Live: Spazzy Hipster DJ Needs to Calm Down
Sure is wacky
Girl Talk + Professor Murder
August 18, 2006
So Greg Gillis is basically the Yngwie Malmsteen of laptop DJs. Gillis calls himself Girl Talk, and a little while ago he released Night Ripper, a mix CD that jams shrapnel-shards of at least a hundred songs into less than 45 minutes. It's a party CD, at least in concept. The songs are generally instantly recognizable floor-fillers, and there's a refreshingly open-hearted omnivorousness to the selections. A random minute-long stretch has the Paul Wall's verse from "Still Tippin'" over the piano line from Phantom Planet's "California," which fades into the drums from Clipse's "Grindin'" right before Poly Styrene and Trina start yelling at each other over the drum intro to Nirvana's "Scentless Apprentice." But that sort of ADD beat-jacking isn't particularly conducive to actual partying; you're too busy trying to catch all the bits and pieces of the individual songs to make much of the sum of their parts. Hollertronix did something vaguely similar on their Never Scared mix, but they knew when to actually let the songs play for a minute or so. Night Ripper is a truly impressive technical achievement, but the mix never ebbs or flows; it's just one continuous claustrophobic splooge of reference. Listening to Night Ripper is exhausting; I lost count of the times I wished I was hearing the original songs instead of their ripped-out-of-context pieces, that Gillis would just ease up on the pyrotechnics and let "Bittersweet Symphony" or "Knuck if You Buck" or "White Horse" play.
So then Gillis isn't so much a DJ as a sound-collagist who uses pop songs as his found objects, and that's probably why he played at the Mercury Lounge on Friday night instead of an actual dance club. I thought maybe he'd take advantage of the lack of time restrictions and do an actual DJ set, but no; he did pretty much the same thing he does on Night Ripper, except he did it onstage with a laptop. Before his set started, he told the crowd that we shouldn't think what to write about the show on our blogs, that we should just have fun. He also invited a whole lot of the crowd up on the stage to dance, which meant that his laptop kept getting unplugged and he had to keep restarting the show. And still people managed to dance. This was the drink-spilingest crowd I'd ever seen, and the dancing was mostly limited to jumping up and down and yelling "whoo!" and (eventually) crowd-surfing, but still. I was drunk enough that this was still sort of fun, but the set didn't have any peaks or valleys or builds or ecstatic moments. Like Night Ripper, it was just an undifferentiated mess of samples stitched together in a way that stayed rhythmic but didn't necessarily keep a beat. It had roughly nothing to do with what happened the next afternoon at P.S.1, where Matthew Jonson and Beppe Loda DJed. Jonson and Loda have basically nothing to do with each other; Jonson is a minimal techno guy from Canada and Loda is an Italo-disco guy from the 80s (or that's what Michaelangelo Matos told me, anyway), but both of them knew how to let their tracks breathe. I didn't recognize anything they played, so hearing their sets wasn't a matter of playing spot-the-sample; it was just a matter of dancing. Gillis ended his set singing a glitched-up version of "Scentless Apprentice" and so this DJing thing is clearly more about punked-up boundary-smashing for him. But dancing is a whole lot more fun when there's no statement involved.
I ended up getting a lot more out of Gillis's opening act, the local dancepunk band Professor Murder, who, paradoxically enough, were a lot more beat-minded than the DJ headliner. The guys in Professor Murder switch off instruments often, but their basic lineup goes like this: one guy plays bass, one guy plays drums, one guy plays a big bank of electronic doohickeys that mostly seem to be drum machines, and one guy plays a stand-up drum kit and sings and blows a whistle. So drums are a big thing for this band, and they know how to ride a nasty, rippling groove for a while without ever letting it get boring. The singer's voice is a nasal bleat in the Rapture/Radio 4 tradition, but he limits himself to simplistic chants and quick interjections of nonsense. And unlike most other dancepunk bands, they lean more toward tracks than songs; they're more function than form. That's not to say that they're euphoric or hypnotic; everything is urgent and raggedy and trebly. But Professor Murder uses its party music as a joyous release rather than as pop-art splatter. They might not grab for attention the way that Girl Talk does, but they're a lot more fun to hear.