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DJ Gregg Gillis, better known as Girl Talk, creates unique mixes by sampling other artists' songs. Nirvana, Justin Timberlake and Kansas?
Published Feb. 4, 2008

If you still feel guilty that you paid zero dollars and zero cents to download Radiohead's In Rainbows, don't fret - Gregg Gillis did the same thing.

"And I didn't even do it in, like, the official way," the DJ better known as Girl Talk said this week. "I just downloaded it from a file-sharing network. I don't even know why, because I like Radiohead. I think I just did it because there was so much hype over downloading that album. I just felt like I should be a part of it."

That's just Gillis' style. As Girl Talk, the Pittsburgh, Pa., DJ has made his bones by mashing up a staggering mix of rock, pop and hip-hop hits, all fused with his unique vision. His 2006 album Night Ripper - a gleeful pastiche of Top 40 singles, obscure favorites and old-school bangers - samples the work of 167 artists, each of whom he thanks in the liner notes.

In concert, using only his laptop, Gillis melds Beyonce and T.I. with Deep Purple and Hall & Oates. He combines Nirvana with Justin Timberlake with Kansas, Elastica with Depeche Mode with Nazareth. The hypnotic result is a dance party that's a hit with both club crowds and indie-rock tastemakers: Girl Talk has brought down the house at Bonnaroo, Coachella and the Pitchfork Music Festival.

It's also made Gillis, 26, something of an expert on the legality of mashups and sampling. His name was dropped in a Capitol Hill hearing on copyright infringement, which led to a sit-down with Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., for a Newsweek feature on the future of sampling.

Which is why, when we called Gillis this week to discuss his show tonight at Czar Bar in Ybor City, one of the first questions we asked was ...

How is any of what you do legal?

It's kind of a gray area. There's a thing called "fair use" that allows you to sample without asking for permission, but it's subjective criteria. It looks at the nature of the work, how you're affecting the artist's potential sales, your motives for doing it. I think people have a knee-jerk reaction, thinking, "This is illegal, you're going to be sued for this" - when it's not really the case. I'm not a complete outlaw or anything. The music is transformative, and it's not taking sales away from anyone. If anything, it's a promotional tool for the artists involved.

Are you worried about walking around with a target on your back?

Yeah, a little bit. We've never presented this as if we're doing something wrong, so there's no point to stopping that now. But I think the next album's going to be released on a slightly different level. We're taking some slight precautions that we wouldn't have necessarily taken in the past, just based on the fact that we know it's going to be a bigger deal when it comes out. I've been sampling Metallica in some of my recent sets, and this guy, Dan Deacon, that I've been touring with has said that's the one that's going to set it off if I put it on the album. So, we'll see.

What kind of feedback have you gotten from artists you sampled on Night Ripper?

Big Boi from OutKast came out to a show of mine in Atlanta. He forced his way into a sweaty, smelly room to check out the party, and that was really cool, because I'm a huge OutKast fan. I met (Sonic Youth's) Thurston Moore one time, and he had not heard the album, but he was completely into the idea. And I got an e-mail from Sophie B. Hawkins' manager the other day, actually, saying she wants to collaborate because she liked the way I used her sample on Night Ripper.

For the techno geeks in the audience, what are your tools of the trade?

I've gone through three laptops in the last year. I'm running a Toughbook, because the shows get kind of physical sometimes. It's one of those Panasonics that you're not supposed to be able to break, so that's been holding up cool. I cover all my laptops in Saran Wrap before I play - prior to that, it was just always an issue with just beer flying everywhere, and the heat and humidity.

I've read that you like to strip down in concert, too.

Yeah, the Saran Wrap, after the show, is just this disgusting film every single night. I have a decent amount of chest hair, and I've been growing my hair a little longer, and sweat pours off of me really easily, and then there are people all around me. It's just like this wet ... beer factory in front of me every night.

Have you ever checked to see if any of that Saran Wrap ends up on eBay?

I haven't. I try to throw it away as soon as possible, so people don't see how much hair I lose during a show.

Jay Cridlin can be reached


Girl Talk

Girl Talk spins with Grand Buffet at 10:30 p.m. today at Czar Bar, 1420 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City. $12 in advance, $17 at the door. (813) 247-2664.