Review: Moodgadget Synchronicity Tour vs. Girl Talk Tour-Taking notes on the underground, and the Pop.
All Girl Talk Photos: Josh Sisk
At 16 I hit a crisis—I walked away from the classical training I began 10 years earlier. I didn’t give it up entirely, but I decided I wasn’t going to pursue becoming a classical cellist as a career. Very quickly the musical void left by the absencesof practicing multiple hours a day was soon filled by electronic music. I was introduced to avant-garde electronic music at an early age; so making sounds on the computer didn’t seem odd while all my friends were out starting punk bands. I eventually fell into Electronic Dance Music, and I never looked back.
My take on popular music may be somewhat unique, given that I moved from the more esoteric to the more mainstream, not the other way around. To make a generalization the more vanguard electronic acts, though they may be pushing into new territory, are also the lesser-attended live acts. The more trite, derivative acts, though lacking in that exploratory nature, are the larger draws. I think it is safe to say that this generally holds true for any genre, and I’d get into the realm of speculation if I were to attribute reasons to why this happens. But here are some concrete examples from last week.
Moodgadget is a label with the tag-line “Exposing the Diversity in Electronically Made Music.” Their Synchronicity tour came by the Windup Space this past Thursday night. Exposing the diversity in electronically made music? I’m all about that, especially when the tour featured Mux Mool of Ghostly Swim (The compilation of Ghostly International artists done for Adult Swim) fame. And D. Gookin, and Worst Friends only sweetened the deal. But keep in mind Jakub Alexander’s Moodgadget is a forward thinking label, so did anyone other than the tech heads of bmore-electro message board show up? No.
And those that didn’t come out, missed out.
Worst Friends has an interesting take on slow jam (but still danceable) sets. One half of the duo played about 3 consecutive tracks with harps over top beats (check out the video embedded below. They rock a Fiona Apple edit, than a Fleetwood Mac edit). Interesting, indeed. However, Worst Friends by themselves aren’t going to blow the party up, someone else is needed for that role. But they would be prefect for that late night/early morning spot. They don’t set the party off, but they can keep everyone moving at a simmering level.
D. Gookin was the highlight of the night. Michael Birnbaum, aka D. Gookin, was exuberantly energetic, and highly endearing, even more so because his parents showed up for the set. Got to celebrate Yom Kippur with the fams.
Birnbaum’s setup is simple: a laptop, and a drum set. His music is equally simple, but effective none-the-less. His template is mainly Pop.
Here we come to an impasse, that paradox of Pop. How does one make genuine Pop coming from an underground mentality, but without irony? I don’t know exactly, and if I did I’d be putting all my energy into becoming the next Timbaland, not blogging.
Contrast Birnbaum’s project to Baltimore’s Smart Growth. Both are solo drummers using samples, or prerecorded laptop tracks. Despite Denny’s technical prowess, I think D. Gookin comes out on top as a songwriter. Gookin/Birnbaum’s tracks reach that Zen of true Pop. Though he tips his hat to more underground genres. “Honey Razor” flirts with DnB “jump up” style over-the-top cheesiness, but magically never succumbs to those failings. I hate to admit it, but it is fun to watch a drummer do DnB breaks live on a drum set. It looks/is so much fun to hammer down on those snare hits.
Now contrast the Moodgadget line-up, and D. Gookin in particular, to that Top 40 mash-up luminary Gregg Gillis, aka Girl Talk. Seeing his set Saturday night at Sonar, I couldn’t help but think of the blatant differences to Thursday night.
First of all, there was the difference in attendance, both the number, and types of people that showed up. The Moodgadget show was woefully under attended, and this proved frustrating for at least one member of the tour. Of those that did show up, I seemed to be among one of the youngest, and I clock in at 23.
By comparison the Girl Talk show was packed with youngsters (as in younger than me) sporting that blatant mark of underage status—the “X” on both hands. It is not hyperbole to call many in that crowd high school students. I ran into three younger siblings of friends that are well and truly still in high school. This by itself shouldn’t mean anything. I was going to shows at that age, but then again I was often the only underage person in the room.
If you believe the myth about the number of people that listened to the first Velvet Underground record, or Tony Wilson’s somewhat suspect story regarding the Sex Pistol’s first show in Manchester, then there is a strong correlation between the scarcity of people at a show, and the quality of that show (It is axiomatic that the artist doesn’t suck in the first place). However, this is over simplified, and to say that the mere fact that more people showed up to Girl Talk, and that they were younger than 21 doesn’t, in and of itself, prove that he is a played-out fad. That should be solely judged by “his” music. And the fact of the matter is that he couldn’t hold down a groove if his life depended on it.
This isn’t a hate on dance music, or people playing other people’s music—I think I made myself clear that I come from an electronic background. I don’t dismiss Girl Talk because he plays on a laptop; I dismiss Girl Talk because I know what a strong laptop set should be.
Girl Talk/Gillis has claimed Kid606 as an influence. One of the most life changing shows I have ever been to, my first show at the Ottobar ever, was the Tigerbeat6 Paws Across the World Tour with Kid606, DJ/Rupture, and Dwayne Sodahberk.
DJ/Rupture mixed in Top 40 hip-hop from the likes of Timbaland, but he also delved into more experimental music. Plus he did it all live, on the turntables, without AuidoMulch, or any kind of phrase locking/beatmatching software. Yes sir, that’s back when mash-up artist were men. But my point is he readily mixed the familiar with the unheard-of.
Kid606 was the first “professional” laptop artist I had ever seen (there used to be a fair amount of “kids” rocking the laptop with Fruity Loops creations back in the day in this attic venue above a vintage clothing store, better known for punk shows). That night he did a noise set. A year later, when I saw him again, he was doing more dance-friendly material. Again Pop was mixed with the more esoteric, and this was highly effective. I can listen to Pop on the radio, but I don’t get to hear booty rap mixed into an explosive re-edit of Aphex Twin’s “Digeridoo” everyday. Also, that second night with Kid606 was Knifehandchop, a man that genuinely appreciates Pop remixes, but also appreciated making good tracks, first and foremost.
All the artists mentioned above (I’d also add just about anybody on Tigerbeat6, including Baltimore’s own Cex) were doing incredibly messed-up things on the laptop, but always with this weird, inverted Pop sensibility in the back of their minds. I don’t think they were being ironic; they made “future” Pop music. It was forward thinking. This is in contrast to Girl Talk’s dressed up nostalgia.
Girl Talk takes the idea of anxiety of influence to its logical extension. Rather than transcending his influence (tough to do if you don’t have the skills; few do), he revels so thoroughly in those influences that he need not come up with anything original.
Then there is this element of populism that permeates his shows and fan base. I’m not to say we should exclude people from shows, but there are certain groups that indicate a scene has gone mainstream, or is about to fizzle. When the fire marshal shows up, we know the club is shut down; when the canary croaks, we know to get out of the mine; and when the Loyola College of Maryland girls come out, we know the scene has been diluted—for better, or for worse. Who cares about a scene any way? I’m just here for the music.
And getting back to Girl Talk’s music. His mash-ups are expected, stale, and the mixes between tracks are surprisingly rough, given the software he is using. The thing I keep coming back to when I think of his set is just how uneven his pacing was. Generally, and this is from a DJ’s perspective, the night should steadily build. The tempo changes should be gradual, so that over several hours’ time, it increases, but never apparently–kind of like tonal changes in a Philip Glass work.
This was not the case for Girl Talk. I don’t know if this was intended (his whole “I’m not a DJ” shtick taken too far), or it was done out of ignorance. The tempo was either at “grind on your sweetie” mode, or “thrash so hard in double time your ironic sunglasses fly off you face” setting. No in between, and all done in a 45 second time span. This aural doctor recommends some sonic Lithium to stabilize such track imbalance.
Steady pacing isn’t impossible to achieve in a mash-up set. Does anyone remember the 2 Many DJ’s project?
But to bring things to a close, let’s get back to Moodgadget. D. Gookin is aware of Top 40 Pop/Hip Hop/ RnB. His tracks feature those pitch-shifted vocals, but done in a genuine way. His stage presence and attitude bubble over into the audience. Worst Friends eschew the blatant Top 40 cuts for deeper tracks, but don’t lose a Pop sense of playfulness. Their pacing is what would be expected from artists who have the sole professional goal of getting people to dance (not move herky-jerky, but actually dance all night). Mux Mool has the real-deal productions skills, not some hack with a laptop, stringy hair, and a sweatband.
All these artists are anathema to the Girl Talk. Or, should I say the phenomenon of Girl Talk, because I should differentiate between Gregg Gillis and Girl Talk. Or to paraphrase one Baltimore message board user, “Respect to Girl Talk the party; not Gregg Gillis the artist.”
Mux Mool-Death 9000 @ Windup Space, Baltimore 10/9/2008
Worst Friends & Tom Croose-Fiona Apple Reedit, Fleetwood Mac Reedit @ Windup Space, Baltimore 10/9/2008
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