How can a sound blur the lines between an assault on the ears and our guiltiest pleasure? By daring to adopt music’s most shunned genres and cramming them all into a violent internet blender, 100 gecs are the product of our all-you-can-eat online culture. In 23, whiplash-inducing minutes, Laura Les and Dylan Brady chewed up every rule, and spat them out with their 2019 debut record, ‘1000 gecs’. It gives so few fucks, it scares people. Extreme music calls for extreme reactions. The idea of being ‘good’ just doesn’t excite them – but when you mention ‘fun’: that’s when they start listening.
I meet Laura Les and Dylan Brady on their home turf: the internet. Instantly, I know my Zoom game is not strong enough for our video call. “Sorry about my background,” Les says. It’s her bedroom chewed up by Microsoft Paint, all wobbly lines and garish primary colours. Brady’s is a shaky rendering of his trademark wizard hat. “Wait, I’ve got another good one!”, Les pipes up, cycling through her homemade backdrops. Every photo-op is the next step in their conquest to create the best (or worst) Cursed Image. Memes are as much a source of inspiration to 100 gecs as music.
There are roughly 2,000 miles between their respective homes in Chicago and LA – not to mention the further expanse of the Atlantic Ocean I add into the mix. But this is not at all unusual. Since meeting by chance at a house party in 2015, 100 gecs were an online entity. Their album was made entirely over email, with Brady leading the production and Les picking up the lyrics and vocals, which were often recorded shut in her closet. Being in the same room together at any point would be strange, to say the least.
It would seem that 100 gecs were always ten steps ahead. Their upcoming remix album, ‘1000 gecs and The Tree of Clues’ (initially titled ‘1000 gecs & th3 phant0m m3nac3’) promises reimagined tracks from ‘1000 gecs’, as well as previously unreleased tracks. Les and Brady released the stems for their debut album for their fans and friends to run wild with, which boasts features from high-flyers A.G. Cook and Injury Reserve (and rumours of some even more exciting features), while also giving a platform to gifted, underground producers among their fans. Even before lockdown against COVID-19 was widespread, the music video for the “ringtone” remix saw collaborators Charli XCX, Rico Nasty and Kero Kero Bonito appear as paper heads stuck to lollipop sticks. Distance was never an obstacle for 100 gecs – just another dimension.
“That’s what we were doing from the beginning,” Les explains. But they insist that their distance-defying dynamic wasn’t calculated. It was necessary. Dylan adds, “I think we were just working with the restrictions that we had to. It just ended up aligning this way. It’s not like we live far apart to try this wacky new idea. We take what we can get.”
You would think that lockdown would be easy for Les and Brady, whose way of working was already pandemic-proof. “I thought it would be easier,” Les confesses. “I thought it would just be like, ‘Whatever, I’ll just stay inside all the time’ – I do that anyway. But I miss everyone – I miss Dylan as a friend, not being able to hang out, or whatever. It sucks that when we log on to make music or an interview, it’s business. I mean, I’m thankful that I have my husband here to be with, but you know, other than that, I never fucking see anyone. It sucks that this is happening; it sucks for everyone. Yes, having time to do things is good; having time to be at home and having time to work alone is good, but you should have that anyway. Everyone should be able to have that anyway.”
For a duo best described as musical anarchists, they are surprisingly introverted. There is a sense of discomfort with the spotlight being thrust upon them when they never envisioned that 100 gecs would grow any bigger than their bedrooms. Explaining themselves doesn’t come naturally; the music would do that for them. Before 100 gecs, Les and Brady were working on solo projects which were whipping up an underground following on SoundCloud. Tracing their sound back to the source helps to dismantle the madness of 100 gecs: the most interesting folie à deux music has ever seen.
Les, under the moniker osno1, channelled her gender dysphoria, struggles with her transition and falling in love with her husband, the cartoonist Gabe Howell, through her EPs ‘i just don’t wanna name it anything with “beach” in the title’ and ‘hello kitty skates to the fuckin CEMETARY’. It was through these projects that she discovered her vocal style, inspired by nightcore edits which cropped up during the internet’s earliest days, speeding up both pitch and time. It was transformative for Les, who before couldn’t stand to listen to her raw vocals. It helped her sound like herself, and conveyed white-knuckled anxiety of her lyrics: “How to dress as a human / What, like a skirt, and, like, some heels? No, I look stupid / Is this how every human feels? / Better go with Vans / I’m never gonna pass.”
It was around this time that Dylan Brady’s name starts to crop up next to hers. “The energy was always there,” he explains. “Just in a different kind of way.” Brady’s own SoundCloud back catalogue is pretty extensive. Before Laura Les came on the scene, already, he had an instinct for infectious, blown-out beats that were bound to become earworms. Yet despite his maximalist style, Brady is prone to long, contemplative silences; if you ever wondered what was going on inside his head, it’s this: “What else am I supposed to do than make songs I like? I just don’t know what else to do.”
When they started working together, they never imagined that 100 gecs would exist in the real world. Their first shows as a unit were on Minecraft, cutting their teeth with their most outrageous mixes that fit perfectly into the game’s pixelated fantasy. Since then, they have played sets for 2018’s Coalchella and last year’s Fire Fest set in the Minecraft universe. Despite bringing their warped world to the mainstream, they still like to bring their sound to the server just as much as the stage. Since their Tree of Clues tour had been cancelled, they created a festival within the video game called Square Garden – and with that festival, an entire world. Les calls them “URL gigs”, and says, “I think now people are gonna see the good things about them, rather than just the necessity of doing them during a pandemic.”
“With Square Garden, specifically,” Brady explains, “it was the first time we had any major input because it was our show, so we got to design the world and what we wanted it to look like.” They fed these ideas to Open Pit, a team of people pioneering virtual events, who have been behind all of their shows. “They make it all super explorable and crazy,” he says. Before entering the show, there was a black screen with the text: ‘The crowd became too rowdy and you passed out in the pit. A fairy carries you to safety, as you begin to regain consciousness…’ – and that’s where it all begins.
The Minecraft shows are a must for disciples of 100 gecs. They play unreleased – and often entirely unheard – tracks on their set which otherwise would never see the light of day. Despite their debut album giving a crash course into Les and Brady’s frenetic mishmash of genres, from dubstep and trance, to screamo and indie pop, some of their best material can be found on these exclusive Minecraft shows. Every time, they keep their audience guessing: their Square Garden set throws in jazz and classic RnB beats for good measure.
I ask them about one of their most successful unreleased tracks, “toothless”. One fan says, in the YouTube comments: “This emo sound cloud trap hyper pop noise wizardry really fills my vacant ear niche.” It makes you wonder how many tracks like this they’re sitting on. “I think the last time I checked”, Les says, “we have 1,432 files that are started, but not mastered.” Brady adds, blankly – so it’s impossible to tell whether he’s joking or not – “so not massive.” Will tracks like “toothless” ever have an official home? They smirk, in that conspiratorial way siblings do, and holding their fingers crossed. “Yeah. Some of them, maybe”, Les hints, “If we’re feeling good that day, then we’ll do something with them.”
“People are like, ‘Damn, you work so hard!’, and I’m like, ‘Do we? Not as hard as you think!” Brady laughs. It’s harder to believe as he blinks sleepily on our 12pm call, no doubt from staying up until the early hours churning out ideas, or producing for his friends – the latest being “claws”, from Charli XCX’s record, ‘how i’m feeling now’. It doesn’t feel obsessive, to him, though, when it seems almost like a reflex. Les, however, is a self-confessed procrastinator, who prefers to nurture her projects. “I spend too much time eating sushi and plant burgers,” she explains. “That’s what I spend most of my time doing. Releasing music is about being able to afford sushi. Like, when I was releasing no music, my ability to buy sushi was way low – but now that we’ve released music, my ability to buy sushi is way higher. It’s a great feeling.”
Because 100 gecs are, in their own words, “super online” – something they parrot playfully from the words music critics’ trying to explain the gec phenomena – they have a tight relationship with their fans. Since announcing the remix album, and inviting fans as well as friends to get onboard, “we’ve hit up so many people and made connections, for sure”, Les says. Some of their favourites, they say, came from artists who were off their radar. Their devoted, albeit small, subreddit is just one platform where fans get together to share their 100 gecs shower curtain, memes and leaked material. “I love it! Everyone is just shitposting and doing dumb shit. That’s perfect,” Les says. People have made pilgrimages to the ‘1000 gecs’ tree, after Brady tweeted the latitude and longitude. “There’s lots of cool stuff under it right now,” Les adds. “There’s like a Minecraft strategy guide under it – and stuff. I won’t spoil it for you.” As it stands, there is a petition to make the tree the 8th wonder of the world.
100 gecs had spent a hectic three months touring the States for BROCKHAMPTON’s ‘Heaven Belongs to You’ tour in Winter, 2019 alongside Slowthai. But they go way back, Brady says. “I had known Romil, Dom and Kevin from five years ago, maybe? We made music before they all got superstar status and shit. So we kind knew each other already.” Back in the depths of Brady’s SoundCloud page, you can find “Trailing Some New Kill” featuring Kevin Abstract (of BROCKHAMPTON), and “When It’s Cold”, calling on the polished flow of Dom McLennon (also of BROCKHAMPTON). I tell them about a livestream Kevin Abstract had made while working on the collective’s potential upcoming album, ‘Technical Difficulties’. There is a clip of a track where he raps, “My music sounding crazier than 100 gecs”, which delights them. Though fans were excited, that’s still quite a tall order.
There are rumours that the new BROCKHAMPTON release, ‘Technical Difficulties’ (which Brady calls “Alex and The Technicolour Dreamcoat”) is just for fun. “They don’t make albums for fun”, Brady assures me. But Les interjects, “They should do it all for fun. I was working on something last week, or whatever, and it was just so not fun. Then, I was like, ‘I’m gonna make it fun’, so today, I made it fun. Everything sounds way better when it’s fun.” And how does she do that? “Stop caring about things that don’t matter.”
100 gecs’ sound is many things, and fun is right at the top of the list. With lyrics that sound like they came straight from someone’s tweet drafts (“Wakin’ up five in the morning, yeah/Throwin’ money in the oven, yeah / Fuck sleep and his cousin, yeah”) paired with a style which can only be described as a cardinal sin, Les and Brady bask in extremes. Because of the nerve – the complete, unashamed nerve – to create music that brutalises your ears with perfect intention, no wonder people ask, “Do people legitimately like 100 gecs or is it a meme?” In an attempt to make sense of it, the words “post-ironic” and “conceptual” get thrown about, but 100 gecs insist they have nothing to do with that.
“We don’t try to think of the ‘gec’ sound or the ‘gec’ thing to do, or whatever,” Les explains. “It’s just both of us doing what we do, and feeling what we feel, and not really trying to box ourselves in to anything.” They are completely okay with people reading into their work what they will – and if that means their album is a pastiche on internet culture, then so be it – but it was never their intention. “I mean a lot of people think that we just think, ‘We’re gonna make the wackiest, weirdest thing that we can’, but it’s just what sounds good.”
With what some could describe as bottom-of-the-barrel genres in their arsenal, and citing half-mocked artists like 30!3 and Skrillex as their influences, some could assume they just don’t give a fuck. It’s true, their music really is “everything we’ve ever heard in our entire life. It’s all our past experiences leading up to that one moment. We never were like, ‘Should we not do this because people think this is of low-brow music’”, Brady says. “We’re just making what we like, not really trying to do the thing that people sometimes do.”
The thing is, 100 gecs do give a fuck. They’re just selective about the kind of fucks they give. Unfortunately for you, your negative opinion of their music didn’t make the shortlist. Brady shrugs, “I’m not super hurt when people don’t like it, but it’s cool when people say they want to make music because of it. I care about the positive stuff – the negatives aren’t weighing on me. It’s cool to not like it, it’s fine.” They laugh, reminiscing about “hilarious” reviews of their album on Rate Your Music, even saving some of them to the notes on their phones. She recites their favourite, titled ‘the fuckin shit this website latches onto i swear to god’. “The really long, in-depth extreme ones are incredible,” Les says. “A goldmine, truly.”
Les and Brady are great collaborators. Having worked with the likes of BROCKHAMPTON, Charli XCX and Injury Reserve, it seems like anything is possible. “Maybe making a Disney movie”, Brady suggests. “That’s the pinnacle, really,” Les says. “We just wanna do everything on the sound side. Just give us a stripped-down Disney movie and we’ll do everything else. It would be beautiful.”
When they talk about their ambitions for future collaborations, Les says, “It’s gotta be bigger than Bieber.” Brady adds, “Bigger than Facebook.” They settle, at last, that it’s “gotta be bigger than Google.” He looks up how many employees the search engine has, and says that by the looks of things, 118,899 collaborations is what they’re aiming for. “I don’t know if we should say about the ones that are in progress. What do you think?” Les smirks. Brady reveals that they’re hoping to get in the studio with composer and saxophonist John Zorn and Les Claypool, frontman of iconic funk metal band, Primus.
When I ask where 100 gecs belongs in the wider landscape of music, Dylan answers instantly, in a deadpan tone, “The pop scene, with our contemporaries like Ed Sheeran and Skrillex.” Les smirks, “That’s the team, that’s the team right there.” They bounce off each other, like a game of who can spin a wilder story about what happened to their homework. Playing along, I ask if we can expect to see their remixes on the album. “They were busy,” Brady commiserates, “but we’ll get ‘em for the next one.” Les adds, “Actually, I asked Ed if he wanted to come over, but he said he was being conscious about the quarantine and stuff. He didn’t have the nerve, but maybe tomorrow.”
Their hopes for ‘100 gecs and The Tree of Clues’, however, are far more realistic. The reception, Dylan hopes, will be “similar to the reception of ‘Dark Side of The Moon’.”As always, his expression implies that he is deadly serious. Perhaps he is. Les’ expectations are far more modest: “I hope people listen to it, and they’re like, ‘This shit is fucking amazing!’ That’s what I want them to say, the first second into it. I want them to be like, ‘Wow, they took the best album ever and they did the best possible things that they could have to it. They got the best possible people and everything came together, and this is a 10/10 – my favourite album.” But it is simply ridiculous – just too far – when Brady says, “and then it spends 949 weeks at the Billboard 200.”