of these rules and throws them out the window (which tends to leave many DJs sputtering and red-faced). The main difference between Girl Talk and 99 percent of other DJs is that Girl Talk never lets a song play out. Usually, by the time you recognize one of his samples, he's on to the next track already, which can be both dizzying and annoying as hell. Forget short attention span—this is like a broken jukebox in a cyclone being played by cranked-out Gremlins.
But this is exactly Girl Talk's point. As his T-shirt says: He's not a DJ. "I think DJs serve their purpose, and I don't mean that in a disparaging way at all," Gillis told me by phone. "Making dance mixes and DJing other people's music is an art, but with Night Ripper I was trying to make more or less original-sounding music. I can understand people who want a more party-based record that's easy to dance to, but I was trying to make something more untraditional. There's a whole world of electronic music where people piece together quick edits of different kinds of samples, and that's the world I'm coming from. I just choose to make the samples very blatant and recognizable."
Re-listening to Night Ripper as an experimental collage rather than a DJ mix, I'm far more forgiving of its off-the-meds hyperactivity. Since Gillis only drops the hardest hooks from every song he samples, the whole album bangs with an exhausting relentlessness that's far more Bad Brains than Paul Wall. Girl Talk is to DJ culture as Lightning Bolt is to metal or John Zorn's Naked City is to jazz—genre bending, mega intense, distilled and concentrated, familiar yet foreign, and intoxicating in small doses.