It was late morning on Friday, May 25th when I eventually began heading up to the Gorge Amphitheater for this year’s Sasquatch! Music Festival. It was the kick off day for 4-days worth of shows and the location is little over a 3 hr drive from my house. The venue campground opened at 5pm the previous night and a good percentage of the attendees arrived early so that they could get fucked up with a bunch of strangers in a dirt field and launch their concert viewing experiences dehydrated from a hangover. After officially deciding to abandon the Craigslist rideshare ad that I had posted, I saw no good reason to go head up any earlier than I needed to. I would be traveling alone, the first day doesn’t have any performances scheduled before 4pm, and I didn’t even care about catching anything until Santigold at 7:10. Another reason that I waited to head up was that I had the last minute idea to try and score my little brother a ticket, who lives past the Gorge on the other side of the state. Tickets may have been “sold out” but that was due to scalpers. Craigslist was flooded with 4-day passes dropping down to less than 50% as the weekend approached. Unfortunately, the morning of, people felt like they could jack the prices back up. Even if I scored one for him, he wouldn’t want to catch anything until Of Monsters and Men and they weren’t on until 6:05. I’d try checking the internet on the way up and maybe I’d get a pass for him and give him the heads up with enough time to get to the venue from Spokane. Nope. I sat in traffic forever and, by the time I got there, both the neo-folk sextet and Santigold were already finished playing. I would also just miss Mark Lanegan.
You’ll see a lot of H1 (large header) fonts like the one above during these reviews and the large majority of them will be utilized to denote a section to a specific band that performed. This one, however, has nothing to do with a late-60s/early-70s Steve Winwood outfit being scheduled; it’s all about being jammed up in a line of cars trying to get into the fucking show. The moment that I pulled off on the exit listed as the path to the Gorge, I knew that I was making a mistake. It’s not that it wouldn’t take me to my destination, but I was sure that I should continue on and find another entrance, because this one was sure to be fucked. I was right, but, unfortunately I didn’t do anything about it. I waited in a line of cars for what was easily at least 3hrs. At one point, a guy from the car behind me offered me a slice of salami and, as we talked, I told him that I was pretty sure that there was another way in. He said that he was gonna look into and tell me if he heard anything. A few hours later both of our cars were making u-turns, but those were hours wasted. The crazy thing is that, the same reason that I should have had no problem making the decision to try another route is the very reason that I didn’t: I was alone. It’s been so many years since I’ve driven up to the Gorge myself and, while I knew that the alternate route is an issue that had needed to be addressed every time, I didn’t have that one voice pushing me over the edge and saying, “Yeah man, let’s just fucking do it!”
After bailing on the original line that I’d sat in for so long and then driving up the freeway to another much closer line, I still found myself waiting with little movement for another half hour. With plenty of intersecting roads, I also found myself in the same dilemma. There appeared to be a road far in the distance, but there was always the possibility that, once I got up there, it would actually be a disconnected highway that I couldn’t access and I would be starting over at the back of the line all over again. Eventually, I saw a shuttle bust up there and, after watching them successfully turn onto that distant road, I spun around and bolted up there. 3 minutes later I was in the goddam campground in front of everyone. Keep this in mind if you are in a similar situation. There’s definitely another way in and that line you’re waiting on isn’t going anywhere. If nothing else, make sure that you have plenty of gas in your ride so that you don’t run out while moving 8 feet every 10-15 minutes.
Camping was included in price of the ticket this year, which, along with the fact that they really only sold 4-day passes and no single day tickets (aside from a limited alottment of VIP passes), allowed for unlimited re-entry into the festival for the first time since it’s inception. This is somewhat of a sham though, because, while camping was a bit expensive, it covered a car full of 4 people with one camping pass. Now everyone is paying for it individually. The rules stated that anyone entering the campground in any vehicle would need to have a ticket in hand. Did I mention that festival tickets were $315 a piece for a weekend pass? They were.
I had to check in with the media tent each morning for my credentials, so, in lieu of a ticket, I was supposed to print out an email verifying myself. I did it. Nobody even checked anything at all. I pulled into the far end of the campground where I was led. I was so deep inside that place that I swear I was near a residential house and some families backyard. They parked me in a hooverville over by a culdesac. But seriously folks, I was isolated way in the back. I threw my tent up in minutes and decided to try and catch whatever was still going down inside of the actual venue facilities.
The walk from the campground to the venue takes you down a long gravelly dirt path that’s about a 1/2 mile long. [Disclaimer: I’m terrible at speculating, even remotely, about distances.] As just another body stumbling around among the droves of aimless concert goers, I decided to try and assimilate myself a bit. Being alone and dealing with this environment for 4 days, I was convinced that this trip was gonna to be terrible. “You’ll meet people and have a good time,” a few optimists, including my girlfriend, tried to tell me. “Fuck that. Not interested.” Still, I randomly decided to go ahead and try to embrace the idea.
I leaned over and interjected myself into a conversation with a guy who was talking to his lady and two other female traveling partners. He was explaining that he wanted to see Santigold, but was worried that they’d already missed her set. “You did,” I told him. “Santigold already finished her set. I know, because I was hoping to catch that too.” He told me that they were visiting from Hawaii, so I told him about a couple who were the only people that I could think of who I knew from the islands. “You mean Edward Clark?!” he asked incredibly shocked. Apparently, they were so close with them that they had watched their kids before and even had a picture of themselves featured on Ted‘s website. That shot in the dark played well for me and, with the very first person that I said a single word to, I suddenly wasn’t kicking it by myself anymore.
We continued to talk about such things as rap music, our mutual friends, and the unlikeliness of our coincidental connection, as we approached the gates. They waited as I checked in at the media tent and I followed them as the girls led us towards the main (aka: “Sasquatch”) stage where Girl Talk was performing.
I’ve heard of Gregg Gillis and his Girl Talk project plenty over the years, but I’ve never seen him perform live before. My understanding was that he’s a “mash up” DJ, combining the sounds of 2 separate artists’ work together into one singular jam, much to the pleasure and delight of thousands. From the Youtube clips that I’ve watched, however, it appears that he’s actually into combining and overlapping multiple songs with each other, often riding out a vocal track for an extended period of time, while schizophrenically shifting from one instrumental to another to another and so on, eventually shifting the vocal sample–often a rap verse–over it as well. The videos that I’ve seen are often fan created and regularly consist of the original corresponding video clips from the songs that Gillis has sampled chopped into montages that align with the audio. While questions about the legality of sampling affects so many other artists, even those utilizing it sparingly, Gillis‘ work as Girl Talk seems to rely solely on collaging unauthorized samples of other people’s work together. By releasing his albums under non-commercial creative commons licenses, he is somehow authorizing others to “legally” use his work, which is, essentially, the stolen work of others that wasn’t necessarily obtained “legally.” From what I gather, Gillis‘ claims are that his usage falls under the exception of “fair use” that is woven into copyright laws. Along with releasing his work under the “pay what you want” method popularized by Radiohead with In Rainbows, it seems that, aside from his remix and production work for others, Girl Talk must reap his primary income from the live performances.
While I’d never personally seen a live performance by him prior to this festival, I’d definitely seen plenty of images and footage of Girl Talk shows in the past. Often shirtless, drenched in sweat, and/or wearing a headband, the wiry, hairy, featherweight DJ would stare intently while hunched over his laptop; occasionally pausing to dance, pump his hands in the air, or actually hop onto his console. Meanwhile, a mob of fans would shake it on stage, surrounding him in celebration–as much in themselves being on stage as in the fact that he was. There’s generally some sort of confetti. This is pretty much what I discovered when I hit the mainstage at Sasquatch as well. This time toilet paper canons had decorated the stage like streamers. A bunch of random goons played the expected role, feeling hip and young, while dancing around their party hero like a drunker, yet equally oblivious, version of an in-studio audience at a recording of Ellen. The whole stage looked like a frat party movie scene that leads up to the inevitable date rape. [Which one of these girls will be shunned in the halls tomorrow? Her accusations against the star full back, a potential detriment to the big game.]
Needless to say, I still don’t fucking “get it.” That is to say, I think that I might totally “get it,” but I’m still just not into it. Listening to pieces from Girl Talk‘s critically acclaimed 2008 release, Feed The Animals, I can hear the intention and interest in shifting between so many varying and distinct pieces of music, but the segues don’t even sound very smooth to me and the samples themselves are generally far too distinct. Why the fuck do I want to listening to Twisted Sister‘s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” interjected mid-track for any other reason than novelty? And, from my admittedly limited reference, that’s basically what this entire production is based off of: gimmick and novelty. I’d put money on the fact that Gillis‘ fanbase and that of the show GLEE see quite a bit of overlap, with neon-clad young adults excited about singing Journey songs and engaging themselves in someone else’s nostalgia, not even sure themselves where the irony ends and any level of sincerity might begin. “He’s mashing it up! I know that song and, that other song… I think it’s… is it that one song…? Yeah! It’s that one song! He’s mashing them! He’s fucking mashing them!”
The ridiculous part is that, while it all appears to be based around one simple gimmick, it’s not even a REAL gimmick. When a producer does something like Dangermouse did with the Grey Album, it’s a gimmick, but it’s still an interesting concept and it sounds good. “But GIRL TALK is doing that, but like… so much more hardcore and, like, so on a higher level though!” Not really. He’s hopping around from track to track like a busted karaoke machine, but the shit that he’s making doesn’t even sound that great, because the shit that he’s sampling for it doesn’t sound that great and he’s doing little to alter those samples. Granted, I walked into the middle of this dance party and didn’t watch the entire progression, but, even though I could appreciate how “into it” people seemed to be, when it was all said and done, I was still forced to listen to really fucking terrible top 40 pop hits. Just because I recognized the shitty song that he was playing doesn’t mean that I wanted to fucking listen to it. The reference point and my own ability to play Name that Tune isn’t enough to hold my interest, because I actually want to listen to music that sounds good. Especially, when the songs are so obviously identifiable. You can throw Rebecca Black over a Cheap Trick sample all night, if you feel like being clever, but I’m still going to want to shoot myself in the face eventually. The part that gets me is that, the whole gimmick is that he’s “mashing” these songs up, but he’s not really taking the time to craft and unfold a very interesting merger between the artists much of the time. “Yeah he is! He’s just doing so many of them in one song that it’s actually better!” Well, when I was growing up, segueing one track into the next was simply called being a DJ, and if you want to see real DJ skills or beat juggling, you might as well go watch SKRATCH PIKLZ videos, because those are genuinely amazing. This top 40 mega mix shit is about as wack as a Kidz Bop album. The fact that it has the ability to commandeer the main stage at The Gorge is a depressing reality check.
It really isn’t that difficult to market yourself as an enemy of the state and Gillis has plenty of minions championing him as the Robin Hood of musical copyrights. I’m not trying to get too Lars Ulrich about this shit and shake my fist at sampling or “stealing” the material of others, because I love it when source material can be used to create something brand new and/or shed an entirely new perspective on it. I’ve got nothing against Andy Warhol. My major issues with Girl Talk is that it just doesn’t sound that interesting and the way that his source material is being used, in general, doesn’t sound that refreshing to me. The major art of sampling is tied to the way that it’s being utilized and, when the anti-sampling laws put the smack down to where a sample-heavy milestone like Paul’s Boutique became incredibly less feasible to get away with, those who sampled got even more resourceful, used material even more creatively, and buried, mutated, and tweaked things until they really had a brand new life of their own. When a 24yr old DJ Shadow released his debut album, Endtroducing back in 1996, it was an amazing piece of work and it has continued to stand the test of time. Credited by The Guinness World Record folks as the “first album made completely from samples,” there’s definitely an easily exploitable novelty for Shadow‘s masterpiece as well, but I would argue that the majority of the people who have come to love that release, aren’t even aware of that aspect. In Girl Talk‘s material, on the other hand, the samples are his bread and butter and the obviousness of their usage is not only unavoidable, but seems to be their entire appeal.
I have a baby, which means that we’ve been cursed with electronic toys playing
music noise and, since my son’s too young to really know how to use them, that also means that we have a lot of songs that begin playing only to shift to another sound and then another as he smacks them. It’s obnoxious. Girl Talk sounds like someone’s changing the radio station rapidly, but all of the channels on the dial are complete shit. The novelty still isn’t enough to make me want to listen to Avril Lavigne, Fergie, Lady Gaga, or The Quad City DJs and, at the very least, they could at least be altered into something that separated them a bit more than the originals. EL-P actually managed to mash a Bieber track into something listenable for chrissakes! So, as a former thief/shoplifter, I appreciate the creativity behind those who sample creatively, because, being someone that didn’t want to get caught, I became more creative and developed more ingenuity in my craft to avoid that from happening. Gillis is more akin to a guy who walks into Safeway, grabs a loaf of bread and then walks out screaming, “It’s okay! I’m allowed to have this! Don’t worry, everything’s fine! I’m allowed to have this!” Sure, there’s something to say about someone being so brash and overt in doing something like that, but I would hardly label them among the highest skilled in their profession.
I tried to exchange numbers with Jeremy (the guy from Hawaii that I just met), but he seemed pretty faded and was having trouble punching my number into his phone. Meanwhile, I was still trying to figure out this new smart phone that I had gotten. It seemed to take forever, but, as soon as we worked it out, I bounced over to see Explosions in the Sky on the Bigfoot Stage. I may have only sat through a small portion of the Girl Talk set, but the barrage of low-quality radio hits that I’d already been struck with would be enough to last me for quite awhile. I already have eating entire bags of Sour Patch Kids in one sitting as a guilty pleasure, so I’m all good on pretending to mock shitty pop music, while actually dancing to it with all of my power. Remember: Don’t polish those turds too much, or people might actually see the reflection of how foolish they look enjoying them.