100 Gecs – Divide and conquer

© William Child

Words by:

On first listen, you might mistake 100 Gecs’ music for a joke.

A jumble of internet humour, absurd lyrics and deliberately over-the-top stylistic clashes, the pair’s sound is challenging to even the most open-minded of listeners. Ever since the breakout success of their debut album 1000 Gecs last year, timelines across the world have been awash with speculation about whether or not the previously unknown band are for real. Their latest project 1000 Gecs and the Tree of Clues – a remix of their debut featuring guests like Charli XCX, A.G. Cook and Rico Nasty – has ignited the Gecs discourse once again.

“I think people can take it as seriously as they want,” Laura Les – one half of the duo – says over Skype alongside producer and songwriter Dylan Brady. “I’m saying all this dramatic shit but we’re not taking ourselves totally seriously, we just want to make incredibly dope bangers. We seriously want to make incredibly dope bangers,” she insists, somehow rolling her eyes using only her voice.

Having seemingly appeared overnight with an album that successfully blends influences as diverse as nightcore and ska-punk, 100 Gecs were destined to split opinions. Some heralded them as bold pioneers; turning pop music inside out with glee. Others were less kind, dismissing the pair as ironic music for ironic people, poisoned by the internet.

A little over a year later, it’s clear which side is winning. During the latter half of 2019, Les and Brady, propelled by an army of young, social-media-savvy fans, rose from niche curiosities to the breakthrough act of the year, ranking on album of the year lists and even supporting Gen Z’s greatest boyband, Brockhampton, on tour. “[It’s been] bananas!” Les tells me. “I feel [like we could do anything we wanted], I just bought a $200 pair of sunglasses. I’m feeling it. I didn’t [even] spend $200 on my phone!” It’s early March when I first speak to Gecs, and Les and Brady are in the studio celebrating the fact that 1000 Gecs has surpassed 1,000,000 plays on Spotify (many of their singles have now exceeded that number). “We have a bottle of champagne right next to us, no lie!” Les laughs.

“We’re not taking ourselves totally seriously, we just want to make incredibly dope bangers”

In-person – or on-Skype at least – the pair are friendly but not exactly forthcoming, with Brady offering short, direct answers and Les often couching hers with jokes. There’s a sense that they’d rather not dispel some of the mystique that’s got them this far. As our interview goes on, Les and Brady act like siblings in on an inside joke, a fact that’s emphasised by their matching bleach-blonde shoulder-length hair and their tendency to exchange knowing looks, or occasionally answer questions with cryptic responses that only the other would understand. They frequently veer off on tangents, with Brady at his most animated when teasing Les for using a non-recyclable water bottle; she responds by teasing Brady about his taste in film scores – he’s a John Williams stan, Les prefers Alan Menken.

© William Child

Both Les and Brady grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri. Now based in Los Angeles, Brady started making music properly after joining his high school choir and studying audio engineering at college. In the years since, he’s released music on Diplo’s Mad Decent label and landed production credits for the likes of Charli XCX, both on Charli and on the neo-pop star’s lockdown masterpiece how i’m feeling now. Les meanwhile lives in Chicago. She started playing music after getting her first guitar aged 13. Over the years her musical ambitions morphed from wanting to write songs for One Direction to creating haunted bedroom pop that revelled in a frenzied approach to genre and titling – her second solo EP is called i just dont wanna name it anything with “beach” in the titlethat foreshadowed the mischievousness of 100 Gecs.

For those unconvinced by their rapid ascent, Gecs’ tendency for irreverence could easily be misread as part of the act. Their reliance on Auto-Tuned vocals and liberal use of a 2000s cyber aesthetic has sometimes drawn comparisons, not always favourably, to the world of PC Music. And while scene pillars A.G. Cook, Hannah Diamond and Danny L Harle all feature on 1000 Gecs and the Tree of Clues, Les and Brady stress that, unlike some of the PC Music crew, they aren’t on a mission to make hyper-conceptual examinations of pop or ironic statements on nostalgia. “It wasn’t a conscious thing,” Les insists. “We were just trying not to limit ourselves on what we could do and make what we thought would be awesome.”

Thing is, Gecs have a tendency to draw on genres that remain stubbornly unfashionable, which doesn’t help their case. If, like Gecs, you came of age in the mid-00s, their debut album feels like being punched in the gut by your teenage obsessions. Screamo breakdowns give way to moments of jaunty happy hardcore, melodramatic dubstep drops precede soaring emo melodies. It’s as if the collective nostalgia of everyone in your year at school has been sucked into a wormhole and spat back out as a solid mass. Les refers to it as transmitting “some kind of emotion with incredibly dope bass drops”.

“It’s earnest, it’s not un-earnest. It’s completely sincere,” she explains later, sounding exactly that. In Gecs’ world, genres like pop-punk and dubstep – which have been sneered at by the mainstream and critics alike for the last decade – are cornerstones. They are unabashed about their love of Skrillex in the same way that fans dance to Crazy Frog at their shows. “It’s just a different way of expressing yourself,” Les concludes.

© William Child

“It’s indescribable having such a diverse cast of people that all totally bought into the idea of the remix album. It’s heartwarming to have such a large community”

The pair’s new remix album, 1000 Gecs and the Tree of Clues, comes out of that desire for expression. Featuring contributions from Tommy Cash, Kero Kero Bonito, Injury Reserve and more, the album takes the mania of their debut and amps it up. Like a game of musical consequences, the stems for 1000 Gecs were released out into a network of their friends, where peers and collaborators returned them distorted, reimagined and sometimes replaced entirely. “It’s indescribable having such a diverse cast of people that all totally bought into the idea of the remix album,” Les enthuses. “It’s heartwarming to have such a large community of people involved.” It wasn’t long before the pair were being contacted not only by fans but by musicians they’d never worked with before who wanted to take part. “I think Rico Nasty was the first person to contact us about doing an official remix and we were like, ‘Oh my god!’” gushes Les. “That was encouraging for us to get bigger people.”

You might think that inviting 21 artists to remix a 10-track album – especially one as infamously chaotic as 1000 Gecs – sounds like overkill, but Tree of Clues tells a different story. In taking their debut apart and putting it back together all over again, Les, Brady and their collaborators reveal that underneath the dramatic production, 100 Gecs have been writing some solid gold hits this whole time. Take the version of hand crushed by a mallet that features Craig Owens, gothic singer-songwriter Nicole Dollanganger and emo-titans Fall Out Boy, for example.

The original is a standout cut on 1000 Gecs, a slice of brooding rave that recalls Enter Shikari in its intro before transitioning into a half-sung, half-rapped R&B number. On Tree of Clues, it turns into a glorious scene kid anthem. Fall Out Boy singer Patrick Stump belts the opening hook, handing over to Owens and Dollanganger as a needle-sharp guitar solo rolls in.

© William Child

Listening to Gecs gush about working with their heroes on Tree of Clues, it becomes increasingly hard to believe that they’re doing all of this as some sort of big meta-joke. There’s no denying that irony plays a role in their music, but Les and Brady are clearly music fans as much as they are artists. When I mention the Fall Out Boy remix to the duo, they both light up. “We met with Pete [Wentz] on just a getting-to-know-each-other type vibe,” Brady explains before Les jumps in. “He asked if we were interested in doing things with people around him and we said, ‘Yes!’ Four days later we had the vocals…” she divulges between hits on a Juul.

“Dylan forwarded [the vocals] to me when I was in a room full of people and I made everyone stop talking and silenced the music. I just listened to the little clip of it and was like,” Les takes a deep breath before continuing, ‘OK.’” The adrenaline of that moment is still coursing through Les’ veins when we speak, but by her account, there was one person more excited by Stump’s contribution to the album than her: her husband. “He was freaked!” she laughs. “He’s the biggest Fall Out Boy fan in the world and has a [Wentz’s now-defunct clothing line] Clandestine Industries tattoo on him in the same place as Pete Wentz.”

Gecs’ own fans are equally obsessive. The online community surrounding the band devours anything even tangentially related to the duo as soon as it emerges, lovingly recycling their music and imagery into memes, fancams and a truly endless amount of shitposts. “It’s cool to think that there’s a community that has been built [around the music],” Les says, still in slight disbelief about it all. Reflecting on their tour, currently paused due to the pandemic, Les describes Gecs shows as wholesome get-togethers where they’d regularly spot the same faces in the crowd. “Watching everyone get down to Crazy Frog and Hamster Dance [at the shows] is super sick,” she beams. “Everybody is dancing together, it’s really nice.”

“There’s a lot of shit going on, but it’s all necessary”

1000 Gecs and the Tree of Clues also comes with a host of new Gecs visuals for fans to get stuck into. Alongside collaborator – and Brady’s former housemate – Mikey Joyce, the pair have created an extended universe around their music with recurring motifs, characters and now, with the arrival of Tree of Clues, an official lore. Half Dungeons & Dragons, half general internet weirdness, the 100 Gecs expanded realm is full of witch hats, haunted pine trees and all manner of demonic creatures. The artwork for Tree of Clues is a remix too, with the tree that graced the cover of 1000 Gecs now surrounded by mushroom people with hats made of flutes, a crescent moon with sharp, crooked teeth spilling out its mouth, a minotaur and fairies. One of the latest additions to the canon, created during lockdown, is rat fucker, an intensely creepy, pork pie hat-wearing, dancing rat.

In April, Gecs united their community and their visual universe at Square Garden, a Minecraft-hosted festival put together by Les, Brady and virtual concert experts Open Pit. Joined by many of Tree of Clues’ guests including Charli XCX, Kero Kero Bonito and A.G Cook, the duo bought their warped visuals to life in block form, constructing a giant castle, lavish gardens and rat fucker himself, on a custom server. On the night, fans with usernames like ‘lil comedown’ and ‘Bumbo Clumbo’ mingled virtually with artists in the hall of the castle, while others watching on the YouTube livestream spammed the comments with “trans rights” and enthusiastic requests for Space Unicorn, a song by children’s entertainer and Nerf Herder frontman Parry Gripp, who served as one of the opening acts.

© William Child

Les and Brady have been dabbling with the video game throughout their career – their first official show as 100 Gecs took place in a Minecraft festival – but Square Garden felt like the night the world caught up, a perfect representation of the global cabin fever which defined early lockdown. Over the course of a few hours, they raised over $50,000 for the charity Feeding America.

The deeper you get into Gecs’ world, the more all of this – Tree of Clues, Square Garden, the 100 Gecs expanded multiverse – starts to seem like validation for those who hailed the duo as the model for something new when they arrived last year. It might look ridiculous from the outside – frankly, a lot of it looks ridiculous from the inside too – but there’s no denying the sheer amount of effort that Les and Brady put into their projects or the amount of enjoyment their growing legion of fans takes from them. Compared to the vastness of Gecs’ world, questions about the duo’s ‘realness’ or claims that those who profess to “get it” are ironic trolls or bandwagon jumpers come across as petty, especially when you consider that they’re doing it all while self-releasing their music through Brady’s own label.

“There’s a lot of shit going on, but it’s all necessary,” Brady says as our conversation starts to wind down. He’s talking about his approach to production, but the line also serves as a wider statement of Gecs’ ethos. As their profile has grown and new opportunities have presented themselves, Les and Brady have taken them on gladly but carefully, ensuring that each addition to the Gecs arena enhances your experience of their music, rather than detracts from it. The reference points they choose to draw on might cause people to question their authenticity, but the enthusiasm surrounding the band – best evidenced by the roster of stars and buzzy newcomers on Tree of Clues – is undoubtedly sincere. 100 Gecs have created a world in which there’s no such thing as low-brow, one where the music you’re most ashamed of enjoying becomes something to celebrate and where veterans like Fall Out Boy can co-exist on the same album as some of the most future-facing pop talents around. Is it really that much of a surprise that so many people want to live in it?

Animation and modelling: William Child

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1000 Gecs and the Tree of Clues is out now via Big Beat/Atlantic Records

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