The Hellp are dead set on changing the course of American culture. Will even that be enough for them?
At Drom, a music venue in the East Village, I see Pinterest boards wearing flesh suits. Scruffy-headed adolescents in parachute denim and camo baseball caps wait in line next to skinny femmes with studded chokers and Vivienne Westwood-esque crowns growing from their scalps. Inside, plumes of smoke from a fog machine consume the atmosphere and coalesce with an awkward mesh of sexual tension and social anxiety. It’s an effervescent smog that makes its way into diaphragms, instilling a silent urge to break the stagnation of social settings post-lockdown. No one says a word about it, but it’s there.
There’s a dimly lit bar next to a walkway that leads to a stage with standing room that can fit around 300 people. Past the entrance I hear pulsating sirens. Wrists are lined with charms and thin jewelry, torsos with miniskirts and studded belts. Hands and pockets hold vapes, spliffs, lighters, and cigarettes.
A Google search won’t teach you much about The Hellp, but the turnout at this club is pretty telling. I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with kids who, presumably like me, once heard The Hellp’s music, watched a video, and latched onto it all in spite of initial confusion. Their catalog is slim for a band that’s been active for seven years, but the daedal patchwork they craft in song has been enough to gain significant traction by word-of-mouth. Tracks that have been out for years are finding new audiences like they just dropped, and the thing is, they sound like they just dropped too. 2018’s “Tu Tu Neurotic” acts as hieroglyphics for the lusty, synth-ridden clubscape of modern-day New York: repetitive and convulsive, opioid-induced and testosterone-fueled.
The Hellp—comprised of Noah Dillon and Chandler Ransom Lucy—are longtime musicians with no debut album. Their fragmented, elusive origin story is still being written, often peppered with as much hearsay as fact. Good luck tryna find the difference. Fact or fiction, this is who they are: a pair of skinny white dudes in leather jackets, twisting knobs and making bizarre music videos.
The Hellp talk about The Velvet Underground, Crystal Castles, Blink-182, A$AP Rocky, and Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska as some of their core influences, but that can be hard to gather from their music. They’re averse to offhand comparisons based on their looks, their sound, or their contemporaries—especially their contemporaries—and they will let your ass know about it too. They’ve been lumped into the indie sleaze revival scene in NYC this year and hate it. They see the press runs for the artists in this scene and they hate it even more. They hate anything that feels too cut-and-dry, too manufactured. “Contrived” is the word they like to use. On some days, they even hate their own music. But these strong feelings of contempt get channeled into their output as a means of saying “Fuck you, I can make this better than you can,” to whoever they’re boxed in with. It’s a toxic affair. In an interview at this year’s SXSW, only a couple months after signing to Atlantic Records, Noah explicitly referred to making music as “the worst thing he’s ever done in his life.” The more they speak on their pursuit of being the world’s coolest band, the more it sounds like a death sentence.
When Noah Dillon and Chandler Ransom Lucy finally arrive on stage, the only source of light in the building beams from an LED screen flashing glitchy overlays behind their silhouettes. The duo is clad in tight, jet black leather, standing rawboned and stylish, Siamese by association. They hunch over a set of turntables as they conjure harsh walls of sound that meld together flashes of 21st century indie regalia: “Fainting Spells” by Crystal Castles, “Hard to Explain” by The Strokes, “Lazy Eye” by Silversun Pickups. Songs that are actually made by the pair are sprinkled in sparsely.
They play “Colorado,” a heavily-anticipated (and leaked) track they’ve been teasing for some time. As it pierces the airwaves, belligerent bass synths tear through flesh and bone as Noah’s vocals crystallize with tender pop sensibilities: “The sky is looking Colorado, but I am covered in grey / And I was thinking ‘bout a lover but I couldn’t get her to stay / Could you tell me why?” It’s a mechanical symphony; swarms of digitized chirps bleed onto drums working to slice your skull open, but at the same time it’s blissful and euphoric making you want to hug the person next to you as it all unfolds. The shimmery guitar riff cascading between pulses of distortion calls back millennial college radio staples like Vampire Weekend and Phoenix. In their world, a transition from this into a Jersey club remix of “Where’s Your Head At” by Basement Jaxx makes perfect sense. Every page The Hellp tears out of an old book is crumpled, manipulated, and dipped in plutonium before being repurposed.
There’s a shift in energy two nights later when they headline Market Hotel in Brooklyn. It’s a landmark venue in Grimes Square, the bustling junction on Myrtle and Broadway, which acts as an incubator for more Y2K archetypes: grungy boys in archive designer, Marlboro-toting fairy princesses, and micro-influencers like the dude who wears that Rigby hat all the time. The atmosphere is electric this time around.
This is no DJ set: nearly every song belongs to the band and each one is received with visceral adulation. Noah holds a microphone this time, yelling “Hey!” repeatedly at the start like a rapper testing out adlibs in the booth. Chandler plays with knobs and modulators beside him like a mad scientist. More akin to a Bad Brains set at CBGB than an electronic show, vacuums open up in the crowd with limb-swinging teenagers lining the periphery, giddily anticipating each drop. For an hour, The Hellp perform more new material, extended versions of “Tu Tu” and “California Dream Girl,” and a remix to “Feel” that could soundtrack an alien invasion. The more Noah screams into his mic, the more the crowd feeds off of it.
There’s a resounding roar let out by the audience when the warped, triumphant horns of “SSX” flood out of the speakers at the end of the night. It’s a track that exists in the lifeblood of the band’s core following––a deep-seated appeal to sentimentality through rhapsodic swirls and twangs of future nostalgia. “Feels like a memory of what we had,” we all sing in unison, over and over and over. It’s a microcosm of the communal experience we seek out through music, and if at any point confetti started to fall from the ceiling, it would’ve made perfect sense.
Less than 24 hours after the show, Chandler and Noah lay flat on the luxe carpet of a recording studio on the eighth floor of Paramount Plaza, a 48-story skyscraper in Times Square that’s home to Atlantic Records. Millan and I share the room with their small entourage: Ian, Chloe and Stefan from the label, Chandler’s girlfriend Avalon (a DJ in her own right), and Lulu from Spotify. Noah and Chandler are both wearing black skinny jeans with inseams long enough to swallow up their respective pairs of dirty white sneakers. The lights are dim, but their sunglasses stay on. Noah sports a black, well-worn Aphex Twin hoodie with thin silver ropes and pendants hanging timorously from his neck. Chandler, a grey vintage Calabasas High School hoodie under a leather jacket. (The hoodie’s from a time the duo got so fixated on an old last-day-of-school VHS video that they spent two years making a music video based off of it. They never finished the song, so the video remains stuck in a hard drive.)
If they look like pretentious, self-important assholes on the verge of crashing out, it’s because they chose to. Everything with them is intentional.
Noah and Chandler share shaggy haircuts and angular facial structures, slender frames with pale faces and 5 o’clock shadows. They even finish each other’s sentences, coming off as brothers. But how they tell it, Noah and Chandler are not kin, or even friends apparently.
“We’ve lived together for so many years,” says Noah, “and our experience together has not been predicated on friendship, but on survival.”
“It’s like Tom Hanks and the volleyball,” Chandler adds. “They’re both on the island. They gotta do it.”
They refuse to tell me how old they are, but their origins are both in blue collar America. Noah in the rural tourist town of Durango, Colorado, and Chandler in Sonoma Valley, the heart of California wine country. They spent years of their youth working at construction sites and grocery stores, and for some time, Noah found himself sleeping in his car. Now he and Chandler reminisce about the drunk men who used to punch in at the construction sites and implore them to go to college, to do anything else but this.
In the mid 2010s, Noah Dillon rose through the ranks of the LA art scene as a fashion photographer and one half of Hot Mess, an enigmatic, short-lived creative venture with Luka Sabbat. Noah and Luka co-hosted galleries in New York and LA with Kardashians in attendance. In 2016, he created The Hellp out of fear of dying without ever being in a cool band. Before meeting Chandler, he formed the band with Eddie Liaboh, a guitarist who frequented the same local skatepark. Noah claims he never sang in his life before that point, and the first night they got together as a group was his first attempt at it. The end result was “Wingspan,” an exhilarating, electric guitar-driven skydive that simulates wind hitting your face as you plummet towards earth. Noah sings like the singer he says he was, a novice, but his conviction is intoxicating enough to invoke the feelings of liberation he says he channels from Bruce Springsteen’s “Johnny 99.” It’s a far cry from the deep-fried synth clusters he churns out with Chandler today, but “Wingspan” set the precedent for capturing lightning in a bottle every time they record.
“I do miss that era because I was so arrogant and I thought I was God, and I thought that I could really be something that maybe I’m not even capable of being,” says Noah. “And you can feel that in the songs. There’s an authenticity, which is why a lot of people still have ‘Wingspan’ as their favorite, or that era might be their favorite because that energy is palpable.”
Later that year, Noah and Chandler, who was trying his hand at modeling, met at a photoshoot in LA and connected instantly. They became bound by a shared history in construction, knowing every lyric to “Lord Pretty Flacko Jodye II,” and an unshakable attraction to that bedridden mythology of the American Dream.
Chandler went on to join The Hellp a year after it was formed, taking over as a producer and drummer before a considerable lull in their output. The Hellp’s debut project, 2016’s Twin Sinner, would be scrapped after its release, their co-founding guitarist would cut ties, and Noah and Chandler began navigating as a duo. As new music developed sporadically, more projects like 2018’s Curtis would come out just to get shelved soon after. Offshoots from Twin Sinner like “Wingspan” and “Confluence” kept The Hellp’s esoteric lore afloat, particularly through the extravagant, uncanny art films that accompanied the music.
The “Confluence” video is shot in one aerial take as Noah runs down a barren stretch of Monument Valley, stripping naked and stumbling frantically as the jagged folk ballad crescendos into splendor. He would find out later on that Frank Ocean used the video as a reference point for his proto-everything album, Blonde. Word even got around that Kanye West had their transgressive headfuck of a track, “Beacon 002,” blasting from his private jet. But these moments of ephemeral recognition never resulted in a track placement, a public cosign, or anything close to that. The way Noah sees it, he was the “weird handbag” that A-list celebrities could use at their leisure to seem cooler. And so things carried on as they normally did. Things like “sleeping on rat-infested floors” and chipping away at Ableton demos until they became unrecognizable from their initial state.
Slowly but surely, they’ve cultivated a strong following made up of dilettantes, arthouse surveyors, and underground music savants. They’re cool enough to have their looks and sound interpolated by a subsequent generation, but not digestible enough for almost any press coverage from mainstream outlets. And that’s the shit that really pisses them off. “We haven’t done enough to really be solidified yet,” Noah says. “Unfortunately, the people who know will know, but we haven’t done enough for the fucking idiots who have to really write about things. They’re not really on our team. They don’t fuck with me, they never have all these years.”
“This is one of two actual interviews that we’ve ever done,” adds Chandler. [Ed. note: this interview was conducted in September. They’ve since done more interviews.]
I watch Noah and Chandler’s dispositions become more volatile as our conversation carries on, all while they remain laid out on the carpet like this classic photo of Arsene Wenger. Their entire ethos reflects this sort of juxtaposition, really. The opinions of the Powers That Be don’t matter until they say they do. Everything about modern culture sucks except the things that don’t. Grey areas don’t really exist here. On one hand, they’re the single coolest band in the world who are setting the tone for future generations, and on the other, they’re two non-musicians with no talent or sense of identity. As Noah and Chandler describe their career development, they walk the tightrope between self-deprecation and self-aggrandizement in a way I’ve never seen.
“Everybody has had a favorite band, a favorite music act, and everybody wanted to be in a band at one point,” Chandler says. “And if you are in a position in life where something has intersected correctly that you’re cool enough to do it, you can make okay music, and people can recognize that… You have to pursue that, or you’re just spitting in God’s face. There’s 800 million kids on the internet right now who can make infinitely better music than us. Absolutely. But those songs are not coming from us, therefore they’re not cool.”
The duo are painstakingly concerned with aesthetics, timing, and execution in ways that can defer projects indefinitely, for better or for worse. They claim it took an entire 14 months and over 90 versions to complete the aforementioned “Colorado.”
They obsess over this notion of being quintessential entertainers. This is their hamster wheel: cultivating neo-rockstar allure and contorting crude noise into garnish. Their production process is a war of attrition that gradually yields what Chandler calls “quick little spurts” of largely inimitable breakthroughs. They like to work on demos individually, sending them back and forth to each other with new pieces added to the puzzle each time. This has made collaboration with other acts near-impossible.
“Nobody fuckin’ understands what we’re doing,” says Chandler. “Our lovely label is like ‘Oh, we have this Grammy Award-nominated producer, he worked with Paul McCartney, he does Pop Music!’ And then we’re like ‘Okay, we’ll go meet him,’ and he’s like ‘What’s wrong? I-I don’t understand, what do you wanna do with the pre-chorus?’ And it’s like ‘Well, dude, the pre-chorus is fucked up ‘cause of this, just fuckin’ figure it out!’” (They cite AtlGrandma and Trayer Tryon as two of the few people they can work with.)
All things considered, Noah and Chandler demand the same perfection from themselves as they do from their peers. If you’re not up to par, you may be better off dead. Noah asks Millan and I to name something, anything at all, of cultural excellence in today’s landscape (his tone when using the word “excellence” is where his pretentiousness hits its peak, I think). Of course when our answers don’t fully suffice, quite literally the only person he and Chandler see as excellent is Playboi Carti. (Noah cites the “Milkshake” remix with Bootychaaain as his favorite Carti song and Chandler calls Die Lit a “perfect record.”) A major common thread in The Hellp’s reference for cultural excellence is actually rooted in hip-hop. They bonded early over A$AP Rocky, and Chandler recalls seeing Danny Brown on tour with Rocky and ScHoolboy Q in 2011 like a crusader who’s returned from Mecca. The band is hell bent on passing this feeling onto a generation. But it’s only gonna happen on their time.
“Like anything in life, you have multiple roads you can choose,” says Noah. “And I chose to go down this road and you can’t go back. The light has dimmed, there’s barely any moonlight. You don’t have a headlamp, you know that there’s a fragment of something at the end of the path. And there might be. And you know there’s also another path through the thicket 200 yards to your right. But you can’t just go through the thicket and go to that path now. I chose this route and I have to adhere myself to that, to the end of it, whatever that end is. And then maybe there’s a fork in the road, I can choose a new fork. But I’m not at that point yet.”
Noah’s tone is forlorn yet precise, suggesting this monologue has left his lips before. But suddenly, mid-soliloquy, a switch is flipped, and he remembers who he is again. The venom sitting in the back of his throat seeps back into his voice.
“At least we truly have shifted the landscape,” he continues. “Nobody would be making electronic music how they are now if it weren’t for us. It’s a fact. That’s kinda what we set out to do. We wanted to move the barometer because that’s what music and bands specifically do. I’m trying to ride the line between prostration, but also owning the bull and taking control of it. And it’s a very hard thing to do. It’s like being a prophet or capturing divinity. It’s just very important to me. I could’ve done a billion things. I went to college, I da da da da, I did all this other shit, but I chose to do this, so I better be fucking good. And I better be better than everybody else. And everybody else better recognize that I am better than everybody else, you know? But you have to also be that guy to elicit that reaction.”
And there’s a lot that comes with being “that guy.” There’s a lot that has to get done. The Hellp have a certain vision of what it’d take to really stamp themselves in the cultural lexicon; something so ubiquitous and undeniable that people of all ages and creeds would be forced to acknowledge them. They picture themselves sleeker, sexier, and more refined, but not at the cost of integrity. They seek that ultimate moment of validation that’s eluded them for more than half a decade.
They want to stand eye-to-eye with God while clenching the world by its nutsack.
So what, then, will get them there? According to The Hellp, there is one solution: a performance slot on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
“Imagine how we would look on Jimmy Kimmel playing our music. That would change everything,” Noah says. “There would be no choice but for people to change. People would understand that there is a new era of something, then we could just fade into the abyss after that, honestly. But people would have to change. There’d be no choice. It’d be like, recess is over, get back to class now.”
But why the need for mass cultural change? And why do The Hellp feel responsible for instigating it?
“Why?” Noah scoffs, “because culture sucks. It’s terrible. It’s disgusting. It’s vile. It’s putrid.”
The Hellp, apparently, are not. At least until they decide otherwise.