A&E » Arts

Girl Talk slices through pop history

Mashup artists headlines LIVE at Squamish Saturday



WHat: LIVE at Squamish

WHERE: Hendrickson Fields, Squamish

WHEN: Saturday, Aug. 20 & Sunday, Aug. 21


"Is that Rhianna singing over - what is that - Fugazi ? Is that Black Sabbath mashed with Ludacris? This is ludicrous."

Or so you might think until "Since You've Been Gone" breaks out in all its cathartic glory over "Too Legit To Quit" and you're jumping and bopping along with the rest of the bodies on the grass, in synch with the man you've come here to see who's pounding his own feet and bopping his own head while clutching his laptop on stage.

This is Girl Talk, the infamous Pittsburgh-based mashup artist who's made a career splicing 50 years of popular music and stitching them together in unlikely combinations. Last November, he released his latest album, All Day , as a free download through his label, Illegal Art. Download traffic for the album was so heavy that servers crashed repeatedly. People, it would seem, love their Girl Talk. His live shows have become legendary.

Off stage, he is Greg Gillis, a former biomedical engineer who's transferred the same work methods to his music.

"It's more like science," he says. "It's like figuring out a problem and that problem is how to make music. When I got a laptop I was really just experimenting and trying to figure (my) own way to do this."

Each night, all the samples are executed live but the arrangements are mapped out before hand. He has a Rolodex of samples memorized and there's an incredible precision involved with what he does on stage. It's not a matter of just pressing play on his computer. He uses 400 to 500 samples per show. Each sound you hear has been isolated and sampled on its own and he can add or subtract a kick drum here, a high hat there, a "Paranoid Android" riff to segue into a 2 Live Crew sample.

"I have an idea for a set that kind of want to get through when I play," he says. "It's rehearsed and I have an idea but just the nature of how isolated everything is, I never get through it perfectly. Sometimes the mistakes result in positive outcomes. Sometimes I'll mess something up and I'll like the way it sounded and I'll do that every show."

In the early days, he would work the nine-to-five, then fly out of town for shows on the weekends. Following the buzz surrounding his 2006 album Night Ripper, he was earning enough money from his weekend gigs that he could live solely off his music.

After Feed The Animals was released in 2008, he was selling out venues across the continent. It has beenw a gradual increase in popularity over the four years that has culminated in profiles in major magazines and countless websites. He's sparked discussions about the validity and legality of sampling and his art. He's notorious among people under 35 but he insists he hasn't changed much since his engineering days, even if the music has evolved.

"The root idea of the project is still the same," he says. "It's just about making new music out of previously existing music and doing a show that can be like a mini arena spectacle. That's what I've always wanted it to be."

None of the artists that he has sampled - and there have been so, so many - have threatened legal action. It's difficult for him to answer why that is but it he insists his work doesn't conflict with the sales of the original songs. If anything, Girl Talk is introducing loads of new music through his own. It's a schizophrenic history of the last 50 years and the listeners are bound to like something they'd never heard before.

"The world's perspective if sampling a bit. I think everyone's understanding of intellectual property I think is just slightly shifting, based on our interaction with digital media," he says.

When he started a decade ago, it was rare for artists to make unsolicited remixes of popular songs. Now, the day after Lady Gaga releases her single, there will be 100 remixes broadcast over YouTube, followed by a dozen fan made videos, then fan made videos of the remix, and remixes of the remix. Gillis, it would seem, has become the ringleader of this new phase of interactivity with the music. He's not the first to do it but he's become the most prominent and successful person so far at mashing up other people's work.

He might also be the best at it, working meticulously for 12 hours each day to craft each song. It's a trial and error task and most of what he works on will never see the light of day. It is a humorous, invigorating celebration of pop music's evolution. And you're going to like it.