There are so many things to love about 100 gecs’ “Money Machine” video that it’s hard to know where to start — precisely the point, no doubt, for an electronic pop duo eager to conjure the bewildering too-much-ness of the internet.
You can’t help but be grabbed by the song, a powerful jolt of oddball energy that layers highly processed vocals by the group’s members, Dylan Brady and Laura Les, over a throbbing post-dubstep jock-jam beat. Then there are the willfully tacky special effects that seem to be making light of (while only drawing attention to) the clip’s setting in a drab suburban parking lot.
Not least among “Money Machine’s” weird charms, though, is the fact that these two performers look so much alike — yet not exactly alike — as they stomp around in front of somebody’s tricked-out GMC truck, a stringy-haired visual embodiment of the internet’s endless array of fakes and copies.
“I’ve thought about that,” Brady, 26, said recently as he sat with Les, 25, in his windowless recording studio in downtown Los Angeles.
“Wait, I hope you don’t think you have to be blond,” Les said, turning to her band mate, with whom she also poses, both their backs to the camera, on the cover of 100 gecs’ irresistible debut, “1000 gecs.” “I didn’t mean to force you into dying your hair.”
“The universe forced me into it,” Brady replied with a grin. “If my hair was brown on the album, people might not have liked it.”
(Warning: video NSFW due to language)
As it is, people definitely like it. Released in May through Brady’s Dog Show label, “1000 gecs” — a happily turbulent 23-minute joyride — is ending the year as one of 2019’s underground sleeper hits, with millions of streams on YouTube and Spotify and prominent spots on an increasing number of best-of-the-year lists.
On Friday night 100 gecs will wrap a North American tour opening for L.A.’s Brockhampton with two concerts at the Palladium; the duo also has a sold-out headlining show Saturday at the Moroccan Lounge.
Much of the acclaim has focused on the album’s kaleidoscopic quality — the way it pulls from countless styles and genres, from emo to EDM to pop-punk to industrial, to make tracks that never stop mutating. “800db Cloud” begins in a winsome guitar-ballad mode, then erupts with grindcore screams; “Stupid Horse” is a zippy ska tune goosed by pummeling programmed drums.
Throughout “1000 gecs,” voices shift pitch without warning while beats suddenly slow to half-time (or, more often, accelerate to double-time). The result isn’t a streaming platform come to life — it’s six or seven of them come to life at once.
Yet 100 gecs — the name has something to do with an obscure internet joke about geckos — undertakes all this slicing and dicing with an undeniable pop flair. The hooks in “Money Machine” and “Hand Crushed By a Mallet” are as sharp as anything by the studio wizards who shape the Top 40. And the surprisingly tender words about the intersection of romance and technology stand out even in a track as busy as “xXXi_wud_nvrstøp_ÜXXx.”
“People think we’re just joking around,” said Les, who wore a baggy, blah-colored sweatshirt, her hair hanging in her eyes. “But this is extremely personal stuff.” As she spoke, she puffed frequently on a vape pen; Brady — dressed in a T-shirt that listed the “Top 10 artists who have played at the Fonda,” with 100 gecs ahead of Stevie Wonder and Metallica — kept absentmindedly wrapping a phone-charger cord around his fingers. “You can have a super-sad lyric on the most banger-type song,” he said.
The two met around 2011 in their hometown of St. Louis, where Brady grew up singing in a choir and Les got into songwriting after other hobbies made her feel “hollow,” she said. “Not that I was thinking about it that philosophically when I was 14.”
Both eventually moved away — Les to Chicago, Brady to L.A. — and studied audio engineering, though neither much enjoyed the education. “I had to leave a program because they thought I wasn’t dedicated,” Brady said between bites of a Chick-fil-A sandwich. With a shrug, he explained that he’d failed a portfolio review, then forgot to schedule a do-over.
Sending files back and forth online, the two made an EP together in 2016; Brady also went on to work on his own music and with the producer Diplo. For “1000 gecs,” they continued to collaborate long-distance, with Brady concentrating on production and Les, who still lives in Chicago, on lyrics and melodies. (Both of them sing on the album, and as with the haircuts, their voices aren’t always easy to distinguish.) Asked why they don’t live in the same city, Brady said it was a lot to ask someone to uproot her life and move across the country; Les said her decision to stay in Chicago was “a long story.” But in person they display an easy familiarity.
“I don’t think I have another friend as close as Dylan,” she said. “He was the maid of honor at my wedding.”
When they were finished with “1000 gecs,” which their pal Charli XCX has raved about, the two understood they’d created something special; they’re exacting in their thinking about how music works, as they showed when discussing songs by acts as varied as Death Grips and Charlie Puth. “His chords are fire,” Brady said admiringly of the latter.
Still, the positive reaction has been more than they expected after years of SoundCloud obscurity. Les said she’s struggled with the physical visibility of being a successful musician. “I don’t like my face super much, but I show it full-on in ‘Money Machine,’” she said. Several days after our interview, 100 gecs shot a video for “Hand Crushed By a Mallet” in which she wore a giant fly costume and Brady brandished a comically oversized sword. “I like making things,” she said. “But I’m not sure I myself want to be the product.”
Yet that’s the nature of pop, as they’re finding out on the road, putting themselves in front of paying audiences every night. Before the current tour, 100 gecs had played only a handful of shows, including the Fonda gig in August that led to Brady’s T-shirt — and which was preceded, they both admitted, by a week of intense nerves. Even now, they haven’t quite figured out how best to present their insanely complicated music onstage; for the moment there’s a lot of jumping around to prerecorded tracks — an effective strategy as the thrilling “Money Machine” clip makes clear, if one not built for endurance.
“We just want to make people feel good,” Les said. “And I just want to get out of my head.” Brady described plans to print up another shirt, this one counting down the greatest bands ever to play Madison Square Garden, as 100 gecs — obviously at No. 1 — was set to do last month with Brockhampton.
“I mean, we’re playing the theater, not the arena,” he said. “But it’s the same building.”
100 gecs with Brockhampton
When: 6 and 10 p.m. Friday
Where: The Palladium, 6215 Sunset Blvd.
When: 9:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Moroccan Lounge, 901 E. 1st St.
Tickets: sold out