Illegal Art

On the cutting edge of mash-up culture
By MATT ASHARE  |  October 30, 2007
Oh Astro

Shrouded in mystery and allied with those subversive, copyright-infringing folks in Negativland, the Illegal Art label has been flaunting its liberal interpretation of “fair use” since 1998. With a growing roster of samplists, Illegal Art is on the cutting edge of mash-up culture, thanks in large part to the success of Night Ripper, the all-samples, glitch-hop tour de force released by Girl Talk (a/k/a Gregg Gillis) last year. Now, a new Girl Talk disc is imminent, and Illegal Art has made a free four-song sampler available at Here’s a rundown of the latest Illegal treats.

Steinski, “Voice Mail”
The title refers to the ringing phone that kicks things off, as a computerized voice answers, “Thank you for calling Sugar Hill. Please press one for old-school hip-hop.” What follows is a bewildering mix of vinyl scratching, thumping beats, whistles, and cries of “hip-hop!” spliced together over what sounds like a sample from the Jacksons’ “ABC.” The real shock, however, is that this track is just a taste of a two-disc set of Steinski’s work that Illegal Art is preparing to release. And the comp has tracks that date all the way back to the stone age of sampling, 1983.

Girl Talk, “Lets Run This”
No, this isn’t a preview of the next disc: it’s a cut from a long out-of-print compilation. But it’s as bold as anything on Night Ripper, nabbing Queen’s stomping “We will, we will, rock you” as a base for a conversation between Snoop Dogg and Nelly that leads into a jungle of smashed and trashed beats. And that’s just the first half-minute. Before long, Gillis is tying Kelly Osbourne’s “Shut Up” in knots around the chorus of “Cry Me a River.”

Oh Astro, “Hello Fuji Boy”
Seems it’s okay to steal the vocal track from Lionel Richie’s “Hello” as long as you gate it so heavily that only every third syllable is audible. That’s the conceit on which “Hello Fuji Boy” is built — that and a funky electro groove.

Realistic, “Music In the Round”
In very Negativland fashion, Realistic (a/k/a sound collagist James Towning) bases this piece on an old German folk song, “Himmel und Erde müßen vergeben” (“All Things Shall Perish”), sung by some sweet lass. She’s joined by an “instructor,” who explains how a canon or round works — just think of “Row Your Boat” or “Frère Jacques.”
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