Mashup phenom Gregg Gillis Girl Talk continues to amaze me.
The madness started with his breakthrough album Night Ripper in 2007 and continued with a chaotically joyous concert at Pitchfork that overflowed onto the street.
Next came the anticipated follow up Feed the Animals
in 2008 capped off by a performance on a bigger mainstream stage at Lollapalooza follow by even more constant touring.
And as the touring increased, the intensity and crowd size of each Girl Talk show continued to grow culminating with his New Years 2009 concert; his longest set, largest crowd and most elaborate performance to date.
I wasn’t at the New Years Eve 2009 show but I read something about it that made me ask: what is the essence of a Girl Talk crowd and where is Gillis taking his live show?
The Throbbing Organism of a Girl Talk Crowd
Anyone who’s been to a Girl Talk concert knows that there’s no boundaries between fan and artist when the crowd rushes the stage and surrounds Gillis making him the nucleus of a unified and rhythmically throbbing dancing organism.
Each time I’ve seen him (when I’m not getting swallowed up in the frenetic frenzy of bodies and shooting streams of toilet paper and confetti filling the air) I take a moment to wonder what his secret his. How does he pull it off? What it is about his live show that continues to draw bigger and bigger crowds? What’s at the heart of this community of groove? Is there one thing, or many, that he does during his live show that tips the scales to make fans go nuts?
Many of those questions are answered in what follows.
And some of them remain a mystery to me.
Like he does during all his shows Gillis mashed the addictive hooks of the top 40 hits we love with the unexpected edgy fabric of underground rock, hip hop and dance. But this New Years show had an extravagant twist to it.
And this NYE show wasn’t just about moving bodies to mashed-up beats with a gratitous backdrop for fans to aimlessly stare at.
When I took a deeper look at his New Years Eve 2009 show, I saw that Gillis was doing something he hasn’t done before on such a large scale. He was telling a deeper story about himself and his music.
Looking at how the size and creative production of his past concerts have progressed (New Years Eve 2007 at Empty Bottle and Lollapalooza 2008), his live show has gradually become more elaborate, too.
But at the same time he’s still keeping things personal by adding an intimate and subtle storytelling touch to his live show. And I noticed something going on beneath the surface of his 2009 NYE show.
So come with me and — just like fans at a Girl Talk concert — feel free to rush the stage and join with me to discover what makes a Girl Talk concert and his NYE 2009 such an “amazing experience” as a legion of fans have emphatically called it.
Girl Talk’s NYE 2009 House Stage: The Unfinished Story
A couple of days ago I received an email. It was from Girl Talk’s PR telling me about his recent New Years Eve show in Chicago at the Congress Theatre. This email described a lavishly detailed and intricate stage set. When I read through all the attention to detail about stage’s construction, I realized something else was going on.
Here’s an abridged snippet from the email explaining the pictures and videos:
“…a two-story, five-room HOUSE built on stage, including drywall, staircase, fake wooden floor and impeccable detail!”
“…What took months and months to plan, 4+ solid days and 21+ crewmembers to build…”
“…complete with a kitchen that included a refrigerator with a note and photo stuck on the door, dinner table with fruit bowl, blender and more, hutch filled with china and glassware, fireplace, couch, coffee table, rug, picture frames and more in the living room, a kid’s room with a bed, desk, computer and mouse, pencil jar, trophy, Snoop Dogg poster, and a bathroom with a toilet, sink, shower and curtain, plus fake trees in the yard, and the table he uses to perform presented as a large rock, the detail and thought that went into each element was flawless.”
“….The lights constructed on the outside and inside of the house, including an LCD curtain surrounding the house to make it look like the night sky, and all over the venue, added to the insanity…..”
The email also described the dramatic countdown that you can see in the videos. But as you can see there was a lot of mysteriously telling objects and inclusions in the House that fans couldn’t see during the show. And it’s those Little Things that makes me think that Gillis was telling a bigger story that still needs to be finished.
So what was the deeper story being told in the details of the stage’s construction?
On one level, Gillis’s 2009 NYE show was pure stimulation of sight and sound. It was entertainment in the macro, especially when you consider what fans felt as they absorbed the pulsing and glowing magnitude of the House and light show during the concert.
But on the micro, and more intimate level, it seems that Gillis was hinting at and sharing more than just a set up grooving and banging mashups.
Sure, you can read about him and his creative inspirations online via interviews. But the House stage that towered over him revealed something important in a way that reading interviews can’t.
How Girl Talk Engineered Intimacy With Extravagance
Since 2007, Gillis has obviously upped his game when it comes to using visuals during his live shows. And I’ve spoken with many visual artists and I know enough about expressive art therapy to make an educated guess that Gillis probably didn’t just pick all those details randomly.
He’s a mashup artist at heart and previously studied tissue engineering and worked as an engineer before doing music full time in 2007. Knowing that I wouldn’t be surprised if he relied on his engineering skills to create the House stage. Whether he did or not, he clearly knows how to creatively and organically manipulate our auditory and visual senses to engineer a great live show. And over time he’s learned how to weave in his own personal story without us even knowing it.
So as Girl Talk ushered in the next decade fans not only experienced another great Girl Talk show. Gillis also figured out a way to give fans yet another unexpected mashup. He merged extravagance with subtlety to create a dance show that told a personal story using pop culture and expressive stage art.
Fans also witnessed Gillis adding another unique element to his live arsenal. In the midst of a over-the-top concert, he told a subtle story making his skill of manipulating pop music to rock a crowd even more potent.
Yes, all this is speculative wondering on my part.
And I’m sure you’ll tell me if I’m way off.
But knowing the power of the collective unconscious (or what our minds and bodies absorb but don’t realize it consciously) during concerts, I have a feeling I’m on the right track.
And like you, I’ll be waiting to see what the forthcoming film about the stage’s construction will tell us.
Where you at the New Years Eve 2009 show?
What did you notice about the Little Things and telling details of Girl Talk’s House stage?