For many US musicians, the height of ambition is winning a Grammy award. More ambitious performers might aim for an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony). Bur, for the electronic duo 100 Gecs, only a PENOGT will suffice. “Pulitzer, Emmy, Nobel prize, Oscar, Grammy, Tony,” singer-instrumentalist Laura Les explains over video call. I haven’t heard that acronym before, I say. “We coined it, and it’s testament to our own ambition: there isn’t even a word for the shit we want.”
To those familiar with 100 Gecs, these aspirations might sound a tad inflated; some feel that the duo’s futuristic hyper-pop is too lo-fi, too entrenched in internet culture and unloved genres of the 90s and 00s (think chiptune, Nintendocore, German techno embarrassment Scooter), to be conceived of as anything but niche – so much so that the pair were accused, particularly at the start of their career, of being deliberately ironic, a postmodern inside gag. “It’s not a joke,” the band’s other half, producer Dylan Brady, reaffirms.
In fact, 100 Gecs’s uniquely skewed vision and gonzo sound has become increasingly influential. The uniquely divisive pair were the biggest buzz band of 2019. Their distinctive, energy drink-fuelled mashup of dubstep, ska, trance, forgotten Myspace synthcore and heavily distorted Auto-Tuned vocals on last year’s confusingly titled debut album 1000 Gecs (the follow-up to 2016’s self-titled, self-released EP) took the group to the top of many end-of-year lists. To the New York Times it was consistently “exhilarating”, while Dazed likened entering “their exaggerated realm” to “taking an acid bath at Tom & Jerry’s”. Vice named it its album of the year, concluding that “you just have to turn yourself over to it and embrace the chaos”.
After a few hyped gigs and shows held on the popular online game Minecraft – according to Les, you create a 20 minute-long file of your music and “they stream it while you fuck around in Minecraft” – Gecs were ready to fully take their digital art project into the physical realm in 2020. Alongside the late-spring release of their remix album, 1000 Gecs and the Tree of Clues, the band were supposed to play at Coachella, where this interview was going to take place. Instead, we speak on a split-screen video, with both members sat amid recording equipment, 凯发官网网址多少homemade artwork and cans of Red Bull.
The pair, now in their mid-20s, grew up in neighbouring suburban towns just outside of St Louis. The sounds of their teenage years are in the DNA of Gecs: Brady loved ambient music such as Burial and the Warped Tour metalcore likes of Attack Attack! and I Set My Friends on Fire, while Les listened to dubstep and her dad’s classic rock. That’s all present in the pounding 90s trance of xXXi_wud_nvrstop_üXXx (the title a typical nod to the garbled early-internet aesthetic). It is especially evident on the ludicrous Stupid Horse, which morphs from ska to school-disco silliness to a ripping guitar solo. Tellingly, Les only learned guitar as a teenager so she could deconstruct other people’s songs before re-animating them into bold new shapes.
They originally met at a house party in 2012, but a jealous Les left after hearing a song Brady had made with someone else. Over the following years, Les moved to Chicago and Brady to LA, but they bonded tightly from a distance, sharing music and dabbling in creating together. In 2019 they decided to make a full-length record under the Gecs name.
Les, who still lives in Chicago with her husband, has spent lockdown watching The Sopranos for the first time, and Brady is apartment-bound in LA with his girlfriend. “I’ve been whittling,” he says. “I made my girlfriend a strawberry and a jalapeño pepper.” They’ve found other ways to boost their profile during lockdown, hosting a charity Minecraft festival called Square Garden, the same as their previous Minecraft shows but with a blocky digital venue for players to jump around in. Many contributors to the remix album showed up, including Charli XCX, whose recent album featured two raved-about tracks that were produced by Brady.
Les does the majority of the speaking for the pair, who look like bottle-bleach blond twin siblings in band shirts – Brady interjecting mostly to confirm her statements with the word “true” – but they often head off on tangents incomprehensible to outsiders. The band’s writing process, which Les describes as “sort of an exquisite corpse type thing”, consists of sharing Logic audio files back and forth, taking on the labour 50:50 with ease despite being in different US states. “We just keep adding more shit on to it as we go along.” This is the first group project for Les, who previously released solo music under the moniker osno1, with nightcore vocals – pitch and tempo sped up by 10-30% – about her lived experiences as a trans person. “I’m very possessive with music,” she says. “I wouldn’t have wanted to start a band with anyone other than Dylan.”
The nature of the mashup of sounds has meant the past year has consisted of critics and fans dissecting their project. “It’s so flattering, I think, that people would even care enough to go deep into it,” says Les. But has the flipside meant people have got them wrong? “The ironic thing is the biggest non-true thing,” Brady pipes up. Les agrees: “We’re not doing this to be ironic. The opposite resonates as really true. There are people who say: ‘They’re just expressing a love for music, all sorts of different kinds.’”
If 1000 Gecs was the logical conclusion of the late-2010s’ post-genre experimentalism, the remix album is that worldview taken to its absurdist extreme. It is the sound of every musician in your iTunes forced to work together. Or an already-boiling circuit board fizzing and snapping as it sets itself alight. They decided to make it after releasing stems to their songs for fans to remix, and included some of those contributions on the album; Brady in particular loved seeing his music “shredded and sucked into the internet in a crazy way”.
So 1000 Gecs and the Tree of Clues was very much made in this spirit of collaboration. Highlights are the deadpan presence of Charli XCX on Ringtone and a joyous vocal introduction to Hand Crushed By a Mallet by Patrick Stump of emo greats Fall Out Boy (“That one was shocking, I thought there was no way he’d do it … Absolute madman,” says Brady).
What does the remix album add to their bizarre experiment? “We were building the extended Gecs cinematic universe,” says Les proudly. While fans search for clues on the remix album, Gecs will write new music for rescheduled 2021 shows. They will also be online considering their newfound platform, and the responsibility that comes with that.
“We just do our best not to be jerks,” says Les. “If we can push that agenda, that’s a good agenda: don’t be a dick – and we can try to live up to that.” The PENOGT surely awaits.
1000 Gecs and the Tree of Clues is out this summer