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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Enter 100 gecs — pop music’s logical conclusion

Like something out of a warehouse in early 2000s East Berlin.

Do you remember the first time you heard something that would change everything? One can only imagine the sensation of Beatlemania, of experiencing Woodstock, of living in the Bronx during the rise of hip-hop. There is a palpable sense of weight, of a heftiness that underscores its cultural relevance. I was lucky enough to experience one such moment of significance during an outdoor Radiohead show; when the rain began to fall during “True Love Waits,” I proceeded to cry like a big Jewish baby. Another came during a Mild High Club show on Halloween, when a costume-filled dancefloor erupted into chaos after the band covered Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues.”

My most recent life-changing listen came when I left my house for my daily government-sanctioned walk a few weeks back. A friend was blowing up our group chat, one that was usually reserved for article sharing and illegal streams of hard-to-find ’80s anime. He sent a link which led to a song called “money machine” by 100 gecs. Almost immediately, I was floored.

The irony of these impactful musical moments, ones that carry this weight to them, are that they give an incredible sense of lightness to the listener. In the case of 100 gecs, it feels as if walls are being torn down, as if the ball has finally unhinged from its chain. “money machine” begins with what sounds almost like a country-inspired guitar riff, albeit deep-fried and processed, sitting next to the opening lyrics of “hey, you little piss baby/you think you’re so f-cking cool?/you think you’re so f-cking tough?/you talk a lot of big game for someone with such a small truck!”

And this is when the beat drops. The track sounds as if it’s becoming rapidly infected, with an array of industrial snares and basslines, ones that speed up as the vocal delivery does. After about a minute and forty seconds, the track creeps into darkness, maligning itself with screamo elements before ending abruptly. 

But the most insane part? It is perhaps one of the most danceable tracks I have heard in a long, long time. The chorus of “feel so clean/like a money machine” genuinely makes you want to bust a move, and not one that would propel you to the top of TikTok either. Indeed, this is part of the charm of 100 gecs and a factor in their musical clout. It feels like they are everything an act in the algorithm age isn’t: honest, natural and most of all, barely marketable. 

There are no studio executives sitting around a table in Hollywood, drinking Icelandic glacier water, already late to a cryotherapy appointment, bickering about how to get these guys on Spotify’s Hot New Finds playlist. The sonic elements, as well the 100 gecs’s nomenclature, defy this wholeheartedly. I mean, can you imagine trying to pitch a track called “xXXi_wud_nvrstop_UXXx” to a board room at Universal? It is refreshing to see a band stay this true to their vision. 

After “money machine,” I decided to queue “1000 gecs,” the band’s debut album. I was rattled by one track, but an entire collection of them had me absolutely shook. “800 db cloud” begins with a beautifully tender vocal-piano combo and quickly accelerates to a pace that features elements of hardcore, drum ‘n’ bass and the most electrifying, pure punk guitar riffs and distorted vocals. It sounds as if a demon possessed the last quarter of the track, as if those warnings of playing albums backward for fear of conjuring Satan were actually true. Again, the vision of 100 gecs is so unique and so clear, it is undeniably exciting and enticing.

 My personal favorite, “hand crushed by a mallet,” opens sounding like something out of a warehouse in early 2000s East Berlin. A rapid eurobeat is jolted awake by autotuned vocals, infused with a bit of dancehall as it goes on, and finally, an exceptional bassdrop that is incredibly danceable. The last line of the track, fittingly, is “if I wasn’t me/I’d copy me, too.” 

As the album goes on, you begin to understand more and more of the vision that Laura Les and Dylan Brady, the duo behind the project, are crafting. All they really want to do is have fun with music, to create sonic landscapes that they would enjoy playing around in. The only instrument I play is kazoo, but I’ve been lucky enough to sit in on bands practicing and warming up. They too, like to have fun with their output. The track “I Need Help Immediately” is a testament to this. 

This is the most interesting track I have come across in a very long time, sonically speaking. Not because I jam out to it or because I’ll never skip it, but because it made me take pause. “I Need Help Immediately” is a smorgasbord of various musical stylings, a vignette of different sounds and effects that lasts almost a minute and a half. It sounds like playing around on a casio keyboard or a pirated copy of Ableton. It is, in so many ways, the sounds of “the process. It is completely okay if you don’t like it, or if it doesn’t scratch the dopamine receptors in your brain. Because it is exactly the sound of trying to get to that place — something every musician has to tackle at the beginning of a piece. 

100 gecs are blowing up, with pop juggernaut Charli XCX and alt darling Kero Kero Bonito hopping on a remix of their track “ringtone.” They are moving fast, and that’s awesome. They deserve it. With the recognition they get, the more that cultural weight mentioned earlier grows. But I am begging that the hype machine, the countless algorithms and vast corporate interests don’t take away from the most interesting musical act of the decade so far, just to market some form of “anti-pop” or “alternative lifestyle music.” Please. Just let the listeners have this. 

Brady and Les feel as if they are cultivating an era of intersectionality through their music, through their blurring of genre, their world building and their rejection of anything but their own vision. (Which includes always having fun in the booth.) They usher a renaissance in the world of pop that must be noticed — lest you fall to the cultural wayside for ignoring them. They will be no doubt ones to watch. In many ways, the logical conclusion of pop music could very much sound like 100 gecs. 

Written By: Ilya Shrayber — arts@theaggie.org


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