Girl Talk's Gregg Gillis: The Spice Girls and Radiohead aren't evaluated the same way

Courtesy of PitchPerfect PR

In perhaps a strange twist of fate, Girl Talk's meteoric rise in popularity within the dance music scene has coincided with the crumbling of many modern radio stations throughout the country. As digital channels and licensed music streaming services rose to replace the outdated formats of the past, Girl Talk has seemed to take the best of all ends of the radio dial and the genres they once represented and combine them seamlessly into his festive, endlessly catchy mashups and mixes, as his audiences (and his nonstop party of a live show) grew and grew.

Girl Talk's mastermind Gregg Gillis is now set to put on one of his biggest area shows yet at this weekend's Summer Set Music Festival, as he headlines the festivities on Saturday night along with a wildly diverse and spirited lineup that truly represents the scattershot and entirely open-minded music tastes of the modern music fan. Gimme Noise was able to chat with Gillis from his Pittsburgh home about the type of music he listened to growing up, how his creative process has changed as his audiences have grown, how he finds and connects with new music, and what he has in store for his fans at Summer Set on Saturday night.

See Also:
Summer Set returns this weekend
Girl Talk at First Avenue, 3/8/11

Gimme Noise: Your music samples from all styles and genres -- were your music tastes that diverse growing up?

Gregg Gillis: Not necessarily. I think some of the interest in wide-ranging pop music developed later. When I was really young, I was open to most pop music, like most kids are. The first music I can remember really getting into and consuming, and going out and buying cassettes was hip-hop. Stuff that was maybe even geared towards kids, like Kris Kross and Bel Biv Devoe and stuff like that. So, I kind of grew up with a lot of rap music, then got really into Nirvana around middle school time, and that kind of got me a lot more into rock and things related to that. So, during middle school and high school times, I dove more into an underground music sort of thing. I was always a fan of the extremeness of pop and I always liked mainstream rap, but as far as the music I was involved in making at that time and the music scene I immersed myself in, it was geared more towards experimental noise.

At that time, I was not necessarily a fan of older radio pop, it was something that I was surrounded by, but didn't really pay attention to. But after I turned 18 and started working on this project, I think I just started to realize that I actually liked the stuff I was surrounded by growing up. A lot of the stuff that I really love now was stuff I was rejecting when I was 15, stuff like Hall & Oates or stuff that my parents were listening to when I was growing up and I hated when I was a teenager, later on I realized that this was music that I actually love.

So, when did you first come up with the idea of blending these songs and artists that you love into your own sonic experiments?

I was doing something kind of loosely related to what I do now in this band I was in in high school. We were definitely more of a noise band, not really making songs but complete experimental structures. But we did dabble in appropriation, so we would use a lot of pop music and work with skipping CDs and cutting up physical cassettes, and kind of destroying it more or less -- like taking a pop song and making it into something almost unlistenable. And that was the first time I kind of experimented with those type of ideas.

But when I decided to start doing the Girl Talk project, it was in the year 2000 and that was right when I first got my initial laptop. Like I said before, I was a fan of rap growing up so I always kind of knew about sampling, but when I was in high school I got into bands like Negativland, Kid 606, and John Oswald and the Plunderphonics experimental scene, so when I decided to do this project, it was a combination of those influences. When I first started doing this, what I wanted to do was something kind of related to that, where you take a pop song and completely reconfigure it and recontextualize it and make it something new.

In this digital age of music, it seems that genre and classification have little importance to today's listeners. Was that something you've been trying to communicate straight from the start with Girl Talk -- that if a song is good enough, we can all get down to it?

Yeah, I think that was part of it, and is part of the message in all of the music that I've put out. The rules of music -- what's smart, what's not, what's right, what's wrong, what's good, what's bad -- aren't really that clear-cut. And they change over time. Critical consensus is always evolving, so it's hard to take these rules so seriously. So yeah, in doing this project, that was a definite part of it -- that I am a fan of this music and I want to throw it all out there on equal terms. Everything I sample I am a big fan of. You have to respect music for each of its intentions -- you don't evaluate a Spice Girls record the same way you would a Radiohead record. There's different goals, and each of those acts might be really succeeding at reaching their own individual goals.

And in doing this, that's definitely a big part of it -- just openly embracing all of these types of music. And like you were mentioning, over time, with the internet, that attitude has become more widespread. In the '90s, you didn't have access to all of this information, so people really valued what they knew about. When you found out about a band or a scene, that became your thing. But now, having access to all of these things allows people to just like what they like, and be into things completely on their own terms.

You're playing the Summer Set Music Festival here -- with artists as diverse as Big Boi, the Wailers, Polica, Passion Pit, Doomtree, Common, Diplo, and many others. Do these types of divergent festival lineups fully represent that shift away from genre for the modern music fan -- like a shuffle-play society where anything and everything goes, as long as it's good?

Yeah, I think that is true. I think that's exciting that music is moving in that direction. And I think there's still room to grow, and there is still more diversity and that can still be opened up. And I think that is a reflection of that. Each festival, naturally, has an audience that they are catering to, but in 2013 most people are open minded to a variety of different forms of music and don't feel the need to be attached to any particular scene or aesthetic. There's value in very different forms of music. And in general, most music fans understand that. And I think that's cool. I've always been a fan of being part of any event where there's a wide reaching selection of bands. That's always been something that's been exciting to me. I get offers from various festivals where its all one particular thing, and that's a lot less appealing to me. I do like it to be as far-reaching as possible.

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