If you’ve been doing it long enough, there are points in every music writer’s career when you feel behind the trends; when an artist’s musical vocation goes beyond what you’re trained to fully understand or even comprehend. As the great gutter poet and last rock n’ roll gonzo journalist, Lester Bangs, probably once said, “You either adapt or you die, I choose to die.” But he was most likely talking about The Beatles diving into Vishnu psychedelia on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and not the multi-sensory overload that is a 100 gecs show. He would not have been prepared for this viral hyperpop monster that has been categorized as a meme band by fans and music critics alike.
It’s funny to me that the term hyperpop is now so intrinsically linked to 100 gecs, primarily an Internet band, when I believe it was first used in the ‘80s to classify the music of Cocteau Twins, pre-Internet. I guess that’s the perfect example of how genre is only a placeholder that can transition on a dime.
Still, I had the opportunity to witness 100 gecs live once at Osheaga, after two hip-hop sets from the United Kingdom’s slowthai, and emcee mastermind, Freddie Gibbs. From what I remember, that particular 100 gecs set was not my speed. I distinctly remember vocalist Laura Les growling into her auto-tuned microphone while her music partner, Dylan Brady danced around in a wizard costume wearing a bright yellow-pointed star hat, as a shifting bass beat jumped around. Back then, I briefly roasted 100 gecs in my Osheaga review, which you can read here if you so please.
“I don’t get it, maybe we’re too old,” said my festival companion. At the time, I agreed that it was just misplaced, over-saturated noise for a younger generation (I’m approaching 30 for background), and we moved on. But even so, 100 gecs seemed to pop up into my musical lexicon more. In musical writing spheres, bands were compared to them, such as the glitchy art-pop duo, Jockstrap, whose debut album, I Love You Jennifer B is one I still play frequently. The viral hit 100 gecs hit, “money machine,” followed me like a disease on the weekend.
I know that lots of music journalism; especially the review world—and I’m not talking about small DIY publications like the one you are reading this on—can be full of bullshit vernacular from writers who constantly find the worst in an album to be avant-garde. It’s a shame that a number rating from Pitchfork or a bad rating from Anthony Fantano can completely sway someone’s mind on an album or artist, but hey, that’s the streaming review world we find ourselves in.
Having said all that, these are the thoughts that consumed my mind as I stepped through the doors of MTelus to the most recent 100 gecs Montreal show—one that I will now refer to as “Gecigeddon.”
As I turned the corner, to the back of the venue, my ears were aurally assaulted by a band called Machine Girl, which briefly sounded like the worst over-the-top grindcore of the 2000s. I was expecting a more industrial synth wave from the name and was not prepared for a cochlear root canal. It was something neither I nor the party of 10 I attended with, were anticipating. Though there was a literal spotlight pointed at the crowd, following the lead singer, Matt Stephenson, as he weaved through them, screamed, and balanced on the mezzanine awning and venue bar, dressed as a manic jester, I couldn’t get into the digital hardcore vibe Machine Girl was creating.
My opening experience to the whole vibe of Gecigeddon was definitely soured, amplified after witnessing a blue-haired girl dressed in zebra-striped pants pass out (probably from heat exhaustion and whatever drug was coursing through her body) behind our group, moments after Machine Girl’s set. Was this going to be a crowd that couldn’t hold their own during the opener??? A crowd who hasn’t learned the basics of respectfully partying with drugs and taking care of yourself? Drink some damn water, please!
I tried to turn off my critical brain and just enjoy the whole scene; multi-colored wizards, a man with devil horns and a white T-shirt that said “I GOT MY TOOTH REMOVED,” parachute pants, a fair bit of corpse paint, emo and scenes kids that look like they just stepped off the bus from the Gathering of the Juggalos, the more goth and kink outfit crowd (latex, garter belts, collars, you get it) that was mostly down for chilling on the second floor. There was also an older crowd either with their kids or actual fans of this ridiculous pop music. I spotted the stage and the 100 gecs DJ computer setup, which was being housed in what looked like a nuclear bomb case, balanced atop a steel trash can.
The lights went down and the deep noted THX productions sound quickly filled the room as the screen backdrop sporadically flashed all manners of white light. This was not the opening to a high-budget film, but 100 gecs’ “Dumbest Girl Alive,” off the new album 10,000 Gecs. The Limp Bizkit-esque butt-rock guitar riff kicked off and Laura and Dylan took the stage, donning the iconic yellow and purple wizard outfits.
If 100 gecs is good at one thing, it’s creating earworms that burrow deep into your psyche, even when you don’t want them to. The visual production was also insane; vibrant Windows ‘98 screens quickly descending into a green and pink mist as strobe lights mangled our minds. It was like staring directly into the sun on repeat.
I’ve never been a fan of auto-tune, but I have to admit that it works and is needed for 100 gecs’ music. Without it, you get a song like “Frog On The Floor,” a funny, but purposefully out-of-key vocal haphazard that takes the worst bits of childish ska-pop and makes a song. You could tell the gecs themselves were laughing before playing it live. There wasn’t much stage banter from 100 gecs other than introducing the next song and Laura going “cool,” before jumping in the next number. Most of the theatrics came from Dylan, balancing an acoustic guitar on his chin and biting into an onion like a maniac after a fan threw one on stage.
“No one throws any more onions, or I might shit,” Laura laughed.
Even a few days after the show I still have “Hollywood Baby” quickly making its way through my amygdala. I also can’t deny the sheer energy at Geccicon. The floor crowd knew every lyric, not missing a beat as they jumped and moshed to the new and older 100 gecs repertoire. At this moment, I could have decided to be like Lester Bangs and not open myself to this Myspace-era debauchery or I could try and have a good time. I chose the latter. Otherwise, what was the point? I ran into the crowd, camera bag attached to my shoulder, and moshed my heart out. During “Billy Knows Jamie,” I stood on my tippy toes, gasping for air like a guppy in an overcrowded tank. I chanted the chorus of “Doritos & Fritos,” and aided a shirtless man in pushing up a girl to crowd surf during “money machine.” Basically, I dove into my inner gec—like a teenager discovering Nirvana for the first time, looking for fun angsty mayhem.
Looking back on my decision to join the madness with thousands of gec fans, the motivation came from watching the duo, yes, recreate this laughable meme-era insanity live, but also from the community aspect felt in the crowd. Everyone was losing their mind, sweating together like pigs to slaughter. The sheer glee from some of these gecizens was palpable, and no matter how much I used to despise this band’s sound, during those 20-something songs, felt a part of it. I got gecced.
100 gecs is not music I’ll be playing in my spare time, but again, I can’t deny the whole live experience and I had a weird, but enjoyable time. Their fan base is more scattered than I imagined and though they are known as a meme band, live, everything they’re doing comes off as 100 per cent genuine—even an absurd vocal phrase like “Queen of California / Hot like the heat is / Got Anthony Kiedis suckin’ on my penis.” I even appreciated Laura’s guttural growls this time, due to the fact that it was built up to and earned.
Who knows if I’ll be at the next Gecigeddon/Geccicon/Gecivent, but it will be one memory I’ll have stored in the bank for years to come.