The first time Josh Clancy saw James Brooks was in high school in Dassel, Minnesota, a generic rural town with a population near one thousand. “He was in my chemistry class, and he would carry a briefcase around,” Clancy says. “We thought he was going to bomb the school.” They weren’t really friends, and their lives ran separate courses until the two reunited by chance at a nightclub in Minneapolis during the coke- and hi-hat-fueled mid-2000s heyday of dance music crossover. It was a time Brooks describes as an “aleph,” a spiritual concept meaning truth and life and the universe condensed in a single point. But the good times fizzled, probably inevitably, as every great scene cracks apart into bad memories. “All of a sudden it was this rote, empty routine where people go out every other night, get drunk and have sexual musical chairs with the same small peer group,” Brooks says. “It became really unpleasant and really dark, and I’m still kind of dealing with that.” Brooks paints a heady, weirdly specific take on the genesis of Elite Gymnastics, the duo he and Clancy formed to fill the void they felt when dance music stopped being fun, but his story is poetic and heartfelt and totally in line with the smart, semi-depressed way the two have of reworking an internet’s worth of pop culture influences into personal music.
Nowhere is their nostalgia more sardonic than on “Minneapolis Belongs to You,” off the duo’s Ruin double-EP. With vocals nearly buried under turned-up jungle drums, Brooks quietly talk-sings When you’re dead, they will toast your life at your friends’ shitty DJ nights/ No one will hear their speeches clearly, they’ll all just think it’s someone’s birthday. The record’s b-side sees “Minneapolis” pitched down and recast nearly drumless, bobbing like lonely driftwood down a river of dense bass. In song and on the phone, it’s abundantly clear Elite Gymnastics feel isolated and unfulfilled in their hometown. “I feel like I needed the internet before the internet existed,” Brooks says. “There’s just so much stuff out there that could be really enriching my life that I don’t know about. Stuff deserves to be learned about. Stuff deserves to be cared about.”
Every EP they’ve digitally released has been paired with a considered, beautifully self-designed companion PDF charting homages to a laundry list of things they admire: the smiling slime monster from Dragon Quest, an Andrea Dworkin quote about optimism and Lil B’s credo “based” scrawled on the back window of a snow salt-stained SUV. Elite Gymnastics have a real gift for mining these disparate influences, finding surprise connections and blending them into something that’s relatable perhaps because it’s so intimate, like they left their secret diaries on the bed, unlocked. In the darkest moments, though, what’s uncovered is a compulsive obsession with, and simultaneous feeling of being abandoned by society at large. “What I really care about is making music and hanging out on the internet and my girlfriend and my cat,” Brooks says. “I can handle all that stuff.”
Stream: Elite Gymnastics, RUIN EP