Last Saturday, Gregg Gillis, the mash-up wizard and dance floor superhero who performs and produces by the name Girl Talk, came to the Lasell stage amidst a throng chanting his name with near-religious zeal. In shades and a beard, he looked like a coked-up ’70s porn star and, keeping in character, greeted the swarm around his laptop with an enthusiastic, “Which one of you girls wants to get f——- tonight?” A heavy bass beat began to pound from the pillars of speakers surrounding Gillis as he dominated the room.
His concept is simple and brilliant. He uses digital music production software to deliver the most frenetic dance music I’ve ever heard, assembling hundreds of samples and then blending them together in rapid succession. He pulls from diverse genres – ’90s hip-hop, classic rock, dance, electro, indie rock, pop, radio rock, ’70s soul – and complements them with a cappella tracks from club hip-hop. A synthesized rearrangement of heavy drum tracks into dance beats forms the framework for the hyperactive mix.
The result is music for a dance party that everyone can get involved in, getting excited about both the exotic and the familiar. Thus re-contextualized, played-out chart-toppers get a lot more interesting and even the kids that are too cool for pop can go wild. Since the release of Night Ripper in 2006, Girl Talk has been touring and creating new sets, rocking crowds on campuses and in cities across the country.
He opened with the drone of Ciara chanting “My Goodies,” intermittently integrating a Boston guitar lick into the mix, reproducing the opening blend from his Night Ripper. The crowd danced furiously to the heavy beat and followed Gillis through roughly an hour of blends and edits, with new elements introduced at a dizzying rate.
The only exception occurred when Gillis was hurled above the crowd, surfing out of reach of his laptop and unable to change the sample. Repeating a few extra bars of the track doesn’t really matter when a former biomedical engineer is crowd-surfing over a legion of drunk and sweaty college kids. I hear he recently quit his day job.
The hazard of working the crowd into a frenzy of that proportion is massive equipment failure when things inevitably get stepped on, sweated on and fallen on. I’ve heard that the energy level of the crowd last Saturday made it one of Gillis’ most difficult sets to get through, despite securing his setup with protective coating and tape beforehand (though after hearing rumors of Gillis being tossed by Bowdoin security for doing blow during his set, I’m inclined to believe that most nights his performances cause serious shenanigans). That said, the setup only cut out once, and even then, things resumed fast enough to satiate the crowd.
After the disappointing break-up of several recent campus events and parties, Girl Talk’s concert felt like redemption for weekends at Williams. It was one of those nights that comes along just often enough to remind us that as bookish and quiet as this campus can sometimes be, the right circumstances can mean a sweat-drenched dance floor and a ridiculous party.
A friend of mine joked after the concert about some of the more insane dance maneuvers he witnessed, describing one enthusiastic girl’s “rhythmic seizure.” Graceless as she might have been, I think any time people are getting excited like that is a good one.
When Gillis brought in a crooning and chipmunkishly accelerated Elton John sample over the a cappella from Biggie’s “Juicy,” I closed my eyes and reveled in the sloppy and out of key “HOLD ME CLOSER, TINY DANCER!” being belted all around me, feeling the drums pulse through the entire crowd.