Even If They’re an Elaborate Joke, PC Music Dominated 2014
Whether you like them or not, the label have created a world that challenges the commercialism and consumption of music.
The release of PC Music’s first official single “Hey QT” back in August was—alongside Drake’s lint rolling adventure and Craig David’s keratin-toned abs—was one of the most discussed music moments in 2014.
“[PC Music are letting] everyone know there’s another way to make dizzy, love-soaked pop hits”, prophesied one corner, blessing “Hey QT” with the prestigious Best New Music accolade and bringing them to wider attention. Elsewhere some joyless teaspoon called the track “pure, contemptuous parody,” proof that, as has been repeated ad nauseum this year, PC Music is to some people as divisive as the inner workings of the United States government.
The label arrived this year as a direct opposition to the faceless British electronic scene. These were not dark, numb, cold bedroom producers; they were a troupe of candy cute, realized pop stars, the likes of which hadn’t been seen before. The music they brought with them—a schizophrenic amalgamation of chiptune, glory-runs of Kiss FM pop bangers, and a smattering of K-Pop and discordant electro resulting in contusion of the frontal lobe, ecstasy, or a combination of both—was unlike anything before. The songs were not only the first since dubstep with the potential to piss old people off; they were the first in ages to divide friendship groups.
PC Music is a thing that people hate and people love. We know this, you know this, everyone knows this because we’ve all existed in 2014. But that’s not the whole story. I don’t think the label is intending to piss anyone off or divide opinion. Look deeper, and there’s more to them than a bunch of songs threatening the sensory development of the listener; there are the components of a conceptual art project. I get that sounds weird if you’re the type of person who thinks listening to “QT” for three days straight is akin to being force-fed cloudy lemonade through your rectum, but bear with me.
The three components of PC Music are identity, consumerism, and commercialism. The first, the visual identity of the world around us, is built into the foundation of the label. Despite only being around for about a year, PC Music’s official roster comprises of 12 artists, and they’ve put out releases by countless others; most of these have been ruminated over by publications ranging from the Fader to the Guardian to Boiler Room. The new label, championed as The Future of Pop, has been covered with increasing glee, yet no artist interview—aside from one small exchange with QT—has taken place. Seems strange for a new thing right? That’s because most of the artists on the label don’t exist. They can’t be interviewed because they’re not real.
Like Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz, the artists in PC Music breathe only in a virtual reality controlled by a creative overlord—or in this case A. G. Cook, Danny L Harle, GFOTY, and Hannah Diamond; the four names you can place on PC Music without hesitation. I am convinced most of the other artists are the spawn of the core four. Dux Content is Danny and Alex; Kane West is probably just Alex; Life Sim seems like Danny; most of the songs with female vocals sound like Hannah or GFOTY. There are other people involved, sure—Spinee has to be Sophie because who else would make something as batshit crazy as this, and the names are similar. An extended scene has started to grow on the periphery with Ana Caprix, LOGO, [Doss], etc., but it boils down to one thing: PC Music’s artists are characters. They’re not living entities; they’re meticulously planned and considered long-running art pieces, kind of like living installations who put out music.
The anonymity gives the label’s artists space to experiment. In the same way Damon Albarn created Gorillaz as a backlash against a substance-less MTV, PC Music plays around with visual identity, aspirational energy, and hyper-detail of commercialism. Each artist on the label derives from a similar reference point, the PC Music aesthetic, and develops it in a different way. Hannah Diamond is a clinically real popstar; GFOTY is a Red Bull and vodka compatriot; QT is “a sparkling future pop sensation.” If it wasn’t clear from QT’s introduction as the face of an energy drink brand, the artists are not presented as musicians as much as they’re presented as immaculately designed products with an identity.
Watch the label’s Halloween live stream and you’ll spot the nuances of each artist and the way they’ve been molded. A.G. Cook is a silent mime who delivers up a confuddled soundscape. Danny “dick in the pants” Harle is comical; his set features the sort of humour found on r/videos. He wears shorts and sunglasses throughout and never once touches the decks but also plays sun-brazen Happy Hardcore remixes of “Call Me Maybe” and Rinse FM cuts that sound like eternity. GFOTY is loud and bratty—moaning about how she hates spiders over a backing track that repeatedly jabs you in the ribs, asking if it can please stay the night. Spinee is a bastardized techno dog. Watching the various sets, you start to see PC Music isn’t a bunch of people bastardizing electronic music; it’s a collection of artists using the internet and its multimedia capabilities as a medium.
Moving through the label’s roster, you see how the PC Music concept regenerates itself, building on the label’s foundation. Look at their trajectory. First came confusion at the perplexing sound of Hannah Diamond. Then as people started to write and the label put out more exquisite sound-and-visual designs, each one more and more on point, they became The Next Big Thing; that’s because that’s how they presented themselves. Princess Bambi’s “Less Love More Sex” is like the sweaty-coital cut Hannah Diamond would put on when arriving home; Dux Content’s “Like You” sits somewhere between Danny L Harle’s “Broken Flowers” and “Friday Night”; Thy Slaughter is basically GFOTY feeling sweet and pretty after reading a heartwarming Whatsapp message. The return to a base plate plays on ideas of commercialism—there’s strong brand identity there, like how there are 107 Doritos flavors in the world but the foundation is always tortilla—and also the way we consume music. Like bigger, worldwide music conglomerates—October's Very Own, G.O.O.D. Music, etc.—the label has a formula that consumers familiarize themselves with and want to return to. It’s kind of like advertising except PC Music aren’t selling anything. Even now, they feel like the work of a big brand rather than 20-somethings with a wi-fi connection and hacked copies of Adobe After Effects.
The want to associate with high-levels of professionalism but to also to maintain a degree of appearing like a grassroots artistic movement has been touched upon by A.G. Cook. In an interview with Tank Magazine last year he said the name PC Music alludes to the crucial tool computers play in life, “not just for making electronic music but for making amateur music that is also potentially very slick, where the difference between bedroom and professional studio production can be very ambiguous”.
This ambiguous spot between amateur and professional work is at the core of everything PC Music do. Look at the tracks and artwork: They’re made on personal computers but sound and look like they’ve been generated by entire departments. They’re raw but immaculate. Perhaps the reason the label's artists are so divisive is because they’re working within a divide.
Like a global conglomerate, the label teases the desires of its consumers. At first that was 'what’s this thing everyone is talking about?' That then turned into a want to see them live, to download their records, to learn more about them. But there’s nothing to learn about PC Music other than what they decide to engineer. The listeners and fans are kept hanging on. It’s an opposing approach to anything a label with their interest would attempt, which is yet another way PC Music exist in an ambiguous space.
Then there’s the fact that some music editors will tell you they hate Hannah Diamond or think the label is the second coming of Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” dressed in sportswear and taking the piss out of your favorite twink-techno. Their websites continue to write about them, though. If that doesn’t have something to do with consumerism then IDK. Take my Media Studies degree away.
The final reason why the label feels like a conceptual project comes down to the most obvious: the songs they’re making, the ones that get some tweeting in rage and others treating desk chairs like bouncy castles for butts. There’s more to them that sound though. As Aimee Cliff points out in The Awl, there’s a theme that runs across most of the label’s output, which is that these artists “crave the idea of forever… obsessed with images and products and anything else that they think might help preserve them.”
Identity is something that changes all the time. We grow old, start to wear trousers because they’re comfortable not fashionable, and lose our youthful character. There’ll always be that one Facebook photo though. The time you looked impeccable at that party, wore the right clothes on the perfect holiday, or actually had some hair on your head, and it’s that moment you want to return to forever. However, you can’t because time machines haven’t been invented, and all you have is that photo to look back on.
The world of advertising however, is different. Coca-Cola has the same identity it’s had since they started serving up bottles with cocaine in back in 1892. The models in Chanel ads are immortalized forever. The same goes for the internet. Everything on there will last forever. It won’t go away. Our virtual identities will exist even when the only residents on Earth are empty Wal-mart bags and cans of Red Bull.
I think that’s what PC Music are trying to do here. Basing themselves on commercial ideals but continuing to do it themselves, they’re striving to create virtual identities that live on forever. And I like this idea because we all want to be immortal, right? I know I don’t want to die.
PC Music have created a conversation that centers around how we change our perception of things based on them being presented as professional content, and in doing so they’re experimenting with how the commercial world works, how we consume music, and the way we construct our own identities in a virtual world.
The label may be unlistenable to some; to others it’s like taking Prozac. But the fact it’s already been discussed at this length, and the mass divide that’s come between only furthers the artists' experiment. It’s the reason why they’ve been important this year and should continue to be important in the future. It’s going to be exciting to see them grow.
Either way, let’s hope they continue to reduce wank-techno music fans into tears.
Follow Ryan Bassil on Twitter.