It’s hard to imagine that Gregg Gillis — best known as Girl Talk — spent several years playing for handfuls of people, being that he now regularly plays for 10,000 or more a night. No matter the number, he infused the same manic energy into his mad mash-ups.
“I’d yell and jump on them, anything to make this laptop show not boring,” he said. “I spent many years fine-tuning my ability to be obnoxious out there and attacking the crowd. I always wanted it to feel like a live show. I didn’t want it to feel like hanging out in a dance club.”
In that quest, he’s been more than successful. He’s one of the most famed party-starters of the past decade, acclaimed for his ability to layer the likes of Jay-Z, Beck, Rihanna and Fugazi over each other in the span of five minutes and have it make perfect sense.
Gillis started performing as Girl Talk in 2001 while studying biomedical engineering, releasing initial albums to mild buzz before Pitchfork championed him. As a result, Girl Talk was headlining music festivals regularly by the time his fifth LP, All Day, arrived in 2010.
Unlike a lot of mash-up DJs who savor sampling artists as obscure and trendy as possible, Gillis specializes in taking the obvious — and often unhip — and spinning it on its head.
“There are underground forms of music I like that I don’t feel have a place here. It’s about embracing guilty pleasures and liking what you like,” he said. “I never wanted this to be a project that I jump on whatever hip thing is happening at the moment. I’ve tried to stick to the pop world, which is generally a little less cool than the other things out there.”
All Day found Girl Talk sampling everyone from Miley Cyrus, Third Eye Blind and Bananarama to Nine Inch Nails and T. Rex. Nothing is off limits, although he’s more measured and deliberate when it comes to global icons like The Beatles or Public Enemy.
“I like to have a firm understanding of what the song means to the world before I use it, what it means to the most hardcore fans,” he said. “Whether it’s cool, dumb, cheesy or smart, the implications the track has on pop culture dictate how I use it.”
Gillis hopes to have a new release out by year’s end, although he hasn’t yet decided to make it sound “further out.”
“The big thing is that I have my own voice within it. I don’t want to be a bar DJ,” he said. “The goal is to have music that is transformative. I don’t think of myself as mirror so much. Maybe a broken one.”