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Sweatin’ to the oldies (and/or newies): Girl Talk at The Congress


text: Greg Sheer | photography: Brandon Farrington

A block up from the Congress, it’s Friday night and a free hardcore show is well underway at Ultra Lounge. The doors swing open, from the bar into the venue, and the phrase aural-rape comes to mind. And cheap as the beer-and-a-shot deal might be, it’s hard to forget that this is a very different show from what we’re in for, a few hundred yards away.

By 9:45 or so, the line into The Congress has slithered around the block, a simmering pastiche of adolescent hijinks, appropriately representative of the wide distribution in age. The show is 17+, so while the expected 20 and 30-somethings, barely hiding just-shot-gunned PBR cans loaf around and smoke cigarettes, there’s also a substantial constituency of giggling titillated teens. Someone’s father is reading a book a few feet from the line, displaying exactly zero effort in the nonchalance department, to the stark dismay of one teenage girl.

To suggest that a Girl Talk show is less about performance than experience isn’t necessarily wrong; it’s just too reductionist, and kind of wet-blanketish. As the priest exists between God and congregation, so too does Gillis, inhabiting some elusive space between the music and the crowd. In a platonic reality, he might be the nexus point at which our profane sphere comes into contact with a Bacchanalian soundscape of lust and narcotic revelry. In reality, you’ve just never in your life seen a room more jam packed with sweaty bodies intent on dry-humping the shit out of each other. Did we mention there are balloons and confetti cannons?

Gillis’ set begins like a camera’s lens coming slowly into focus; a digitally rendered chant modulates from a two-syllable glob of sound into something steadily louder and more recognizable. No sooner does he take the stage, when a mass of clamoring fans start to shuffle in, stage right. It’s well known that Gillis allows fans to come onstage and dance, and people have been jockeying into position at both sides of the stage since before the hip hop openers, Zion 1.

The samples Gillis draws from are all lifted from his most recent album, 2010’s All Day. Having listened to the album for a week prior to the show, the live renderings are un-surprising, but somehow retain all of their entertainment value.

The appeal underlying his mash-ups rests in the warm and nostalgic familiarity of songs we know and love, 70’s soul classics comingling pleasantly with gangster rap and punk rock, bubble gum pop nuzzling fondly against dub step. And that appeal translates into real performance power when you start to follow Gillis’ transitions.

As he’s expressed in some of his interviews and writing about his work, these are the points, in a live show, of the highest importance, and which leave the most room for improvisation. So whether he’s laying TI over The Strokes or Missy Elliot and the Beastie Boys on top of Blitzkrieg Bop, a transition is, at all times, beginning, occurring, or leveling out.

Macgyver-esque toilet paper cannons whip through the air, coagulating to a backdrop of LED panels reminiscent of a half finished game of Tetris, all while more fans seem to be piling onto the stage by the minute. Someone jumps the barricade and doesn’t quite make it past security, as another girl topples backward off stage, only to leap back up unscathed.

As the mass of dancing fans cluster around Gillis, it’s easy to lose him in the crowd, but for his efforts to amp them up, climbing bare-chested onto the DJ table, invoking a near-pandemonious reaction.

The show’s sensory engagement is multi-tiered, but chiefly visceral. So while it’s easy to dismiss Girl Talk’s performance as a well-curated dance party, it’s equally possible to lose one’s self in the fray. And there’s something about that trance-like draw that’s untouchable, and certainly worth the experience.

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