Gregg Gillis is a man for our times — our times being a maxed-out capitalist end-time unfolding in a country warped by its own desire. Gillis, who performs under the Girl Talk moniker, is essentially a one-man party band. He's graduated beyond DJing, though that is part of it. His art is composed of other people's art: He siphons and trains familiar hits into a sort of molten glom that is like eight hours of party hits jammed into 90 relentless minutes. It's not really remixing, as we understand remixing, but rather making new songs by selectively pairing elements of songs with one another at a manic clip.
Some years before, this was called a mashup, but then it was people putting a Christina Aguilera vocal over a Strokes song with the heavy aid of a computer program, and then putting it out via the Internet or DJ night. It was ephemeral, more about "ooh, neat" or bringing a peculiar sort of new idea to light. In Gillis' case, it was about being in love with music, and being in love with pushing ideas further with the magic of technology — figuring out a way to just make more from more. Gillis, like the Eagles song, wanted to take it to the limit.
But for Girl Talk, the limits — by virtue of Gillis' process — lie beyond the pale of copyright law. That's the other thing that makes Gillis a thoroughly modern boy: His whole oeuvre is shorthand for how we consume music — song by song, snatched from myriad sources, "illegally." Gillis nods to this by releasing all four of his albums so far on the Illegal Art imprint, and he is one of the artists advancing the cause of Fair Use. Gillis so far has managed to skirt these issues — making and releasing music from bits of other artists' copyrighted material — by offering the albums online for a free-or-pay-what-you-wish rate. In a decade where kids — music consumers — are now growing up with the idea that loving music and sharing it with friends makes them criminal, there is no more suitable a star than Gillis, no more perfect a soundtrack for their felonious fandom than Girl Talk.
Yet Gillis' only real concern seems to be how to make his bombast that much more. Girl Talk shows are already chock-full of arena-ready thrill — 140-BPM throbbing, balloon drops, hype men and women of sorts blowing rolls of toilet paper on rigged leaf blowers, allowing dozens of audience members onstage to dance for the duration of the show, with no boundary separating a performing Gillis from the intoxicated co-eds and superfans who just wanna hump a leg and take some iPhone footage.
"For the Nashville show, I'm bringing along some friends, people to be like cheerleaders," explains Gillis, from his home in Pittsburgh. "Of course I want to go jump in the audience and stuff, but what I do is so much more involved — musically — now, that I can't. So they do what I need them to do, with props and balloons, and interact with people."
The Girl Talk cheerleader/surrogate crew is expected to expand this year, as Gillis seeks to up the ante. On the recently released DVD of last year's New Year's Eve gig in Chicago, you witness just how high the ante already is — for the sold-out show (4,000 in attendance), Gillis had a $30,000 set constructed — a structurally sound half of a house was built onstage. Amongst other things, it doubled as a giant countdown-to-midnight clock.
Prior to the last year, Gillis never gave much thought to what it would take to make Girl Talk shows bigger or better, in large part because GT had just been growing organically, baby-steps style, out of its original format: one scraggily dude in sweatpants staring into a laptop in front of an audience. Seven years ago, Gillis was playing basements and small venues to the few but rabid folks who counted themselves as fans. (Two years ago, during a chaotic show, the crush of fans caused a water pipe to burst under the stage at The Cannery Ballroom.) Now, as Girl Talk seemingly enters the early apex of mega-success, Gillis is trying to find ways to bring his shows — with their audiences in the thousands — "to be more of a basement feel despite the size of audience, to find new ways to interact with them. I want a big production but an intimate show."
Gillis insists that while the onstage entourage will expand, he is still going to be the only member of Girl Talk.
"I have seen a lot of people doing drums or adding musicians, for me, lots of time I see a hip-hop show like that and it can be great. But most of the time I want non-organic drums — interpretation doesn't work for me. I like the aesthetic, for right now, of, 'How big can we make it go?' "
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