Girl Talk - Biography
Laptops, music software and the internet democratized music-making in the late '90s, enabling Pittsburgh, PA. producer Gregg Gillis' act, Girl Talk, to surpass his experimental noise roots and recombine mainstream music for the masses. Gregg Gillis started recording music in high school with the Joysticks, debuting his first solo label work for the copyright-flaunting label Illegal Art in 2002 with Secret Diary (2002 Illegal Art). The album chopped and tweaked pop music hits to the point of noise - as well as its more accessible follow-up Unstoppable (2004 Illegal Art) -- presaging a style that approached noise music from the perspective of a Top 40 devotee. His third release Night Ripper (2006 Illegal Art) nailed the idea, scrambling more than one hundred and fifty Billboard hits into unthinkable noise mashes of 1980s pop, booty bass, and grunge. A devotee of Kid 606, John Oswald, and Negativland, Gillis says he sees himself as a sound collage maker. The album received a glowing (8.4/10) review from hard to please critic house Pitchfork in 2006 - setting off a torrent of buzz that launched his career, tempered only by the ever-present possibility of a lawsuit from the hundreds of artists he sampled. The lawsuit has yet to emerge, however, and Girl Talk has spent his time remixing indie bands like Grizzly Bear, and playing live shows -- ferocious dance events that often including hundreds of fans on-stage and nudity. Girl Talk is set to release his fourth album in 2008 online for whatever price a fan wants to pay for it, similar to Radiohead's release of In Rainbows. Greg Gillis was born October 26, 1981 and raised in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, amid the rise of gangster rap, grunge and electronica. Nirvana was his first favorite band in the third grade, but he was hugely influenced in high school by Japanese noise music group Merzbow. In his high school years he was in a band called the Joysticks, which developed a regional popularity based on their destructive, pyrotechnic live shows and experimental noise sound.
The foundations were laid for Girl Talk's style and approach during his college years between 2000 and 2004. As he was studying biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, he discovered -- through college radio -- sounds like Oakland noise artist Kid 606's "Straight Out of Lowcash" (2000) for label Tigerbeat6. He responded to the punk rock ethos that demanded little musical skill and a lot of attitude. In 2000 he bought a computer, planning to make experimental music out of pop music.
Before, during and after he graduated, Gillis lived a dual life, biomedical engineering by day, and creating and performing experimental noise shows at night. However, similar to LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy, Gillis began to sour on the pretentiousness and exclusionary nature of his clique. He would scream at people at shows to loosen up, but music did a better job of that. Seeking to entertain people and rile them up, he drifted further and further into dance music.
Gillis soon found a home for his creations at the label Illegal Art. Started in 1998 by a person calling themselves Philo T. Farnsworth, the shadowy label released experimental material whose copyright issues might get them sued. Donning the name "Girl Talk" in reference to a long-forgotten Jim Morrison poem, Gillis debut Secret Diary (2002 Illegal Art) mixed up Cyndi Lauper, Jay-Z, Destiny's Child and C + C Music Factory into near unrecognizable experimental noise. It comes loud, fast and hard, yet listenable due to hooks from the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" and aggressively tacky use of Sheryl Crow covering Joan Osborne's "What If God Was One Of Us." The Price is Right theme song on "Unicorn Vs. Gravity" and "Fun in the Sun"'s use of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince's "Summertime" demonstrate Gillis' sense of humor, usually found lacking in noise shows. The album made waves in the noise community, and the next year Girl Talk followed it with Unstoppable (2003 Illegal Art).
Girl Talk veered hard into mainstream samples with this record, putting together a more accessible mix on Unstoppable out of such hipster kryptonite as Lisa Loeb, Bon Jovi and Coldplay. The songs confront notions of taste and dares jaded listeners to laugh and dance. Terribly risky, the idea works and is further fleshed out in the "Stop Cleveland Hate" twelve-inch (2004 12 Apostles) and "Bone Hard Zaggin'" (2006 333 Recordings).
At this point, the biomedical engineer had acquired gigabytes of hooks to draw from, and with it, he assembled a masterpiece. Night Ripper (2006 Illegal Art) contains so many samples that Gillis lost count after 250. It took him more than a year of trial and error, using his live shows as testbeds for mixes. For every one sample he used, twenty-five had been tried and he estimated cycling through more than six thousand in search of an epic that would celebrate pop and life. Naming the album after a skateboarding t-shirt he wore so often it became a nickname, the album forces four-way genre combinations of Hip-Hop hits like Notorious B.I.G. with the Top 40 trash of Elton John; the club anthems of Kanye West, with indie rock classics like the Pixies. It's as though someone had recreated the sonic wallpaper lining the brain case of Generation Z.
When the album went to the distributor for pressing, the distributor balked based on fears of lawsuit, but it didn't seem to matter. The album was so outrageous and unique it spread virally across now-mature global file-sharing networks like Oink. The bellwether event for Night Ripper came on July 17, 2006, when Pitchfork.com gave the album a 8.6/10 review, certifying the album "cool" amongst the same music literati the album was a reaction against.
Ever prudent, Gillis continued blue-sky research for an unnamed biomedical research company in Pittsburgh, yet spent his weekends performing laptop-based live shows in Miami, New York, London and San Francisco amid the company of Beck, LL Cool J and Paris Hilton. He began taking remix deals for Simian Mobile Disco, Grizzly Bear, Peter Bjorn and John, Beck, and Of Montreal!. He did more live shows until it became reasonable to quit his day job and a large part of the delay in that decision stemmed from the threat of a major label lawsuit at any moment. It has never emerged. Instead, fans can check out the his remixes of Peter Bjorn and John's "Let's Call It Off" on the "Objects Of My Affection" (2007 Wichita) seven-inch, or his appearance on the early, label-less Pittsburgh Hearts (2003) with track "Cool As Hell" or his appearance on unofficial release Never Mind The Bootlegs (2002 Boom Selection) with track "What If God Were." In 2008 Girl talk released Feed The Animals, followed in 2010 by All Day.
The remix culture that emerged at the end of the 21st Century had many leaders -- David Byrne, Beck, and Trent Reznor. Among this pioneering, lawbreaking group of experimenting technophiles is young Greg Gillis - as enthralled by experimental noise as he is by the sway of a shaking rump. It's these opposing forces - knowledge vs. lust - that can divide music lovers. Sensing a need to bridge that gap, Gillis turned the tenets of artistic sound collage against the pretensions of its practitioners, the ebullient result won him hundreds of thousands of fans both inside and outside of the joke.