Cypress Hill and Miley Cyrus. Drake and Depeche Mode. Missy Elliot and Gloria Estefan. U2 and Usher. If you think these music pairings are more WTF-worthy than Chad Kroeger and Avril Lavigne’s engagement, then think again. This veritable hodgepodge of popular music — and much more — was brought together for one night only in Vancouver by one artist.
Gregg Gillis, the biological engineer turned producer extraordinaire known as Girl Talk, brought his brand of sample-based music to the Commodore Ballroom last Friday night. The name of his game: mashups. Well-known songs from different artists of different genres are dissected, spliced and reformed to create a familiar but entirely different song. It’s like a music DIY project, so to speak. Girl Talk may not be the originator of this phenomenon, but he is one of its most prolific, if not controversial, personalities. It is what initially piqued my interest in checking out one of his shows. Plus, I heard he can throw a mean party. It’s Friday, who wouldn’t want that?
Now, if you’re a mad audiophile like myself, then you’ve probably come across (and downloaded for free) his “illegal” mashup albums online. And if you’re a legal copyright advocate, then you’ve probably heard of his stuff too. He has pushed the boundaries of what is and isn’t the acceptable use of popular music in the public sphere. His music became representative of the quintessential debate between copyright infringement and the fair use of art. And it was this bit of controversy that got people to listen to his music. It’s what got him the attention and accolades of critics, and it’s what got him the gigs in some of the biggest music venues and festivals, most notably Lollapalooza and Coachella, and even a freebie show during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.
But to the be frank, I don’t think copyright law reform or fair use was what brought the throngs of party-seekers that Friday night in Vancouver. I mean, these are the same kids who would knowingly go through various “illegal” online sources to get their music fix (expanding on this subject would just be boring, so I digress). It’s not about making laws or breaking rules. It’s all about letting your hair down at the end of the first week of school and work after the summer holidays.
At 10:30 pm, Girl Talk, along with a couple dozen pre-picked random concert-goers, took the stage with that first familiar sample, with the audience blasted in a frenzied sea of balloons and confetti and toilet paper (now I know what it feels like to be TP’ed in the face). It was a glorified house party, complete with highballs and beer served on plastic Dixie cups (when did the Commodore start doing that?). It was nothing like I had seen before in a live DJ set, if I had to compare it to recent gigs from Steve Aoki or Skrillex. Gone were the flashy and massive Mac-based turntables and equipment, or the lasers and massive lights and pulsating beats. It was just a guy with two laptop PCs performing in front of a humble LED display, churning his brand of music non-stop for an hour and a half. And nothing was sacred that night. From Ludacris to Lady Gaga to Belinda Carlisle to Watch The Throne, even Radiohead and Guns N’ Roses. What didn’t seem to fit or mix well together sounded amazing, and it was what the audience wanted to hear. You couldn’t make it more simpler, or more fool-proof, for that matter. By past midnight, the sweat-soaked crowd was completely satisfied, and I came out of the venue satisfied too. Now I get why he’s so popular. It was about bringing music back to masses. No bullshit, no merch, no corporate money involved. It’s all about having a good time and Girl Talk absolutely delivered. It couldn’t be any more simple than that — way more simple than trying to explain copyright law to anyone, that’s for sure.