I was introduced to Girl Talk, né Gregg Gillis, back in the fall of 2006, when a young lady I met at a dinner party handed me burned CD-R containing Night Ripper, his breakthrough third album. “This CD will change your life,” she said as she dug one of the many copies of the album she apparently kept on her person at all times from her purse. I never got a chance to thank her. Girl Talk’s body of work agrees with my constitution as little else does: not only does the product itself provide hours of listening enjoyment, but the particularly relevant way Girl Talk’s nostalgia-inducing jams are constructed and distributed provides plenty of topoi for pretentious discourse on the Current and Future State of Music ©.
Discussions about the legality of Gregg Gillis’ uncleared-sample filled mash-ups are so regular these days, they practically come standard with even a passing mention of his stage name. But the debate over Girl Talk does not end there. For each person who walks around handing out burned copies of his most recent album to near strangers, there are others who summarily dismiss his entire enterprise for reasons as far ranging as Gillis’ encyclopedic knowledge of popular music from the last 50 years.
The most common knock against Girl Talk seems to have something to do with settling on an accurate term to describe Gregg Gillis’ profession. While I would not necessarily disagree with those who refuse to call him a “musician” or even refer to him as a “DJ” or a “producer”, engaging in such an argument at all sort of misses the whole point of what he does. Gillis may not be a “musician” in the according-to-Holye sense of the word, and I will not purport to have any idea how much on-the-fly cutting and pasting he was doing at the House of Blues as the frenetic crowd was showered with strobe lights, toilet paper, balloons of various sizes and confetti, but I pity anyone in attendance who wasted even a small amount of energy pondering the myriad logistical, legal and philosophical questions presented by Girl Talk’s current popularity/mere existence. The real question was, simply, “Do the answers to any of those other questions really matter when you are getting your face melted off your head?”
I was there the last time Girl Talk stopped at the New Orleans House of Blues back in 2008, and my hazy and disjointed memories of the evening resemble more of a mind-blowing exercise in unbridled bedlam than a live music performance. Monday’s affair was much more organized but still qualified as a magnificent, unrestrained sensory overload. In place of little more than a borrowed craft service table, the Girl Talk rig is now a sturdy, LCD flanked podium in front of a two story light board spanning the entire width of the stage. And in addition to the aforementioned kitchen sink prop show was the most dependable – and arguably most important – piece of any evening spent with Girl Talk: A crowd of crazed kids totally freaking out for the full duration of the set. The scene at a Girl Talk show is more than engrossing, it’s enveloping, and the indescribable energy of the crowd, more than just being an attraction in and of itself, puts an awesome exclamation point on all other aspects of the performance.
That night’s mix borrowed from material copyrighted by Radiohead, Rhianna, Stone Temple Pilots, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bon Jovi, Spacehog, Weezer, Lil Wayne, Black Sabbath, and The Cars (just to name, literally, a fraction of the samples interwoven over the course of the show); some portions were instantly recognizable as motifs from his latest album, All Day, while others appeared to be new combinations of rap hooks, R&B beats and epic grunge-era rock choruses. But even the otherwise rewarding exercise of trying to place the aural fragments in their original context takes a back seat to an insatiable urge to shut down everything in your body except your hip bones and nucleus accumbens when you are a part of a Girl Talk event.