Girl Talk has gone legit.
Gregg Gillis — the Pittsburgh DJ's real name — is still raiding the catalogs of music's biggest stars as shamelessly as a Somali pirate, but a new album of his can now crash servers within 24 hours of being posted online. He's playing bigger venues than ever before, and selling them out faster than some of the people he samples. And the city of Pittsburgh even designated Dec. 7 "Gregg Gillis Day."
His shows have also changed, and when he performs at Rams Head Live on Monday, fans will see a less intimate and more domesticated — even professional — performance. But Gillis defends the new live show, saying the changes are a result of his own popularity.
"Everyone would love to see Springsteen playing a bar, but you're just going to have to deal with him playing a stadium," he said.
Gillis, who makes mash-ups stuffed with hundreds of artists — his new album contains 372 samples — started out playing small venues but has progressively outgrown them since releasing "Night Ripper" in 2008.
How could he not? A Girl Talk song is the sum of all the best parts of danceable, popular tracks. In "Down for the Count" from his new album, "All Day," Belinda Carlisle bleeds into Baltimore's DJ Class, who segues into Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out of My Head" before settling into Usher's "OMG" and 2 Live Crew.
Each new album brings in new fans and media attention. Though it's hard to track the popularity of an album through traditional means — he can't sell music on, say, iTunes, because he uses these samples without permission — he's been able to document his rise through ticket sales.
The first time he performed in Baltimore was at downtown's tiny Red Room. Then he moved on to the Ottobar, where Wham City co-founder Dan Deacon opened for him. A year later, he was at Sonar, and he'll play the 9:30 Club a day after Rams Head.
"It's been a steady climb over the years. It's been like that across the country," he said.
The bigger venues have altered the shows' dynamic. They used to be uncontrolled raves, where the audiences could expect to be toilet-papered midway through. Typically, they ended with hundreds of people climbing on stage and dancing next to him.
But now, crowds aren't allowed to climb on stage at the end. Instead, about 30 people are chosen by Gillis' handlers beforehand. There's still some -papering, but there are fewer homemade props and more gadgetry, including an LED screen projecting the show's audience.
He's even got a set designer. The equipment is ferried to each show by a big rig and a 12-member crew.
"We've stepped it up," he said.
Gillis said the changes had to happen because dancing at the shows began to resemble a blood sport.
"It was chaotic and fun, but it reached a point where it started being chaotic and hurtful," Gillis said. "We had to figure out a way to adapt."
Because of all the technical apparatus around him, Gillis also can't experiment as much as he used to.
"There are segments where I can improvise, but it's the most rehearsed show I've ever done."
It might seem as if the lack of spontaneity would remove the intimacy the shows were known for, but Gillis — who spends years whittling down thousands of samples (3,000 for the new one) — argues that the shows now deliver the same geeky pleasures of the album.
"People enjoy the record because of the arrangements and how it's composed," he said. "I want a similar experience in the live setting."
Still, he said, though the one-hour show is more rehearsed, it won't sound exactly like the album. He said most songs will be reinterpreted.
And the anarchy of previous shows hasn't entirely disappeared. A Girl Talk concert can still feel like a house party.
"I had to throw a pair of socks on last night because my feet were covered in blood," he said. "When I'm up there, I want to be moving more than anyone. I get very hyped, and I feed off the crowd. It's always been a big effort for it to be a performance."
If you go
Girl Talk will perform a sold-out show Monday at Rams Head Live, 20 Market Place in Power Plant Live. Doors open at 8 p.m.