The Knitting Factory was all dolled up May 28 for a performance by Pittsburgh mashup artist Gregg Gillis, better known as Girl Talk. Short shorts, ’80s drop-shouldered shirts and tank tops were everywhere. Even the venue was dressed to the nines, with a giant net of balloons hanging from the ceiling and a stage loaded with confetti cannons, video screens and cherry-picked dancing girls.
The only one not dressed up was Gillis. He took the stage in sweats, his shoulder-length hair tied up in a headband that made him look like a young Corey Feldman.
After Gillis shouted his introductions into the mic, balloons dropped, he hit play on a mid-tempo hip-hop beat and the dance party commenced. I quickly found myself wrapped up in toilet paper from a blow-cannon, like some sort of jerk neighbor’s house on Halloween.
Girl Talk’s music is a layered and constantly evolving pastiche of samples from pop hits; it’s a frenetic and lively approach that is like a shotgun blast of danceability.
But something felt very, very wrong.
Though Gillis mixes his samples live—a complex finger-dance heavy on the math—it felt more like being in a music video than a performance. And without the snappy editing, it felt hollow, empty and completely artificial.
Some people reject much of the pop music Gillis samples because they perceive it as being insincere, pre-packed, cookie-cutter drivel that is the emotional equivalent of junk food. I’m not one of them. Pop may be candy, but I like candy. And Gillis’ mashups are like sprinkles on ice cream.
But still, there’s a reason that even pop stars perform with a live band. Onstage Gillis’ compelling sonic portrait lacked the imprecise human touch that responds to the audience and can convey more with a single note than an entire song. The only emotion present at the show was an order from on high to dance motherfucker dance, as if a pistol was being fired at your feet.
“I don’t give a shit about your job. I don’t give a shit about your future,” Gillis shouted from atop his DJ table, explaining to the audience why he would play a little longer and they would dance.
So I decided to surrender and let myself be absorbed into the sweaty mass. Watching beach ball-sized balloons bounce above the crowd, bursting and showering confetti down on the rapturous audience, it didn’t take long to become one of the lotus eaters.
But the instant the music ended, the lights flickered on and security at the Knitting Factory began shouting for people to clear the aisles and get out. Even the command to “party” was a manufactured, sterile and insincere experience.