A few hours before the Satellite Ballroom’s 8pm door time, and the space is quiet. Danny Shea, the venue’s booking agent, is seated in his office to the side of the Ballroom’s bar in a red sweatshirt and a Stax Records t-shirt. A few tables stand near the soundboard in a makeshift wall, rubbing elbows like timid peers before their alcohol kicks in. Andy, the Ballroom’s soundman, walks me up the middle of the venue’s floor then through a door that leads to a backstage prep area. We re-emerge, stage-left, and talk about the changes to Satellite—the addition of Starr Hill’s massive monitors and the soundboard to the venue that once competed with the Main Street venue for audience members, for sound quality, for reputation.
A quick hop from the stage and our feet land on the hardwood Ballroom floors. We walk back to the soundboard, where Andy shows me an e-mail from an agent at the Windish Agency, the booking agent for Greg Gillis. Andy points to a sentence that details live show behavior when Gillis performs as Girl Talk, a one-man pop music blender, that says members of the crowd will dance onstage. “This,” the e-mail promises, “is all but inevitable.”
|You can talk the Girl Talk, but can you rock the—ah, forget it! Gregg Gillis packed the Satellite Ballroom to its brim on Thursday, September 20, for one of the year’s most explosive (and entirely overwhelming) dance parties.|
By 11pm, the Ballroom is saturated with bodies. A handful of tickets for the sold-out show were released at the door at 7pm, guest lists have been checked off and the groups of tight-jeaned smokers that stuck to the alley outside the Ballroom’s door during White Williams’ opening set have all crammed into the venue. We are at breaking point, boiling point—the first person to move will be the audience’s catalyst, and then we will all start to move.
And the first person to move is Gregg Gillis himself. Stepping onto the Ballroom’s stage (now outfitted with a giant inflatable spider and a blinking LCD screen that reads “R U Motherfuckers Ready 2” and repeats its message), Gillis sets his instrument, an Apple laptop containing his collages of rock and rap tunes, on a table, then opens it, unleashing every pop song recognizable and obscure from within his Pandora’s Box of Beats. Things happen very quickly after this.
Gillis grabs a microphone and, above the crowd’s chants of “Girl! Talk!” commands everyone to join him onstage. Of the several hundred attendees, roughly 100 clamber onto the Ballroom’s stage as a jagged “Girl Talk” logo appears on the LCD screen. Gillis presses “PLAY,” the Girl Talk logo shatters, the crowd all leaps at once then rains down on the stage with a sea of glitter. Gillis vanishes in their midst. We all move.
The size of the crowd and the delivery of the music—a whirlwind of gangster rap and hair metal, ’90s grunge and ’70s pop—make it impossible to gauge limits and boundaries. Onstage, Shea patrols the edge of the stage near the spot where Gillis was last seen, helping crowd members off the stage if they get too close to the edge. Shea is wearing the same clothes as earlier, but his white Stax shirt is soaked through and he has removed his glasses from his sweat-coated face.
The experience in the crowd is one of perpetual motion: People dance ecstatically on the venue’s floor until they are tired, then exit for a breath of fresh air in the alley. These ass-shakers are replaced by the people that leap off the stage, who are replaced by those recharged by a moment’s rest outside. Water condenses on air conditioning pipes along the ceiling. It rains inside the Ballroom. We are refreshed; we dance harder.
After spending the bulk of the set in the audience, I work along the right wall of the venue, repeatedly body-checked by dancers that edge their girlfriends, boyfriends and college crews into what they perceive to be the middle of the dance floor to throw their arms, legs, whole bodies into the air. I move forward 20 feet in roughly 40 minutes until I am at the edge of the stage. After a brief pause for a precautionary word by “Gillis,” who will call this one of his “top 10 sweatiest shows,” I make it to the foot of the stage, where I reach for a speaker stack, gain my balance, and lift myself onto the altar of profane dance moves.
Glitter erupts again as I gain my footing, sticking to my hair, my sweat-wrecked grey t-shirt, my brown corduroy pants, my hands, my eyes. It feels refreshing, like water; a moment later, I realize that this actually is water being thrown from bottles.
Onstage, Gillis’ naked back is visible, curled over his laptop protectively, cool white towels hanging around his neck. He yells the occasional cheer into his microphone but mostly keeps his collision of tunes coming from his laptop while dancers surge around him, their hands swiping his shoulders and back.
I survive onstage until Gillis plays a crowd favorite, which includes a mash-up of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” and the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy,” and leap off seconds after the song’s conclusion while the party rages on. Outside, a group of 40 or so crowd members slump against the alley walls. Some smoke, some sigh, but each appreciates the breath.
After a minute’s rest (during which time I watch a polo-shirted bulk of a man bounce out of the Ballroom to ask a friend, “Dude, do you know where I can get some blow?”), a friend and I will head to a nearby store to load up on Gatorade. Three men standing near the register sneak glimpses at us, and I realize that I’m covered in glitter (I’ll find pieces on me the next morning).
We pay for our drinks and leave, passing the Ballroom on our way to our cars. At Satellite, music is still blaring.