It’s often said the best things in life are free, and this weekend UCSB’s Associated Students are out to prove that point, thanks in part to Gregg Gillis. On Saturday, May 16, the organization’s annual freebie concert, Extravaganza, will take over Harder Stadium and offer up live music from the likes of Rebelution, Cold War Kids, Ludacris, and many others. Amid it all, Gillis’s one-man music experiment, Girl Talk, will help close out the show, promising concertgoers one of the hottest sets no money can buy.
For the unacquainted, Gillis’s shtick involves a frenetic mish-mashing of song parts and samples from literally every musical genre under the sun. While some have berated the project as nothing more than a copyright lawsuit waiting to happen, Gillis and his fans see it differently. In fact, since June of last year, Girl Talk has been blowing up big, thanks to the release of Gillis’s pay-what-you-will fourth album, Feed the Animals. For each of the album’s 14 schizophrenic tracks, listeners get a taste of everything from George Harrison and ELO to Lil Wayne and Soulja Boy-and that’s just one song. It’s ideal dance-floor music for the indecisive rug cutter, and combined with Gillis’s unstoppable energy, about as good a party starter as you can get in compact disk form. Lucky for us, though, we get to witness it all live and in person.
Known for his chaotic interactive club shows, Gillis was coming off one of the biggest performances of his career when we caught up with him via phone. Just a week prior, Girl Talk played to a crowd of thousands as part of the opening night of Coachella. The set, which like most, featured an entire crowd onstage and a tent full of rabid fans dancing along, was just another reminder of just how quickly Girl Talk’s star is rising. “I think, for me, letting people on stage has always been about there really not being a front or back to the show,” Gillis explained. “Especially when I used to play house parties-there isn’t a front or back, everyone’s just in a room. That’s the whole vibe to getting people on stage. The idea is just breaking down that wall between the performer and the audience, and at an ideal show, people will just kind of forget they’re even watching a show. I want everybody to feel like they are a part of the show as much as I am.”
Despite Gillis’s mastery of his craft, it’s this raw club-kid mentality that comes through most clearly, both in conversation and in his performance strategy. “I think people come out and kind of expect that level of interaction that they experience at a club,” he said of his live shows. It’s a feeling he’s more than familiar with, and something he’s become shockingly good at recreating on the large scale.
In college, Gillis stepped away from his experimental rock outfit and first began dabbling with mixing and mash-ups, touring around during vacation breaks and playing small parties when offers arose. Following graduation, Gillis got a job as an engineer and continued to moonlight as Girl Talk, but it wasn’t until 2006’s Night Ripper that his double life began to present a problem. “None of my coworkers knew about Girl Talk because it was so casual,” laughed Gillis. “It was this sort of thing where I worked on music on the weekends and played a show when I could fit it in or someone wanted to book me. Then, all of a sudden, a lot of people wanted to start booking me and I had a booking agent and a publicist and all these things I’d never had before. It just kind of immediately popped off; like in one week it all happened.”
After another year of juggling, Gillis quit his nine-to-five to pursue Girl Talk full-time, resigning under the guise of “wanting to take advantage of my youth and travel the world. : It’s funny now, because all the coworkers have found out about it over the past couple years,” he continued. “At this point, a couple of them have hit me up on Facebook. : They all get a kick out of it now.”
Still, it’s Gillis’s means of music-making that has plenty of people up in arms-and plenty more very curious. The frantic mash-ups that make up his albums epitomize diversity, yet also work to unite indie-loving hipsters with hip-hop fans and folks in their fifties who just want to rock out to Neil Young.
“The general philosophy behind the project is [that] I like to appreciate and try to respect all forms of music,” he explained. “I think everything has value, and everything I sample, especially in the pop realm, is important and sincere to someone. : I think if you blend it all together and you put Kelly Clarkson next to Sonic Youth and Paul McCartney next to Young Joc, ideally, you just break down those walls and say, ‘All music exists on this level of entertainment.’ Whether it’s impacted culture in this way or that way, or other people think it’s artistically relevant now or then, or it’s very important or not important, or dumb or smart-whatever. It’s all entertainment and can be used. It’s all on a very similar level to me.”
Whether Gillis’s sound is the future of music or just a really cool collage project only time will tell. But until then, at least we’ve got one hell of an artist piecing it all together and offering it up to the masses, no charge.
Girl Talk will play UCSB’s Harder Stadium this Saturday, May 16, at 3 p.m. as part of the 30th Annual Extravaganza. Ludacris, Cold War Kids, The Cool Kids, Rebelution, Willy Northpole, and Boombox Orchestra will also perform. Visit aspb.as.ucsb.edu for info.