Pittsburgh producer Girl Talk hopes he can play for longer than ten minutes this week in San Francisco. The last Bay Area party he hosted at the Be the RIOTTT! culture expo got so wild, its organizers freaked out when he started a real ruckus.
So crazy was the 25-year-old’s set that the YouTube footage pixelates with the bouncing of two dozen random crowd members. They go apeshit on stage around a little white dude in sweats and $5 Risky Business sunglasses — that’s Gregg Gillis (Girl Talk) — bent over the cheap laptop. Next to him, this young Asian kid pogos while a large, older black dude does these huge “sashay and sway” R&B moves as Kelis and Too $hort’s “Bossy” maxes out the PA.
“Basically what happened was, I ask at a lot of my shows for people to come up and dance with me,” Gillis recalls. “I asked the festival organizers if it was cool. They said it would be absolutely cool. I asked security — absolutely. So I got up onstage and I didn’t feel really comfortable on this huge stage, so I asked the crowd to come up. It was crazy and out of control for a second and it seemed like they were cool with it. Then after about five minutes they cut my power.”
Fans mobbing the stage give promoters waking nightmares of falls, blood, and lawsuits, so Girl Talk understands the problem with his party ethos. “But I don’t know,” he shrugs. “It was great. I honestly would rather have it like that for five minutes than have an uptight show with people thirty or forty feet away from me.”
Proximity breeds intimacy, and Girl Talk’s compositions hit too close for comfort. The Riottt set featured several banging 120 BPM cuts from his 2006 hit album Night Ripper, which sexually assaults and then chops up more than 250 pop samples ranging from Neutral Milk Hotel to Biggie Smalls to Smashing Pumpkins.
Usually we just call this stuff mash-ups, but Night Ripper is too blaring, too dense, and too profane for that. It forces four-way genre copulations that defy the Geneva Conventions of music. Even more oddly, minimalist-savant Gillis can’t play a musical instrument or spin turntables, and doesn’t even know the specs of the laptops he uses. Everyone has roughly the same reaction to Ripper: “What in God’s holy name is this?” Followed by laughing and “Did he just put my favorite band Y on top of that godawful Top 40 trash Z, and where’s that horn riff from?”
Gillis describes his sonic collage in visual terms: “It’s a pretty obvious answer: a million different successful artists with their heads cut off with other artists pasted on it and holding very inappropriate instruments.”
Despite almost a year on the market and album sales creeping toward the ten thousand mark, the lawsuits have yet to pour in. “I’m crossing my fingers when I say this, but I think the majors might be taking a more proactive approach to this type of stuff,” Gillis says. “I think putting out music like this isn’t hurting anyone; it’s promoting artists and albums.”
Girl Talk continues to work at a biomedical engineering firm by day, remix indie band Grizzly Bear by night, tour the country on weekends, and now enjoys a replacement top front left tooth. He shattered the original at a homecoming party around New Year’s.
“That was too chaotic,” he recalls. “I half-dove and was half-thrown into the crowd right over my dad and I hit the bottom of my jaw on my sister’s friend’s shoulder. I was kind of drunk so I don’t remember, but my jaw came slamming up into my top teeth and I just felt it crack into pieces. I just stood up and gave a smile. Everyone cheered and my mom started freaking out.”