The batshit album that explains how 2019 feels

An interview with 100 gecs about their exhilarating debut record, a post-internet mishmash of genres and modern emotions.

The batshit album that explains how 2019 feels

An interview with 100 gecs about their exhilarating debut record, a post-internet mishmash of genres and modern emotions.

1000 gecs, the debut full-length record from the duo 100 gecs, might be charitably described as “obnoxious.” Though Apple Music describes it as “pop,” the record is rife with Myspace-emo autotune, 3OH!3-indebted vocal inflections, dubstep drops, and even a bonafide ska song — the sort of aural reference points that, traditionally, hipsters wouldn’t have been caught dead with. (Even so, it received a 7.4 rating from Pitchfork.) All of its myriad musical elements are fashioned into what sounds like if an album was a neon-colored Twitter feed; a shoehorned democratic leveling of the playing field between what are, on paper, utterly incompatible sonic ambitions.

There’s a jarring contrast between the restlessly shapeshifting beats and cavity-inducing autotune sweetness, but the headrush of 100 gecs cuts against any ingrained notions about how music is supposed to logically function. Like the act of thumbing through Instagram, TikTok, or Tumblr, the addiction stems from the guarantee that something fresh and exciting will come with each new scroll or click. And with 10 songs in just 23 minutes, 1000 gecs provides an endless stream of dopamine hits through its vault of saccarchine hooks, splashy instrumentals, and alternately absurdist and sentimental lyrics.

Cultural authorities have been unpacking the concept of “post-internet” art since the early ‘10s. The tag, as it relates to music, was defined in this 2015 VICE article as “music written after the internet [has become] as much a part of everyday life as electricity or indoor plumbing.” (In other words, music that’s born of an era in which online life and “IRL” are totally interchangeable.) For the last few years, the experimental pop music of Grimes and the London-based art collective PC Music have been the common reference points for that broad and inherently interpretive aesthetic. Perhaps the most quintessential manifestation of the post-internet sensibility is the genre of vaporwave, a musical movement of collecting found sounds from pre-internet eras and filtering them through a YouTube playlist lens.

“It’s such a part of our life. The biggest part, maybe.”
100 gecs’ Dylan Brady on the internet

1000 gecs is the most up-to-date version of the post-internet songwriting operating system. Unlike vaporwave, every audible reference on 1000 gecs is to a previous generation of the internet’s brief yet seemingly eternal lifetime (message alert noises, clever puns about the music software Ableton Live, nods to half-a-dozen subgenres from the last 10 years). Beyond that, nearly every song on the album contains lyrics about living everyday life through their phones. But for the producers/singers behind the project, 25-year-old Dylan Brady and 24-year-old Laura Les, their art isn’t some lofty comment on the Extremely Online age. It’s simply a byproduct.

“We’re both incredibly into the net so I feel like it’s impossible for us not to [sing about it],” Brady told The Outline over the phone, from his home in Los Angeles. “It’s such a part of our life. The biggest part, maybe.”

“I spend so much time on YouTube or on SoundCloud just looking at neato things,” Les added, calling from the apartment in Chicago where she recorded all of her vocals for 1000 gecs and produced all of her music. (The division of labor, between vocals and production, was handled 50-50 between the two.) “So I feel like it’s certainly warped my brain in a way where I would have to have some of that vibe present in something I’m making.”

The two met around 2010 at a house party in their home city of St. Louis. At the time, Brady was making a name for himself as their local music scene’s premiere producer, while Les was still self-recording “knock-off Wavves shit” in her bedroom and just beginning to dabble in electronic production. Someone at that party asked Brady to put on his latest track, and Les immediately felt both viscerally jealous and inspired. Unlike the other musicians in their scene, who were more interested in covering Red Hot Chili Peppers songs, Brady actually sounded like the professional producers they were listening to on SoundCloud.

“I left the party because I was like, ‘This motherfucker. I have to go home and make music right now because this dude is absolutely killing me,’” Les remembered. “I’m very competitive. I’ve worked on it over years and years but at the time I heard the track and I was like, ‘I have not made shit. I have never done anything in my life.’”

Eventually, the pair reconnected and began sending each other tracks. While cutting their teeth in the trenches of experimental SoundCloud pop, they linked up in the winter of 2015 and banged out the eponymous 100 gecs EP. Les claimed the name of their group originates from a mishap with an online gecko retailer, in which she was shipped 100 live geckos instead of the one she ordered. (It was impossible to tell from her tone if she was being serious, but let’s just agree it’s a great origin story.)

Although they planned to follow up the EP, they couldn’t find the time up until this year due to their ongoing musical commitments. (A few months before 1000 gecs, Brady signed to Diplo’s label Mad Decent and is now credited as a co-producer for a track on the upcoming Charli XCX album.) In January, the two were asked to do a joint set at the second-ever Minecraft Fire Festival, a virtual music festival in which Minecraft users congregate in one specific server to hear DJs perform in real-time. Brady and Les produced a few new songs for that set, and it was so much fun that they continued working together off and on throughout the year until they had enough material for what would become 1000 gecs.

“It was very shooting from the hip,” Les said of their process. “Very much almost an improv mentality.” Since the two were each situated in their respective cities, they say that 80 percent of the album was constructed via email. Les recorded all of her vocals on a mic in her closet, and the two exchanged Logic files and built off of one another until they were satisfied with the 10 tracks. Therefore, virtually everything about 1000 gecs— from the digital music festival that spurred its creation, to the duo’s creative process, to the actual sound itself — is a direct result of being on the internet and the democratization that home recording and self-releasing provides. “It’s hard not to sound like an untrained singer yelling over homemade beats when that’s literally what you’re doing,” Les joked.

Even their lyrics read like excerpts from someone’s Finsta account, as they leap erratically between quasi-ironic shittalking to earnest oversharing. Their lead single “money machine,” quite possibly the strangest pop earworm of 2019, opens with the line “Hey, you lil piss baby,” before Les disses the size of a prospective lover’s arms and their truck, and then threatens to ghost them after they text her “I love you.” The digital excommunication is the climax of her beautifully bizarre tirade, but Brady’s verse that follows is a sincere lamentation on how his obsessive work ethic is fueling his isolation and insomnia. “800db cloud” features a messy-on-the-main-account verse from Les in which she considers throwing her phone in a lake to avoid confronting her relationship tumult, and dishes out the questionably sincere line, “I’m addicted to Monster, money, and weed, yeah.” The song “ringtone” is literally about the flurry of happiness we get from hearing our crush’s ringtone, and the despair that same noise conjures when things turn sour.

What 100 gecs capture so acutely on this album is the tension between the ambient melancholy of the online generation and the way we use the social tools themselves to drown the negative feelings they cause. They sing about a cultural lifestyle in which the uncomfortable parts of navigating a relationship are exacerbated by the actual means of communication. It’s not just the breakup that makes them feel dejected; their anxiety from the drop in phone notifications amounts to an additional stab of loneliness. (Or, as Brady articulates in the bouncing closer “gec 2 Ü”: “I don’t know how to be alone / I’m always looking at the phone / waiting for your call.”) All of this is happening in tandem with eruptive beats and blissful vocal trills, mirroring the ephemeral mood-boosts provided by memes and “likes” on our selfies during those periods of anguish.

“We’re just trying to be completely earnest — even if we’re being silly I think we’re being earnest.”
100 gecs’ Laura Les

However, similar to someone off-handedly shooting off a tweet about their own experience and watching it blow up, 100 gecs are literally just writing for themselves. “I think it’s a comment on our own social media behaviors more so than trying to be some big social commentary,” Brady said. Les added: “I think a lot of people read that into the album. They think that it’s a grand statement about the internet. If there is something like that there it’s just because that’s how we are. We’re just trying to be completely earnest — even if we’re being silly I think we’re being earnest.”

The musical palette they pull from is also wired with the boundary-breaking earnestness of the internet age. They borrow equally from cool indie kid and Hot Topic scene kid genres, blurring the line between deep irony and unflinching embrace until the separation appears to have never existed. Brady casually remarked that John Zorn’s experimental grindcore project Naked City (the only pre-Myspace act they mentioned) was as much of an influence as the pioneering auto-tune pop of Breathe Carolina and their post-hardcore constituants I See Stars. “I used to listen to that — not that I don’t anymore,” he said. “But that was definitely my shit in high-school.”

Skrillex, Bassnectar, and that whole wave of early ’10s dubstep, which was either attacked or completely ignored by the same critical class who’ve surprisingly taken to 100 gecs, was also big for the duo. And Les said specifically that her early-twenties instinct to disown her teenage favorites was something she was thinking about during the making of this album. “I used to be such a big 3OH!3 fan and then I think for two years maybe I was like, ‘Man, 3OH!3’s not cool, that’s just whatever.’ And now [I] just went to go see them a few months ago when they came back around. I was like, ‘This is this shit, why the fuck would I ever say that 3OH!3 was not the sickest?’”

“I think if [1000 gecs] helps people rediscover some shit that they liked at one time and then thought that they didn’t, and they listen to our album and they’re like, “Man, I love Skrillex,” I’m not disappointed with that reaction,” Les said. “If it gives them a reminder that dubstep is cool then I’m happy with that.”

1000 gecs sure does feel like a circuit-bending moment in time — the only sort of goop our neurons will be able to process once we’ve lived through this brain-breaking age of socio-political catastrophe and diminishing cultural attention spans. It’s an album that speaks to our era’s insatiable urge to put it all out in the open, whether that be flexing our unadorned love for dubstep-infused emo-pop, or our marriage-ruining obsessions with posting idiotic shit. If nothing else it might remind you that dubstep was cool after all, just as intended.

Eli Enis is a culture journalist based in Pittsburgh whose work can be found in Rolling Stone, Billboard, Entertainment Weekly, Vice, and elsewhere. He previously wrote about the podcast Running From Cops for The Outline.