When Wired magazine gave Girl Talk a Rave Award in 2007, I think Gregg Gillis was still working his day job as a biotech engineer, jetting off to weekend concerts around the globe, his coworkers unaware of his growing celebrity. Girl Talk started out as Gillis programming little samples and loops with his laptop into party tracks for the amusement of himself and his friends. In this way he made new music from old music, and it caught on. Possessed of an encyclopedic ear for music, Gillis’s gift is such that he knows which radio-baked pop opposites will mash up into artsy combinations. Such music wasn’t around in the analog world — Karen Carpenter bleeding one of her timeless iconic hits all over a Boston chartbuster with beats from 50 Cent laced in? Not likely.
Old-school DJs who actually touched vinyl started this trend back in the ’80s when — thanks to the rock-steady beats of disco music and variable-speed turntables — they learned to spin one record over the top of another by matching beats and slip-cueing records. In time, the tools of the trade changed to computers and software.
The urge is to call Gillis a DJ, but he is not. He is a laptop artist, even though the DJ booth is the cultural space that he occupies. And while his laptop may be doing the heavy lifting, Gillis himself is a wild man in performance, doing hand flips, flogging the mix table, dancing around in his underwear, and crowd-surfing to his own creations sampled from pop hits and songs that may have been samples to begin with. Gillis maintains that he has no actual musical skills, but in a virtual world, he knows how to make music.
GIRL TALK: Street Scene, Friday, August 28. $65; two-day pass, $122.