Gramscirl Talk: Mash-ups and Hegemony

By Ross Holtry

With the rise of pop music in the mid-50s, there has continuously been an integration of other genres into the mainstream music world.  From country, to hip hop and punk rock, different aspects from every genre have spent time on top of the pop charts.  The assimilation of music styles has never became as apparent until 1986, when Run-DMC sampled Aerosmith’s  “Walk This Way” to become the first rap artists to beak the TOP 5 in The Billboard Hot 100, and demonstrated how elements of rap music can be part of rock and pop songs.

Gramsci describes the concept of hegemony as the process through which the ruling class seeks to negotiate with the opposing class cultures on to a cultural and ideological terrain, which wins for it a position of dominance/leadership.  This concept can be applied to music very easily by looking at the example I described above, but I believe there is a more interesting example when I refer to the growing popularity of the “mash-up” and the artist known as Girl Talk.

The Mash-up Movement has been evolving through the ages, but gained noticeable popularity in 2001 with the release of 2 Many DJs by Soulwax’s Dewaele brothers.  In the album, the Dawaele brothers incorporate 45 different tracks and remixes by artists from Christina Aguilera to The Strokes.  The two had spent two years trying to clear the samples for their album, but inevitably released the album online for free, attempting to avoid any “cease and desist” letters that might follow.  This trend in mash-up culture would continue throughout the decade, and although the brothers differ from most mash-up artists in the genre in that they play most of their blends live, I believe they made massive steps in the commercial world to recognize the sophistication and complexity in the music.

Girl Talk is an artist/musician known as Gregg Michael Gillis, who comes from my home state of Pennsylvania, and I believe has become a pioneer in the innovation of the mash-up genre.   He has capitalized on the (illegal) hyper-consumption of music in the record industry, the blurring distinction of major and indie labels, and celebrates the growing “participatory” music culture.  Gillis, a former biomedical engineer, has made a career using the capabilities of modern music soft ware to create an entirely new form of art.  He is something of a musical surgeon, spicing together vocal harmonies from one song, a guitar riff from another, drum breaks of another, and stitching them together to create  a spastic, danceable form  of  entirely new music.  His last release, All Day, featured an astouding 373 different song parts, and was his first album that was available entirely for free, available without even a pay-what-you-want option, through his Illegal Art label website.

I believe that the successful career of Girl Talk is reflective of our culture, and some of the reading material from our Pop Culture class can provide plenty of insights.  Gillis’s use of music software to create art from extracts of hundreds of different songs plays to the “channel-surfing” culture that Lasn describes in Culture Jam.  The rapid pace in which Gillis changes from song to song can also be comparable to what Lasn calls “jolt management”; making enough jolts that it creates an engaging piece of media.

(Warning: Some explicit lyrical content)

According to an article on the LA Times, Gillis makes about 10% of his income from selling music online, but the rest of his living comes from a grueling performance schedule.  His live performances are much like his music, participatory in that he invites fans onstage to indulge them to be a part of the party atmosphere. The subtle riffs and harmonies from the samples in his music are almost a “wink and nod” to his large fan base, an audience that constantly draws from past aspects of culture in an attempt to create something new.

Resistance and incorporation is language that can be used to describe not only the hegemonic principles, but it is the resistance/incorporation of different styles that has come to define Girl Talk and our current youth culture.  I don’t know if Gregg Michael Gillis is aware of this or not, but I’d like to think there is a fair amount of Gramsci sitting on his bookshelf.

This entry was posted in Section 2, Student Posts, Winter 2011. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Gramscirl Talk: Mash-ups and Hegemony

  1. Pingback: Model Entries – Previous Terms | Popular Culture

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