Lydia Jenkin is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Auckland City Limits: Girl Talk turns pop on its head

Girl Talk gets set to ignite the dancefloor at Auckland City Limits, writes Lydia Jenkin.
Girl Talk is set to perform at Auckland City Limits.
Girl Talk is set to perform at Auckland City Limits.

It takes a certain kind of personality to want to find a way to sew 372 musical samples together over 71 minutes, and create an epic dance party that will fly in the face of all copyright laws as we know them.

It's both daring and painstaking, riotous and analytical, and certainly turns conventional pop music ideas on their head. Well known riffs from The Verve or The Pixies or Elton John are worked in with phrases from Dr Dre, Public Enemy, and Beyonce. Missy Elliot goes with Neutral Milk Hotel, Nine Inch Nails with Gwen Stefani, Hall & Oates with Ciara, Justin Timberlake with Bananarama.

In some ways perhaps it's no surprise that Cleveland native Gregg Gillis, better known as Girl Talk, started out as a biomedical engineer, before igniting dance floors across the globe with his distinct brand of mash-up mania.

His approach knows no conventional musical boundaries, and his live show goes well beyond the bounds of a regular DJ.

"I think it is gut-based, working out the albums, but I do feel like I have a bit of an analytical mind, because I used to be an engineer, and I feel like that's definitely a part of the way I work. So a lot of times when a new song comes out, and I'll have the a capella vocals and I'll be trying out a whole bunch of different things with it.

"It's rare that I hear a song and then immediately think, 'Oh that would go well with that'. Normally it's more like I'll hear a song, and then I'll sit down for six hours and try it out with hundreds of different things. I definitely have a hard time making decisions some times, and working out how to get the best thing out of a sample" he laughs.

That might sound like an extreme amount of work in order to build a complete set of music, but Gillis sees it as no different to what a more traditional musician would invest in their work.

"I think that level of detail is part of the appeal. I don't have formal training in music, so I'm not skilled in that way, but I feel like, if you're really willing to become obsessed with it, then you can make something interesting."

Gillis triggers all his samples live, creating an intricate web of familiar and surprising sounds, and has become equally well known for his vigorous dancing and for inviting audience members up on stage to join in the sweaty party.

"I know lots of people who come to the shows are also very familiar with my albums, and I really treat my albums like a traditional musician would, as opposed to a DJ I guess, you know, they're my songs. But then I also enjoy bringing in new stuff, figuring out what fits. It's kind of like a slow evolution mostly though - it's really like each week or every couple of weeks, I'll be trying to work in two new minutes."

Around the time he last performed in New Zealand (Big Day Out in 2012), he was playing more than 200 shows a year. So in the past four years, he's slowed things down a little, taking time to branch out into collaborative projects, like working with Philadelphia rapper Freeway to create a new EP.

"I guess when I actively listen to music I mainly keep up with hip-hop, so that's kind of where it's been heading. I do really like the idea of doing what I do on my normal solo albums, which is tonnes of samples, and moving really quickly and jumping around, and applying that to a collaborative work with a rapper. I feel like that's something that could be quite unique, and I feel like that could go many different ways."

Who: Girl Talk aka Gregg Gillis
Where and when: Performing at Auckland City Limits on the V Energy Stage at 8pm
Listen to: Night Ripper (2006), Feed The Animals (2008), All Day (2010), Broken Ankles EP (2014)

- TimeOut

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