The Trouble with Girl Talk
Gregg Gillis brings trouble with him wherever he goes. The man better known as Girl Talk tempts fate each night by inviting the crowd on stage to join him and his laptop, no matter how many safety code violations are obliterated. "I like giving that power to the people, I like it being on the verge of being shut down,” he says excitedly. "I don’t like it when my power cord gets unplugged, but if it does, it feels live and for me it feels like a house party. I party every night and it’s a lot more fun if I have someone to dance with.”
The intimate, anarchic milieu of a Girl Talk gig ("I broke three laptops last year, and I’d have to say I average breaking 15 to 20 tables each year”) is as much about the nature of his music as his invitation. Breaking through with his third album, 2006’s Night Ripper, Girl Talk reinvigorated dying interest in mash-ups by going the extra mile and mixing 20 or more different tracks to painstakingly construct his own party starters. The energy of his music is unrivalled; it works as both a rundown of today’s hottest hip-hop and top 40 hits, a history lesson on the golden oldies, and one tireless shot of adrenaline. His new album, Feed the Animals, arguably perfects the practice, testing the limits even further, almost doubling the amount of unauthorized samples.
For the last eight years, the Pittsburgh native has been turning a blind eye to copyright law, sampling music as he wishes and citing "fair use” as his defence. But how the hell does he continue to get away with it? Considering how much of a lawsuit magnet sampling has been in the last two decades, he’s about due for some litigation action, but Gillis feels that, as well as fair use, changin’ times are changin’ minds. "I think the internet and becoming interactive with media and sharing ideas has really helped make the viewpoint of the public swing,” says Gillis.
"I just think everyone has become so used to remixes existing, a cappellas, y’know, Radiohead and Kanye West releasing the stems from their tracks, every song gets remixed and put up on YouTube — it’s become so commonplace, and not being a problem financially but more or less viral marketing that helps on their end. I think everyone sees the value in this and that it’s not actually trying to create any sort of competition for the source material. It’s a definite sign of the times that an album like mine can be reviewed in Rolling Stone and then we don’t hear a cease and desist.”Feed the Animals has managed to avoid the C&Ds, but despite a June release online, it’s run into some trouble becoming a CD. Gillis calls the manufacturing error a "little issue” thanks to his "conceptual idea” of making a disc that’s black on both sides, but he’s still keyed up over having his music finally out (the CD is due November 11).
For all the potential trouble attached to Girl Talk, Gillis doesn’t come across as much of a problem child. Instead, he’s polite, sociable and quite humble over the phone, a former biomedical engineer living out an unlikely dream. "I think in the worst case scenario, if I was in a prison cell and they were not allowing this music to be heard by anyone, I would still make the music and I would still try to put it out,” he says with certainty. "I can’t ever see myself stop making the music. It’s not really a business but a passion for me.”
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