100 gecs hack the planet
100 gecs appear on the cover of Alternative Press' 2023 spring issue. Grab a copy here and head to the AP Shop for exclusive vinyl.
THIS STORY SHOULD COME WITH A DISCLAIMER: The following is a dispatch from the future. The matrix is falling inward, collapsing on top of itself. Alternative music, once recognizable with its familiar guitar-bass-drums configurations, has become disorienting, fascinating, digital. It has become gec-ified.
100 gecs, the musical duo of Laura Les and producer Dylan Brady, have grabbed the attention of pop and alternative music scenes around the world, confounding them in the process. Is it possible to traverse noise, industrial, death metal, dubstep, chiptune, pop punk, trip-hop, emo, cyber-pop, ska, techno, trance, house, 808s and lo-fi bedroom pop on the same album, nay, the same song? Does 100 gecs’ gifted and absurdist ability to do just that speak to a greater sensibility of the current era? Are we all chaotic “lil piss babies,” as their 2019 single “money machine” greets us, indebted to the nonsense and computerized inhumanity of our particular placement in history? Do you even get this band?
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What’s the benefit of spending time trying to answer those questions in a print magazine, when their IRL is URL, a few left turns past the cursed images Instagram account and deep-fried SpongeBob SquarePants memes? (The latter is fitting: Those memes are usually paired with a blown-out sound known to producers as digital distortion, or clipping, a tool 100 gecs use across their discography.) There’s obvious emotion to be found in their maximalist production styles; the easiest way to explain 100 gecs to someone who doesn’t get it is to tell them to accept that their song foundations move, like the staircases at Hogwarts or an M.C. Escher painting. Where do you look? What do you hear? And how do you talk about it?
100 gecs are celebrated post-internet genre progenitors (of hyperpop, mostly) who’ve inspired legions of dedicated fans (who may or may not be called “geccers”) to dress like sexy androgynous clowns and be their best selves, even if that means toting outdated technology into the pit and pretending to take a picture of the band on a Game Boy Color. (If you haven’t considered reading this profile while scrolling TikTok in one hand, well then, you might be unfamiliar with what makes this band great in the first place.) But 100 gecs are also producers sent from the future to bring us to hell, a blond BFF duo who, in conversation over Zoom, reveal deep, open-hearted truths, and then undercut those with a joke, presenting both observations with the same level of sincerity. Les is outgoing and bright, pulling drags from a vape after every sentence. Brady is more reserved, jumping in only to punctuate her commentary. Who they are, and what their music means, will evolve with time. That’s the problem with musicians whose music hits your ears like a total breakthrough. They’re already a few hundred steps ahead of culture.
[Photo by Chris Maggio]
LES, 28, AND BRADY, 29, MET IN THE SUBURBS OF ST. LOUIS, Missouri while in high school. Les hails from Webster Groves, Brady from Kirkwood, and the details of 100 gecs’ origin story get muddled from there. They used to joke that they met at a rodeo and that their band name either came from an instance when Les ordered a gecko online and received 100 in the mail by accident, or that it was taken from some graffiti outside of Les’ apartment, presumably because the tagger got caught before they could finish their work. It’s likely that the truth will never be revealed. Here’s the version of the story they chose to tell AP: “I saw Dylan at a house party in St. Louis,” Les says. “He was showing off a couple songs he had done with somebody else at the party, and I was like, ‘Wow, that’s really good. I need to leave right now because I’m seething with jealousy because I’ve also been working on music, and it was not that good.’” To which Brady responds, “I was like, ‘Damn, she must’ve hated that song.’”
Whatever the case, they started making music together, primarily through file-sharing. They kept in touch while Les relocated to Chicago to study acoustic engineering and Brady headed to Los Angeles to pursue music full time. They self-released an EP in 2017, 100 gecs, which eventually led to their 2019 debut LP, 1000 gecs, with its mind-bending 10 songs in just 23 minutes. They performed live for the first time the year prior…in Minecraft. (Both members have successful solo projects as well — Brady’s 2018 solo LP, Peace & Love, was released by Mad Decent, the label co-founded by Diplo; Les’ raging solo single “Haunted” soundtracked a moment of clarity for Lexi Howard (Maude Apatow) in season 2 of Euphoria.)
In the summer of 2020, Les moved to LA, and 100 gecs were no longer geographically separated. That same year, the band signed to major label Atlantic Records for their sophomore LP, 2023’s 10,000 gecs. It provided them a freedom far too many musicians shy away from revealing: “I got to not worry about money and fucking just worry about other things,” Les says. It also meant that they became the target of “industry plant” allegations, to which Les says, “I’ll plant my foot in your face… but my uncle is the CEO of Atlantic, if that means anything to anyone?” (In case it is unclear at this juncture, she is kidding. They love to kid!) And when it comes to conspiracy theories about the band, Les prefers the one about Brady being a demon worshiper. Satanic Panic is back, after all. They welcome you to start your own.
[Alternative Press spring 2023 issue with cover stars 100 gecs, shot by Chris Maggio]
OF ALL THE GENRES 100 GECS MANIPULATE in their expectation-bending music, emo, ska, post-hardcore, even crunkcore (if you remember Brokencyde, it is time to start using retinol), appear at the forefront. It’s unavoidable across their first record and makes some appearances on 10,000 gecs: in the raucous riffs of a song like “Dumbest girl alive,” or the Red Hot Chili Peppers-meets-Linkin Park nü metal of “Billy knows Jamie.” The band’s ties to these alternative-rock worlds are more than just skin deep: They opened for My Chemical Romance on their 2022 reunion tour. They also enlisted Fall Out Boy and Chiodos for their 2020 remix album, 1000 gecs and the Tree of Clues, in a reimagining of “hand crushed by a mallet.”
Perhaps most significantly: 100 gecs have collaborated with the EDM DJ Skrillex on a few occasions. Skrillex, aka Sonny Moore, was once the falsetto-screamer in post-hardcore/emo band From First to Last and has graced the cover of Alternative Press on a few occasions. Skrillex frequently comes up as an influence in 100 gecs’ music — in particular, his 2010 single “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” was a catalyst in both Brady and Les’ lives, transforming how they thought of music, how the dubstep song’s aggression feels like a necessary exorcism of our dystopian reality, as opposed to some kind of machismo. It’s not aggression for aggression’s sake. “Sometimes you need something to trigger catharsis,” she says of his music. “Sometimes you just want to fucking bang your head to something. It takes you out of yourself for a minute, you know?” The same could, and is often, said about their records.
But beyond any musical relationship, if there is a connection between 100 gecs and the Warped Tour acts associated with this publication, it’s the sense of community both foster. “We try to cultivate a vibe where people can be themselves, in all the corny ways but actually,” Les says. “There’s people who bring microwaves and stuff to our shows, who record them on a [Nintendo] DS. Like, yes, great! The people who come to the show make the show. We just try to allow a place where you can do that. Non-exclusionary type vibes.”
[Photo by Chris Maggio]
THE ROAD TO 100 GECS’ SECOND ALBUM, 10,000 gecs — 10 times as many gecs as ever before — was long. Les and Brady missed a number of record label-set deadlines for their sophomore LP, but let’s be real: It’s not every day that a band force a stagnant music industry’s mouth agape with the newness of their sound, so surely they needed to be afforded the time to figure out what comes next? It’s also not every day that a global health crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic alters the fabric of society, atop of the BLM protests of 2020. It has been four years since their first full-length. But they needed to breathe.
“We needed good ideas,” Les continues. “We made a bunch of songs, scrapped a bunch of songs, remade a bunch of songs…” Brady jumps in, “Combined a couple songs…imaginary number songs…” When asked for clarification on what he means by that, Les answers, “There were some imaginary songs that we were working on.” Much has been made of this particular kind of inside-jokery the band have with one another, inaccessible from the outside or maybe an exercise in self-protection, to make themselves immune to music journalist probing. Deciphering what it means any further proves to be a fool’s errand.
Now that Brady and Les both live in LA, they were able to work together in person, differing slightly from the remote file-sharing of their past. Well, sort of. “We still mostly sent Logic files back and forth, even when we were in the same place — Dylan in one room working on something, and I’d be in the other,” Les explains. “Dylan would definitely hate my guts if he had to record 100 vocal takes of the same thing.” As the old adage goes, don’t fix what ain’t broke, and don’t annoy your friends.
But still, it took time to find the sound of 10,000 gecs. “We did the one thing already. We needed to do something else,” Les puts it succinctly.
That something else, to everyone’s surprise, is a more accessible approach. On 10,000 gecs, all of the fun of gecs’ previous work is intact, but there is a newly excavated melodicism. The freakouts remain, but they’re easier to grasp: The record begins with a sample of the THX Deep Note, the nostalgic sound heard before tossing on a VHS and pressing play on a major blockbuster from Blockbuster. The messaging is clear: Something big is about to happen, and something slightly familiar. Perhaps you can’t exactly place it, but that doesn’t matter: Buckle up and enjoy the ride.
Then the songs hit. There’s the ’90s Southern California pop-punk KROQ banger “Hollywood Baby.” (“I lived in LA before [Les moved here in 2020], and the change since the first album was very big for me,” Brady says of his newfound success. “Mentally, dealing with that kind of shift, [that’s what the song is about].”) Their “Most Wanted Person in the United States” samples both Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Brain” and dialogue performed by Shannon Elizabeth from Scary Movie.
“I got my tooth removed” is an uptempo, cowbell-laden tune that, in at least one YouTube comment, is perfectly described with, “This sounds like a mix of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Perfect’ and the VeggieTales theme song.” You might not hear that at all, which is one of the great joys of this band: finding whatever sonic textures you hear and claiming them as fact. Of the song, Les simply says, “I have bad teeth,” adding that “I’ll be really happy when I get that fucking tooth removed.” No wonder it sounds so fun.
There’s the single “Doritos & Fritos,” about eating burritos with Danny DeVito, with its “There’s a place in France/Where the naked ladies dance”-channeling melodic structure. If you thought learning about Dadaists in school was mystifying, just watch the duo’s performance of the song at Coachella in 2022.
“757” might be the most spastic of the release; and, in that way, the most similar to 1000 gecs. (It is the one most likely to give parents a migraine, if that’s any consolation.) It’s a kaleidoscope of space-time sounds, like the perfect soundtrack to Hackers, if the movie came out in 2035 instead of 1995. At one point in the conversation, Les says, “I have a lot of dreams about airplanes crashing into me. I’m very scared of airplanes — not being in one but being around one. Post-9/11 shit, maybe.” Could "757” be a Boeing reference? There’s another conspiracy theory for you.
Overwhelmingly, there’s more of Les’ voice on this record than ever before: She’s the lead vocalist in this duo but, in the past, has applied a generous amount of Auto-Tune effects to her sound. A lot has been written about that: Since artists like the late great SOPHIE and the London-based art collective PC Music brought hyperpop into mainstream consciousness, and 100 gecs have done their own experiments with the sound, modulating vocals has been linked to a conversation surrounding identity. Altering the sound allows trans performers to conceal/amplify/alter gender. Les is a trans woman and rarely speaks about her gender identity in interviews. She says the shift — more of her, higher in the mix — is indicative of a new musical direction, and that she is more confident in her vocal abilities.
[Photo by Chris Maggio]
The cover of 10,000 gecs, in some ways, pays homage to their first: 1000 gecs had both members’ backs to the camera, their heads tilted down almost like in mall goth prayer, in front of a tree in Des Plaines, Illinois. The plant has since become a site for nationwide hyperpop pilgrimage, with gecs fans from all over traveling there to recreate the shot and leave gifts. For whom, it’s not totally clear.
It’s goofy religiosity, and the band recognize that those fan behaviors are “beyond us,” as Les calls it. “We’re a vehicle for people to feel like they’re part of some community. One person put the tree on Google Maps; another [labeled it] a religious site; another person left shit under the tree. It snowballs — it’s something to do. But to know that people do that, it has its own place in my heart. We’re endlessly thankful that we could do that, that we could be that, for some people.”
She pauses. “The tree is outside a truck park. People would go, and there would be a dude there, like, ‘You got to go. This is a fucking business.’ It’s hella silly. But I also think too deep into that shit.” And there’s the joke.
Alternatively, the cover of their new album shows both members with their shirts pulled clear over their heads, like what a schoolyard bully might do, exposing their midriffs and once again obscuring their faces. On their stomachs, both have new fleshy tattoos to commemorate the release: two stars for Les and a giant, almost cartoonish rendition of a double eighth note across Brady’s torso. “We wanted to put our shirts over our heads,” Brady says of the cover, and in a near-perfect deadpan adds, “And I love music. I thought that’d be a great way to combine the two things.”
By now, it must be crystal clear that 100 gecs trade in humor. Some of their answers are truthful; some are truthful in their absurdity. Historically, that humor has been confused with insincerity. (You could call it part of a larger cultural myopia, where “seriousness” and “truth” is conflated with “sad” and “morose.” But that’s another essay for another time and certainly another band.) Mischief makes for high art. Somewhere along the way, that message was lost. It’s why, in an hour-long conversation about a band about to put out their major-label debut, there were more than a few miscellaneous detours. In that time, Les revealed that she’s gotten into Yu-Gi-Oh! and learned a few magic tricks. Brady says his now-famous wizard hat stays on his head onstage due to some “Imagineer-level production behind the scenes,” but he can’t reveal more because he signed “an NDA… there are great minds at work making it happen.” The secret to stop tweeting? Les says it is “simply logging off and talking to people on Discord [in] one-on-one conversations,” instead of “screaming into the void.” What happens when we die? “The worms eat you,” Les says. “They light you on fire,” Brady counters. “I would like to be eaten by the worms,” Les continues. “Composted,” Brady adds. “Yup. Put me in a bucket, turn me into soil,” Les finishes the thought. It’s a nice one. The ecosystem continues. The world feels less chaotic. And perhaps, you turn into a tree?
[Photo by Chris Maggio]
IN LESS THAN 24 HOURS from the end of their conversation with AP, 100 gecs boarded a plane to New Zealand, where they kicked off a tireless tour schedule. When asked if they have any Lord of the Rings-themed touring to do, Les jokes that it’s not her thing. She’s more into “Elden Ring…there’s all [different] types of nerds.”
That there are: nerds who will connect with gecs, who will post on their Reddit forums and bring microwaves into their pits, nerds who will listen to the music on occasion, nerds who won’t get it at all. But that’s the glory about a band as triumphant as this: They are here, from the future in the present, if you so choose to participate. And if you don’t? Hey, well, that’s cool, too. Just don’t be surprised when they’re everywhere, continuing to confuse a whole new audience of listeners.