Who Can Define the PC Music Collective?

Photo by Diamond Wright.
Photo by Diamond Wright.

PC Music is a mystery. It’s also record label, or, more broadly, a collective of musicians making wild, glitchy electronic music with a ’90s computer fetish. If this page recorded an album, it would sound like PC Music. If about 40 percent of Tumblr images were a song, they would be PC Music.

But PC Music has surrounded this aesthetic with some top-notch mythmaking that’s almost unrivaled in modern music. Virtually all of its artists have a highly defined, mostly fictional persona: QT is a kwaii spokesperson for a fictional energy drink who presents herself like an anime character; Hannah Diamond is a London club kid who loves The Spice Girls; Girlfriend of the Year (GFOTY) is a spoiled brat who’s constantly cheating on her boyfriend; and A.G. Cook is, just maybe, the shadowy man behind it all.

This Friday, the collective–specifically the artists A.G. Cook, QT, Hannah Diamond, GFOTY, Danny L Harle, and SOPHIE–are playing the BRIC House as part of the Red Bull Music Academy Festival New York, an almost amazingly perfect venue for their official coming-out party for reasons that will become clear a little later.

Explaining the concept of PC Music is not simple. Last year, Pitchfork’s Philip Sherburne published a 5,000 rumination on it, and to what extent it’s a joke. He didn’t come to any firm conclusions. Most the collective’s artists took part in a bizarre and elaborate performance piece for a cover story in the Guardian’s weekend magazine published this past week. Hannah Diamond had the writer come to a mock photo shoot, snapping shots of him in a pink hat while she answered his questions. QT seemed willing only to discuss her work in “elixir creation.” GFOTY conducts her interview from bed while a naked man whom she claims to have met on an airplane sprawled next to her. All of these– what, jokes, performances, postures?–are equally clear in the members’ hyper-stylized online presences, and in their over-the-top press images.

Is it a comment on marketing, or on journalism? Is it a joke? Or is it just trying to maintain some mystery and intrigue in pop music?

The central problem of PC Music is this: the music its artists make is immensely, immediately enjoyable. Songs like QT’s “Hey QT,” and Hannah Diamond’s “Pink and Blue,” and “Every Night” are legitimate pop songs of the highest caliber that require no ironic distance to enjoy. They could be (and perhaps are) blasted from the convertible of a high school cheerleader. Slightly weird, maybe, but not confrontational or difficult by any stretch of the imagination. This presents a problem for everyone involved.

Music writers seem to chiefly be worried that the project is satire. Expressing uncomplicated enjoyment for these songs, therefore, might make them them look like a stooge and an idiot. As a result, many (most?) pieces about PC Music are concerned with trying to solve this riddle.

The artists behind the label seem equally unsure of how to treat the actual, not joking,  almost pop masterpieces they’ve created. In a certain way, the entire arch presentation of the artists–their evasive interview replies, meticulous image management, on and on – could be viewed as an embarrassed reaction to having made great pop songs. Something aimed at their contemporaries in the London underground electronic scene; a way of apologizing, almost, and showing artistic merit they’re self-conscious their music lacks. When a band like Sleaford Mods is in the same town as you, you have to at least act hard.

All of these feelings–enjoyment, anxiety, confrontation, and self-conscious artistry–come the fore when the collective plays a live show.

At SXSW this year, where PC Music put on a showcase, QT stood behind a mixing board for her set, swaying back and forth and pretending (most likely?) to fiddle with some knobs. If anything, this is a step up in fan service from her only previous live show, where she sat on a the stage in the dark, pretending to read a magazine, while the speakers played a fictional ad for her fictional energy drink before standing up to lip syncing intentionally badly to her song, “Hey QT.” A live video of GFOTY is mostly just flashing balls.

And then there’s A.G. Cook. Factually verifiable as the founder of the label (a blissful rock of fact to cling to in their swirling sea of misdirections), Cook is producer behind many of the label’s tracks, and can speak eloquently about his process and inspirations, tipping his hat to superproducer Max Martin, artist David Guetta, and the UK’s aggro electronic garage scene. In the Tank interview, he makes what is perhaps the most straightforward explanation of PC Music in a sidelong comment. While explaining his childhood love of reading instruction manuals, he says that he wasn’t trying to figure out how something worked. Rather, he was just “really into the  idea of ‘complexity.’”

He seems to have fully realized that vision with PC Music. A maybe-fake record label, fronted by some questionably real artists with likely invented backstories, to whom an energy drink and marketing are central concepts, making their splashy New York debut at a music festival sponsored by an energy drink. Sounds complex enough to me.

PC Music on Soundcloud


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