PITTSBURGH – Any question of whether Girl Talk is still a force in the live music scene was clarified last weekend in the desert of Indio, Calif.
This wasn’t the first time the Pittsburgh-based electronic artist did Coachella, but it was his biggest showcase there, rocking an estimated 100,000 people.
Girl Talk (real name Gregg Gillis) – who broke into the scene in a big way in 2006 with “Night Ripper” – built this following with albums that mash up hundreds of samples in a dizzying blur and ecstatic, sweaty live shows.
For the past four years, he’s been a road warrior, but going into Coachella, he finally offered a follow-up to 2010’s “All Day.” In a departure from his past work, the new “Broken Ankles” EP (available as a free download at datpiff.com) is a straight-up hip-hop collaboration with Philly rapper Freeway. It’s accompanied by his first true music video, for “Tolerated,” a funny horror movie send-up where no limb or body part is safe.
Before heading back to Coachella for a second weekend (with more secrets in store), he checked in on his recent exploits.
Q. So, how was your weekend?
A. Coachella was just out of control and definitely on some different level than anything I’ve been a part of. When they gave me the offer a few months back, they told me then they wanted to put me on the main stage before OutKast. I’ve played a lot of festivals with a lot of big bands, but that just stood out. I knew we had to come out correct and go as big as possible. So the past few months, I’ve just been working on a lot of new stuff, musically and production-wise, with the lights and videos. I also reached out to a bunch of people to get some guests to come out, and the time slot was so appealing to so many people. We reached out to a bunch of rappers, a bunch of people I’ve sampled over the years, and almost everyone expressed interest. Overall, it went off without a hitch and it was probably the most people I’ve ever played in front of, and E-40 and Too $hort and Juicy J and Busta Rhymes came out during the set, and Paul McCartney was dancing on stage and Puff Daddy was watching side stage. It was just surreal. I’ve never had big celebrity appeal. I’ve kind of floated below the radar just because it’s more of a grass-roots thing. I’m not on TV or on the radio. This was the first time it was like that. I think Paul McCartney dancing on stage is clearly on some other level.
Q. Did you know he was there?
A. I didn’t see him. Just after the show I looked at my phone, and I guess the webcast was going on and they caught a glimpse of him dancing. When I looked at my phone, I saw a text from my girlfriend who was watching at home, going, “Paul McCartney! What’s going on?!” I guess he was there with his kids and he was out on stage, and at one point he was standing right behind me bobbing along and he went up to one of my good friends who was a lighting tech, and he was like, “This is amazing!”
Q. How did you work the rappers into your live set?
A. I was worried about it being confusing for them because I wanted to take famous songs of theirs but basically do a remix or a mash-up and have them come out and do it live. So, I sent it out to them to get the approval and they were down with the first take. I wanted to keep reiterating, “Just make sure you listen to this, and let’s come up with cues,” because they know the song lyrically, but I went double-time. With Busta I used a sample of Arcade Fire, who were playing (Sunday) night and thought that would be a moment because they were headlining. I didn’t get a chance to speak to him until before the show, and he was really into it, really fired up. All the guests were very appreciative to be there, but Busta had a certain energy about him.
Q. So, the crowd must have gone crazy when they saw these guys.