If you haven’t experienced a Girl Talk performance, it’s a spectacle to behold. With hypnotic light shows, confetti blasters, and infectious mashups — it’s one massive party where even the most reluctant dancers find themselves bouncing with the crowd.
Gregg Gillis is the former biomedical engineer and mastermind behind the Girl Talk project. He’s an expert when it comes to music sampling and he borrows tracks indiscriminately from the likes of Journey, Arcade Fire, and Rihanna. Gillis stands firm in his belief that no one is too good for pop music and that pop music is good for everyone.
“People get obsessed with labels of music and try to draw these lines of some music being ‘smart’ and some music being ‘dumb.’ This whole project has always beenan effort to tear down those walls a little bit,” Gillis says. He hopes to prove the value and integrity of pop music, an aim he describes as a “noble goal in art.”
The self-taught musician never anticipated turning the Girl Talk project into a career. Gillis describes his early involvement in the music industry: “I was into making band t-shirts and designing album covers, but that was less about getting a business going than it was about putting together a group of people who had similar mindsets toward music. That was just fun.” He started working on Girl Talk more seriously in 2000 when he got his hands on his first laptop.
Though Gillis’ signature mashup style eventually earned him a massive and loyal fan base, Girl Talk did not receive recognition overnight. The project’s slow and steady growth gave Gillis the time to develop his vision and perfect his art. In fact, development was so gradual that Gillis didn’t think it would ever be a full-time commitment.
“When the project really took off, I was kind of torn because I went to school for engineering, and I was really convinced that was going to be my life,” Gillis says. “I actually had a hard time quitting my job and admitting to myself that I could actually live off of the project.”
Gillis feels fortunate that he had those years of slow growth to perfect his craft. Because he initially treated Girl Talk as a side project rather than a career, he made all creative decisions based on what he truly liked instead of what seemed best for business. Ultimately, this commitment and passion for his work allowed him to make music that resonates with his fans.
As the Girl Talk project continues to take on a life of its own, Gillis stays focused on making each and every show a special experience. “I never want to repeat live material either musically or production-wise, which has been my biggest creative hurdle,” he says. However, by continually seeking the advice of his talented crew, Gillis makes sure the performances are constantly evolving.
This innovative spirit has led to Gillis becoming an industry leader who offers audiences performances by several different artists simultaneously. Not every performance is the greatest yet, but he doesn’t let that stop him from trying. “I do not think every show necessarily gets better, but I do think they get bigger.”
A version of this article, written by Alex Seeman and Christina Choi, originally appeared in WeWork Magazine. Girl Talk will be performing his unique mashups at WeWork’s Summer Camp this August 23rd.