Mash-up Magician: Girl Talk takes the stage at the University of Chicago

(Joe Cereghino/flickr)

(Joe Cereghino/flickr)

It is a chill Monday evening. Students are studying hard in the University of Chicago’s Harper Library, enshrouded by the thick silence so particular to that Gothic building. Suddenly, the quiet intensity is broken by an enthusiastic, “Are you kidding me?! Girl Talk is coming?? GIRL TALK IS COMING!!!” The news of his 8pm show on Saturday, November 11 spreads faster than H1N1. Within a couple of hours, “Did-you-hear-Girl-Talk-is-coming” becomes a common greeting. Facebook is overtaken by a wave of exclamatory posts and the maximalist beats of the Pittsburgh-born mash-up master become the soundtrack of the night.

Girl Talk is the stage name of Gregg Gillis, a former biomedical engineering student at Case Western Reserve University who debuted in the electronic music world with his glitchy 2002 album “Secret Diary”. His plunderphonic mixes–twenty to forty samples in each track–draw from a tremendous catalogue of artists, from favorites like Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Queen, and James Brown to somewhat more recent idols such as Weezer, Notorious B.I.G., Beck, and Rage Against the Machine. Gillis’ distillation of the most memorable, ecstatic moments in hit songs and their recombination into unexpectedly brilliant couplings–who would have guessed that Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” would so perfectly accompany Biggie Smalls’ rapping?–have earned Girl Talk critical acclaim from many camps.

His mass appeal is part of the reason the UoC’s Major Activities Board (MAB) booked him. After the May 2009 Summer Breeze concert featuring Voxtrot, Santigold, and Broken Social Scene drew complaints about excessive hipness, MAB chair Liat Bird explained to the Chicago Maroon, “We were trying to steer away from what we call ‘white guys with guitars.’” Girl Talk, by contrast, is a laptop-driven solo act.

Although the concert has inspired widespread reaction on the UofC campus, opinions vary. Some, like sophomore Kyle Wetzold, are loyal fans of Girl Talk’s energetic jams. “I think his music captures the spirit of now and the spirit of youth now because it takes the old, breaks it down, and brings to life something new and more encompassing,” said Wetzold. Others, like freshman Toni Iurcotta, aren’t letting their unfamiliarity with Gillis get in the way of good old-fashioned anticipation: “I haven’t heard anything about them, but all the excitement makes me want to see them!” said Iurcotta. Still, others disagreed. “Girl Talk is fine, I guess, but when is a good band like My Morning Jacket going to come?” said sophomore Sam Becker.

To the chagrin of many, the concert will be held in Mandel Hall. Students have complained that the presence of fixed seats and the narrowness of the walkways will impede dancing and enjoyment of the show. “How is Gregg Gillis supposed to go crazy when the vibe is screwed up? I’m legit worried,” said Wetzold. MAB addressed these concerns in a statement posted on its website, arguing that although “Mandel is not the ideal location,” its thousand-person capacity made it a better choice than the more open layout of Hutchinson Commons, which can only accommodate 320 people.

Regardless of the venue, the show promises a good time. Attendees of previous Girl Talk concerts can attest that it will take a lot to oppress the head-banging, laptop-savvy, live-mixing glory of Gregg Gillis. His music has been referred to by the New York Times as “a lawsuit waiting to happen” for its gleeful unlicensed sampling, though despite the incendiary name of his label, Illegal Art, no suits have emerged. His most recent album, “Feed the Animals,” took the fourth spot in Time’s Top 10 Albums of 2008, in addition to making number 24 on Rolling Stone’s Top 50 Albums of 2008. And the fact that the show sold a whopping 512 tickets on the first day of sale reiterates that this is no event to be missed. Glad I got my ticket.
Mandel Hall, 1131 E. 57th St. November 21. Saturday, 8pm. Presale: $10 University of Chicago students, $15 staff; day of show: $15 students, $20 staff.

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