Pride

Skrillex Interviews 100 gecs About the Future of Music

Story by Matt Moen / Photography by Bryan Huynh

You'd be hard pressed to find a group in 2019 that made more old guard music critics and industry insiders clutch their pearls than 100 gecs. The collaborative project of producers Dylan Brady and Laura Les, 100 gecs released last year their iconoclastic debut album, 1000 gecs, and people haven't stopped attempting to explain its popularity ever since.

A dizzying mix of pop-punk, dubstep, ska, nightcore, deconstructed club, hyperpop and more are distilled into a tight, 23-minute barrage of unlikely anthems and aural non-sequiturs. From the rapidfire barrage of meme-able taunts that kickoff "money machine" to the gnarled distorted drops that punctuate the choruses of "xXXi_wud_nvrstøp_ÜXXx." 100 gecs brings a strange maximalism to a less-is-more mentality. It's information overload, but also viscerally fun — music that doesn't take itself too seriously, but should at the same time be taken seriously.

The world might have initially been caught off guard by 100 gecs' arrival, but by the end of the year the duo was opening for names like Brockhampton, landing on lineups for mega-festivals like Coachella and Primavera, and selling out their own headlining spots across the country. Their forthcoming remix album, 1000 gecs & The Tree of Clues, stands as a testament to Dylan and Laura's impact, with reimaginings of their tracks from Charli XCX, Rico Nasty, A. G. Cook, Dorian Electra and Injury Reserve.

(On Dylan) Jewelry: Alan Crocetti; (On Laura) Jewelry: Alan Crocetti, Dress: Y/Project

Part of the 100 gecs phenomenon does feel symptomatic of a Gen Z mindset. An accelerated reimagining of pop, 100 gecs' whiplash-inducing ability to cram iconic lyrics and instrumental acrobatics into a few seconds at a TikTok-like pace sets them apart from more established industry acts trying to keep up with a generation predisposed to creating infinite streams of content. There is a cynic tendency to see this as striving towards some sort of pop music singularity, but it's actually working to blur the arbitrary distinctions between genres in the interests of a more liberated future.

But 100 gecs wasn't made in a vacuum. They sit at the forefront of a new guard of producers who grew up hearing Crazy Frog and Eiffel 65's "Blue (Da Ba Dee)" on the radio; they came of age as blog house giants like Justice and Mr. Oizo gave way to EDM megastars like Avicii and Diplo; they were inspired by how A. G. Cook and SOPHIE pushed high gloss pop to new experimental extremes. Les herself is only the latest in a long line of trans and nonbinary artists like Arca and the aforementioned SOPHIE to use modulation and vocal effects to play with gender in their work. Now, it's this generation's turn to step up and shape the musical landscape.

It's telling that many new faces from this rapidly rising scene have already been taken in under Brady's wing through his own Dog Show Records with artists like Gupi, Fraxiom, Alice Longyu Gao and Folie rounding out the label's roster. On their breakout cult hit, "Thos Moser," Gupi and Fraxiom even go so far as to name-check 100 gecs and their infamous NYU performance singing that "the energy I felt there got me fucked now/ 'Cause now I think I might have some kind of luck now."

When considering the parallels between the rise of 100 gecs and Skrillex, it's almost uncanny. Both rocketed to stardom with a polarizing sound that unintentionally became a meme and its own genre, and both are basically unparalleled in their distinctive approaches to sound design. Like Brady, Skrillex founded early in his career the label, OWSLA, to support artists he believed in and foster a community around their music.

Naturally, it was fitting to bring all three together for 100 gecs' PAPER Pride cover to talk about music, fame and a bunch of other random shit.

Skrillex: The first time we met and I actually walked in on the very tail end of your performance opening for Brockhampton in LA. I was so bummed because your album was one of the most exciting things that happened in the whole decade. I really mean that.

Dylan Brady: Thank you so much, that means a lot.

Laura Les: That means everything.

Skrillex: I appreciate it on so many levels. It's so 2020, but at the same time, it's unpredictable. Like hearing the album, hearing all the influences, I think it's one of the most exciting projects in the decade. I know it sounds crazy, but that's just my personal opinion.

Dylan: Thank you so much.

Laura: Obviously we think the fucking world of you as well, when you were talking about the influences, like you are a huge part.

Skrillex: I assume we have similar [approaches]. For instance, I came out doing stuff that was taking this and that, not even being a master at any of it, but just being unhinged and going at it. Like taking trance, dubstep, emo, my vocals and not even knowing what I was doing, but feeling so inspired in the moment and just going 110% without looking back. I just want to say that as my personal quick little love for you. Now back to the questions, let's start with Dylan. Dylan, how are you feeling?

Dylan: A mixed bag, for sure. But feeling pretty good today. There's been a lot of things happening in the world. Hard to take in.

Skrillex: I watched this little MTV clip you both did. You were just talking about how so much has been going on, I don't feel like fucking writing a song. I don't have something to say [right now]. That rang really true to me. I feel the same way. It doesn't matter, like fuck your Grammys, fuck your status, fuck your followers.

"What we try to do is be honest, give ourselves to the thing that we're doing and not feel like we have a persona as much as just being ourselves." — Laura Les

Dylan: Yeah, definitely. A lot of people are coming together right now. It's really cool to see. It's not about all this other stuff that seems kind of meaningless right now. Very real life human lives. We've moved [the remix album] back multiple times because of all these things, it just doesn't feel right to do it yet. It's no rush.

Skrillex: Yeah, for sure. Laura, how about you? What's your perspective on what it's like to be an artist. And do you feel like myself, do you feel human as shit right now? Does it feel weird thinking about campaigns and stuff like that? How do you feel?

Laura: Definitely. Like Dylan said, we've been trying to be as human as possible with all of it and taking into account, who wants to hear this fucking remix album right now? Who wants anything other than complete attention on the things that matter? I feel like it's going to be a weird transition going back to whatever, even before this time of intense humanity, there's this stark difference in life and public perception from before the album to now. When it's getting promoted on people's social media feeds and stuff, there's sort of a loss of humanity to it. Definitely trying to reconnect with what matters.

Skrillex: To me y'all are the definition of humanity. When I see your art, hear your music, it's just so connectable in so many ways. To me, you are so human.

Laura: Thank you, I take that as a huge, huge compliment. What we try to do is be honest, give ourselves to the thing that we're doing and not feel like we have a persona as much as just being ourselves.

Skrillex: Right. You use big music and it speaks for itself, right? The art, the vision and the sound, it all creates this image of 100 gecs.

Laura: Hopefully. You saying that makes it feel like it works.

Skrillex: I'll ask you two this: what was the record that you put on and never were the same after? For me, it was for me it was Siamese Dream, which was a Smashing Pumpkins album, it was the first time I heard the sound of a distorted guitar.

Laura: The crazy thing, probably, if I had to pick one song, it would probably be "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites." It changed everything. This mix of fucking, just extreme energy and maybe even aggression, but not aggression for aggression's sake, aggression to be real because life is fucking crazy. It's a hot banger aside from the insane sound design. I think that really that was a huge, maybe the biggest, a-ha moment.

Dylan: That was a huge moment for me too like, fuck.

Laura: I'm so glad I got to go first.

Dylan: Stevie Wonder "Close to You," The Carpenters cover on YouTube, that was pretty big. Frank [Ocean] ended up sampling that on his album.

Skrillex: Okay, I know The Carpenters and obviously I know Stevie Wonder, but I hadn't seen that.

Dylan: It is a great, great clip.

All Clothing: Rick Owens

Skrillex: What about it?

Dylan: Just things that are vocal-ish, but aren't really vocals, I love that. Like the early Eiffel 65 shit, all that autotune stuff. Then the Talk Box was a completely different thing that I'd never seen. Just vocal fuckery in general.

Skrillex: Can we talk about how our ears have been conditioned to autotune. Do you remember listening to Cher and hearing, "Do you believe..."

Dylan: Yeah, like the one second.

Skrillex: But now when you listen to it, you can't even hear the autotune.

Laura: It's funny because you definitely hear it with the Disney remakes that they've been making. It's really stark, but I think nothing of super hard autotune type-shit. It makes me almost want to go to the softer one just because it's even more apparent now.

Skrillex: Justice's Cross was also a crazy moment.

Laura: Justice's Cross was fucking massive for me, as well.

Dylan: Yeah. So fucking crazy.

Skrillex: Oh my god.

Laura: Or the live album that they did, A Cross the Universe. They had one song on it, I tried to find it later but I couldn't figure out which song it was in, that has a Devo sample with these drill sounds. I was like, what the fuck? This is crazy. It reminds me of the Daft Punk live album where they do "Face to Face" into "Aerodynamic," but they have the vocal looping.

Skrillex: Or "Around the World" with "One More Time" at the same time.

Laura: Yeah, I wasn't going to DJ gigs or whatever. There was like Girl Talk, but I wasn't really hearing crazy artists mashing their own shit into each other.

Skrillex: I agree. Just seeing Daft Punk and Justice, that's why I wanted to get into it. I was DJing a little bit here and there, but I didn't want to go out and be a DJ. When I saw Daft Punk, exactly like you said Laura, [I was inspired by] how they mashed up their vocals together and created this new surprising twist.

Laura: While we're on this tangent of French shit, Mr. Oizo also. That was massive for me too. I'm trying to remember the specific names, not "Flat Beat" but "Positif." Several tracks off Lambs Anger, where it sounds coming at you and you're like, What's going on?

Skrillex: It's almost like you're scrolling through the radio the whole time, just random samples.

Laura: So beautiful. It's the same vibe I got with the vocal chops on "Scary Monsters," so fast and flashing and right in your face. It's definitely a vibe.

Skrillex: Thank you. Dylan, we put a project out on OWSLA with you and Josh Pan and we've obviously been friends for a while. I was just thinking the other day, about that time we went to Sunset Sound. I was like, Yo, I want to just get a cool studio, get a bunch of real gear and churn out samples. I've never done that. I heard Pretty Lights did that and Mark Ronson's done a lot of that stuff too. So that's what we did. We rented Sunset Sound, the Purple Rain room where Prince did "Purple Rain." Had the best gear, full drum sets, full keyboards, guitar, bass, everything plugged in and ready to go. And we were just jamming.

Laura: We Are Your Friends type-vibe.

Skrillex: Wait, We Are Your Friends, which one is that? Oh, that movie!

Laura: Yeah, he's like, I wanna make something real—.

Skrillex: That's funny. That's the one, the EDM thing they tried to do.

Dylan: That's the Zac Efron movie, yeah.

Laura: They're like 124 BPM—.

Skrillex: And he's like, "This is how you raise the BPM."

Dylan: The circulatory system.

Skrillex: Now that we had COVID and all this social distance, we should start like — I was talking to Gary Richards actually and I think he's doing this with HARD. I hope he does. But he wants to take the drive-in concept and do fun things. Like drive-in theaters, you know what I mean?

Laura: We had one of those in St. Louis. I remember going to it when I was super, super young. I would not watch the movie at fucking all. I was in the back of the car with my Gameboy. I was chilling.

Skrillex: Wait, you two are from St. Louis?

Dylan: Yeah. Originally.

Skrillex: And you have known each other for a long time. I don't even know — this is so lame — I don't know how you guys linked up and how the band started. Was it just online? Did you guys know each other in person?

Dylan: We met in high school and were just friends from high school.

Skrillex: So cool. So lame that I didn't even know that.

Laura: It's so lame you don't know our life story.

Skrillex: You guys just did everything online. Nothing you've put out you've done in the same room, right?

Dylan: Very little. We made some of the beats, but none of the vocals or anything.

Laura: Yeah. When we shot the "Money Machine" video, Dylan was here. So we did some shit. I still hate that all the time that you were [in Chicago], I couldn't get off work. I was so tired when we shot the "Money Machine" video. I had to work at five in the morning.

(On Dylan) Jewelry: Alan Crocetti; (On Laura) Jewelry: Alan Crocetti, Dress: Y/Project

Skrillex: What job were you working in the middle of all that?

Laura: It is a cross between a coffee shop and an empanada restaurant.

Skrillex: Sick.

Laura: It was fine.

Skrillex: So you're not working there anymore?

Laura: No, I'm not working there anymore. I was so excited when I figured out that I could probably quit my job. I was like, "Fuck yes!" I hate fucking serving rich people empanadas all the time.

Skrillex: Did you have any show that made you want to be a performer?

Laura: Yeah, for sure. Well, it's funny because the two super memorable shows from St. Louis that I saw, my first concert was seeing Van Halen when they went back on tour with David Lee Roth and I was really into classic rock and Dylan was at that show. We didn't know each other. Then the other super good one that was crazy live vibes was seeing Death Grips in a really tiny room. Dylan was also at that.

Skrillex: Laura, you were mentioning how there's this whole like personification and there's like two different — I want you to keep expanding on that.

Laura: I was saying that it's a really odd sensation to notice the shift from a year ago to now where there's been such a saturation and a popularity with our music. We're not fucking Bieber, but people are so much more comfortable to talk about, and to us, as these crystalline identities rather than just as people.

Skrillex: I hadn't heard that term before, "crystalline identities." Can you explain what that means?

Laura: I don't want to make it seem like, Boohoo, we're so famous that it's so hard. But it's definitely something that develops over time that people feel like they know you much more than they actually do. I had a conversation with someone that was really helpful with those feelings because he put it into terms like that. I was like, Damn, that's fucking true.

Skrillex: [It happens] all of a sudden and you don't even notice it. That was a lot for me to adjust to even in my first band, when you read stuff, they really just don't know you. It's a weird sort of bump, but you get over it. They're going to say things, they're going to talk about it. It's crazy to think that outside of music people are interested in my life and think they know about it.

Laura: A jarring, weird thing is people record our Instagram lives now. Because I always think of that as more of an intimate moment. I was changing guitar strings or something and seeing that on somebody's YouTube channel, that's so fucking weird.

Skrillex: Right? Like the fandoms.

Laura: At the same time you don't really want to complain because it's flattery and good, this idea that what you've done at least warrants that attention. But also damn, I didn't realize the album was that fucking good?

"Eventually want to be selling out Madison Square Garden. I don't know what's going to be in between that." — Dylan Brady

Skrillex: It's never the thing you're just trying to premeditate that is going to be the biggest thing. That goes back to being human. What connects to people naturally is your most natural, real essence. That could be stretched out in 15 years, it could be Avatar and you're fucking James Cameron taking that long to make it. But it's still his pure vision. I think more than ever in critical moments, what are people going to care about? It's bigger than music, you know?

Laura: Don't want to be bigger than music. Definitely just want to be music.

Skrillex: I started to tell a story and then I veered off. Ultimately, when I saw Daft Punk play live, I walked into that room and I saw the most diverse crowd of my whole life. That was the moment I realized, This is where I want to be, because I'd rather it be not about me and be in about the best room ever, where everyone's having a good time. Everyone's smiling.

Laura: It's real for sure. We've talked to a lot of people after shows and people say stuff like they don't usually come to shows, they don't feel comfortable going to shows a lot, but they'll come to our show, get together and everybody fucking dances to "Hamster Dance" before the set starts. That shit's amazing.

Skrillex: That's what I love about you, there is that fun. I don't wanna say there's a silliness to it, but it is silly kind of — and I love silly, I have a silliness to my music. — But "arms like little fucking cigarettes," I love that. It pulls you out for a second. That's that human stuff. Would you ever let me come out as a guest guitar player on one of your songs live?

Laura: We would encourage that. Yes, of course.

Skrillex: I'm going to be that dude, 10 years from now, that everyone's like, Ugh, him again, screw him. Just coming out on people's sets with guitars.

Laura: I've told Dylan many times that I think my late career is just a bassist in some kind of fucking rock band, like a bassist-singer-songwriter.

Skrillex: You can hang by the drummer, don't have to warm your voice.

Laura: I'm like, Yo, what song do you guys want to hear? They're like, Play "Money Machine." I'm like, Damn, I haven't heard anyone say that in fucking years.

Skrillex: So in terms of performing, concerts and how we get ourselves out there in the new [post-COVID-19] world of live music, have you thought about that? Where do you see the future as a dreamer? 100 gecs? A thousand gecs? A bajillion gecs? A whole bucket of gecs? What do y'all think about the future in those terms?

All Clothing: Rick Owens

Dylan: It would be crazy if people can't go back to doing normal festivals. It'll definitely be crazy fucking URL shit though. The Travis Scott shit.

Laura: In general it seems like we're all not necessarily going to go straight online, but this mix of trying to bring more technology into the real world. Not logging on, but you're always logged in, type of thing. Maybe something like that.

Skrillex: We know that right now in paradigm shifts, empires crumble, institutions change, right. The power goes back to the innovator, the artist and all this shit. I think if we don't have these bigger festivals, I'm thinking you can really take advantage of small clubs right now. Small clubs and streaming at the same time, I think what's special about this moment is how much you can still work. We're more connected than ever. We're always on. So mixing live with the streaming in ways where it's about how it feels and back to the energy. Maybe it's not all about LED walls and shit. That stuff doesn't translate on TV anyway and plus I'm bored of seeing these fucking LED walls all day.

Laura: I would love to go out and see one of those right now.

Skrillex: An LED wall? Trust me. If the virus was gone and EDC was happening tomorrow and we could all go, I'd be there too. This is exciting because the internet came through and just completely took us all on this left turn. I'm eager and excited for the left turns of this next decade.

Laura: I think more than anything, all these online events being more in the spotlight will sort of push the idea that it's not so shocking and such a new idea. People have been throwing Second Life raves and IMVU raves for so long, maybe now it'll be looked at differently now it's been thrust into everyone's foreground.

Skrillex: So true. It's more of a necessity. Do you have any goals of where and how you see your music? Are you thinking about your career as 100 gecs 10 years from now? Or are you just only living in the moment?

Dylan: Thinking about the next album. Eventually want to be selling out Madison Square Garden. I don't know what's going to be in between that.

Laura: It's like the next album, question mark, question mark, question mark, selling out Madison Square Garden.

Skrillex: I'm going to do so much more shit than I've already done. I mean like different shit. I want to do animation. I want to do movies. I want to do more touring. Especially now that there's like way less DJing, actually.

Laura: Where do you go after the "Cinema" remix? Where do you go after everything that you've done? That must be a crazy point in your career where you've pushed things so far in so many directions.

Dylan: Time and time again.

Laura: You did fucking "Face My Fears." It's such a fucking massive record.

Dylan: Jack Ü.

Laura: Yeah, Jack Ü. Holy shit. I don't know if you've heard this, we've said it in a couple of interviews, but before we made our first EP in 2015 we listened to the whole Jack Ü record front to back in the car on the way to Chicago from St. Louis. That shit's fucking so sick.

Skrillex: That makes me so happy.

Laura: What do you do with yourself after [all that]?

Skrillex: You become more human, it's the best. You don't need to care about anything. You're gonna do all this, trust me. 100 gecs is going to go past all your dreams. You're going to have dreams you thought you never had and you're going to hit those. I hit so many of my dreams and more. All I wanted to do was play Coachella as Skrillex. If I could just play Coachella, I'm good. I did more than I ever thought I would and now I'm just appreciating. If I could go back and tell myself about the last 10 years, it was hard to appreciate a lot of moments as I was in it really going full steam.

Dylan: 300 shows that one year, for real.

Laura: For real? I didn't hear that, that's nuts.

Skrillex: More, it was like 300 and something.

Laura: That's so crazy. Definitely feeling what you said a minute ago. You hit all the goals. I had very, very simple goals. I decided a couple years ago we wanted to do Coachella and it ended up not happening, but even just the fact that we were asked. It's almost existential crisis mode where it's like, What else is there? Dylan is very good at thinking about huge picture shit. Like playing Madison Square Garden. I'm like, Shit I can afford to go out. I used to have to borrow money because I couldn't go buy cigarettes. I've had to borrow money for rent and shit. Not having to do that. Being able to go out every day and if I'm hungry, I can go fucking buy whatever food and RedBull and shit. That's pretty much the dream.

Dylan: I have one question for you, Sonny.

Skrillex: Go ahead. Ask me.

Dylan: It's about the Jack Ü snare. That is a cultural reset of a snare right there.

Laura: Yeah. Wait, when we were talking about things that influenced us, maybe I have to edit my answer and change it to just the Jack Ü snare. Like how?

Dylan: What was going through your head?

Skrillex: Just eagle talons going [sound], these fucking giant golden eagle talons. Honestly, you know what it was, I was like, I'm not going to put a snare drum in the song. I'm going to find the most cool percussion and just fuck it up. I found this little sound, pitched it and compressed it. I wish I had the chain so I could show you, it was like a compressed transient master, compressed OTT, transient master again, reverb, take the reverb back. Just so destroyed until it was this brick.

Dylan: Absolutely beautiful and amazing.

Laura: Truly, if one sound could change the entire landscape of music, it is the Jack Ü snare.

Skrillex: Yeah. I'm ready for the new, new. What's gonna be the next ear tickle we all get?

Laura: You have to. You're feeding the whole people, everyone with beautiful candy for ears.

Skrillex: You too.

Dylan: Thank you so much, this means so much that you did this and it's so cool to talk to you about so many things.

Laura: Seriously.

Skrillex: I was really excited to do this too. I don't really ever talk either about myself. I have a real admiration for you two. I love it just as a music fan. It's beautiful, keep bringing love and beauty to people forever. All the young people under us, you're going to be in a position where people will come up to you and be like, Oh my god, 100 gecs blah, blah, blah. It's going to happen. A Hundred Million gecs percent, Billion gecs.

Laura: Thank you so much.

Skrillex: All the gecs and the little geckos everywhere and let's keep spreading that, let's keep the love.

For our 2020 Pride cover series, PAPER tapped photographer Bryan Huynh — and his team of digital art pros led by Rodolfo Hernandez and Willem Stapel — to reimagine our subjects, sculpt their bodies and transport them into otherworldly environments.

The experimental production began with a Zoom — connecting with each talent over video and talking them through the process of a face/ head scan iPhone app. Once the rough scans were exported, Huynh went back in to fine-tune facial details, humanizing the rudimentary imagery. Alongside subjects' features, Huynh's team sculpted digital bodies posing talent into positions that would match their unique environments, which were also digitally made by hand.

When it came to the fashion, stylist Matthew Josephs worked closely with our cover stars, as if they were on set, to ensure their individual aesthetics translated in pictures. Josephs sent the final looks to Huynh's team, who then built the clothing into their 3-D spaces.

Three months of dedicated hard work later under COVID-19 restrictions, PAPER is proud to present this year's Pride portfolio.

Photography: Bryan Huynh
Fashion editing: Matthew Josephs
3D art lead: Willem Stapel
Art direction: Jonathan Conrad
Makeup: Raisa Flowers
3D clothing design: David Willems
3D face art: Patrick Blankenzee

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