Gregg Gillis has discovered a simple but extremely successful formula to ensure that just about anyone will enjoy his shows: play every type of popular music at the same time. Gillis is not a DJ or a remix artist; his compositions qualify as neither hip-hop nor dance and are too original to be considered mash-ups. If anything, Gillis is a form of sound magician, bombarding you with one moment of misleading brilliance after another.Described as ‘glitch pop’, ‘digital error’ and ‘an abomination’, Girl Talk combines multiple layers of recognisable songs into something that, in theory, really should not work. In practice, it triggers countless pre-programmed associations in the brain but re-wires them in a way that confuses your body into dancing. Even those purists who would have otherwise been shaking their heads in disapproval are involuntarily drawn into a groove that betrays all rational analysis.
For Gillis, this frantic pilfering of the Top 40 is the result of years’ worth of carefully cataloguing breaks, loops and voice clips in order to re-contextualise the material into a new aesthetic. “When I put this all together, I’m not necessarily trying to make the ultimate party mix,” he explains. “I’m trying to make fun, interesting music that’s also challenging. In some ways, you have to grow with it and experience it but just by attending the show you’re saying: ‘I’m open to all of these different styles of music’. There’s a lot of variation in the crowds and some people may not be into hip-hop or dance music but I don’t think you have to be to enjoy it.”
One only need take a glimpse at the many YouTube clips of Girl Talk performances to see that this is obviously the case. On a good night, Gillis’ exhilarating parade of snippets can spark a response that quickly gets out of hand. Often resembling a Mardi Gras-like atmosphere, the stage is typically invaded within minutes, the crowd stripping off their clothes before there’s even time to make sense of how Metallica and the Jackson 5 are being interspersed with Wham! and Ace of Base.
“I can only play for an hour because the material is so hard to format, so I think people realise they may as well use that time to get crazy,” Gillis reasons. “I’ve had a stage collapse in Dallas…a guy was tazered in St. Louis. It is the music [that produces these reactions] but obviously I can’t take all the credit for that.”
Although Girl Talk essentially follows on from pioneering samplers such as John Oswald, Gillis’ ecstatic following is often met with disapproval and bewilderment from die-hard turntablists. “Sometimes DJs see my shows and think: ‘this is too crazy. How can it be moving so quickly?’” says Gillis. “If you’re DJing for party music, there is an art to it but it’s not about experimentation. There are rigid rules. I’m not necessarily trying to push boundaries but I think with ‘Night Ripper’, I finally found my own distinct sound and an audience to share it with.”
Wild Peace IV: Feed The Animals, Raise The Dead is soon to be released on Illegal Art.