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He was wearing glasses and a Nirvana tee and a flannel shirt and gray jeans and white Air Jordans, and he was folded deep into the couch, staring intently at the laptop balanced on his knees.You’d think he could maybe be a biomedical engineer—which in fact he was until about a year ago.If someone told you he was a musician, you’d probably guess, looking at him, that he played bass for an emo band from Portland and wrote sensitive ballads with a lot of literary allusions.And the weird thing was that Raekwon wasn’t rapping over a regular hip-hop beat but over the bass part from the Boston song “Foreplay/Long Time” mid with a single repeated inhalation by Ciara, the R&B singer, clipped out of her song “Goodies” and looped into a symphony of rhythmic heavy breathing.And the weirder thing was that the sound emitting from the laptop wasn’t a Ciara song or a Boston song or even a Wu-Tang Clan song, but a Girl Talk song.This is what Gregg Gillis does: he samples, blends, loops, recombines, and reconstitutes the popular music of the past fifty years or so into strange and beautiful new creations.After the show, while their ears were still ringing, a skinny guy with a long ponytail and glasses walked up and handed them a two-page photocopied manifesto.
Also, each night you spend most of the concert onstage next to the guy and his laptop, which has its pluses and minuses, the pluses being the eighty or so amped-up young people up there with you the whole time, a lot of them cute girls, all jumping up and down and sweating and taking off various articles of clothing and occasionally singing, en masse and at the top of their lungs, lyrics like But there’s one part of the job David Scheid just can’t get comfortable with, and that’s the five minutes each night where it falls to him to instruct the local security crew on the details of working a Girl Talk show.
Gregg couldn’t play an instrument, but that didn’t stop him from forming a band with his friend Joe. “We had a couple of keyboards and a cheap drum machine, and we were just pressing buttons and making noise,” Gillis says.
“We had no concept of how to play.” At sparsely attended concerts on Gregg’s roof or in Joe’s backyard they performed dissonant, distorted cover versions of the theme song and Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” and squirted Silly String at the audience. That band was weird, but not weird enough for Gregg and Joe, so they started an experimental side project called the Joysticks Battle the Clip-On Expressway to Your Skull.
Gillis didn’t invent the mash-up, but he elevated the form into something jubilant and mind-boggling and original (and arguably highly illegal), something that sounds a little like all the artists he samples and, at the same time, nothing like any of them.
His last two albums, said it was number two, behind only Lil Wayne.