PC Music: Are They Really the Worst Thing Ever to Happen to Dance Music?
No. They're fucking great.
A screen grab from the My Miss 2.0 website, made for the track "My Miss 2.0"
Nobody stays enlightened for long. There comes a point when even the groundbreakers, the trailblazers, the rabble-rousers, the outside-the-boxers, the fetishists of the new and the fucked and the weird just fail to get something, or out and out despise it.
"That's not writing, that's typing," said Truman Capote of On The Road when it first came out, and Jack Kerouac had just replaced him as the enfant terrible of American literature. "Hip-hop isn't music," declared Lemmy, sounding more like a country vicar than the man behind some of the most abrasive music and human behaviour of the late 20th century. Wim Wenders, the godfather of the German New Wave, campaigned vigorously against Do The Right Thing winning the Palme d'Or, for some reason. The Ramones hated disco. Eric B & Rakim despised the Coldcut mix of "Paid In Full". In fact, people who used to be considered cool misjudging the merits of the new, either through ignorance or bitterness, seems an inevitable part of the cultural cycle.
In music, almost every new sound or scene has to go through the same cliches of, "It's just noise", "It's got no soul", "It sounds like it was made by an eight-year-old" before the people who are slagging it off realise that they're just wrong and out of touch. It happened with grime, it happened with dubstep – and now, it's happening with London's PC Music.
PC Music is a post-modern, vehemently art-schooled record label and music-making collective, and everyone who hears what they do either loves it or hates it. Like Young Money or Boy Better Know, the label has a roster of artists who collaborate with each other regularly and seem to stick to the same aesthetic template. A.G. Cook and SOPHIE seem to run the show, and have released the most high-profile music so far, with the likes of Danny L Harle, Kane West, GFOTY and Hannah Diamond hot on their tail.
"Hey QT" by QT (SOPHIE)
But it's a lot more confusing than that. SOPHIE is a boy, who either dresses up as a girl himself, or gets somebody else to do it. Latest single "Hey QT" is not by SOPHIE (although it is), but by the titular "QT", a made-up pop singer, apparently famous in some kind of alternate universe, who has come to Earth to promote a fictional energy drink of the same name. In the PC Music galaxy, the artists seem to behave as if already absolutely massive, eschewing conventional release strategies and simply inventing new pop stars that come pre-packaged, like some kind of indie label version of the Al Pacino film Simone.
"I've always enjoyed playing a bit of an A&R role, not just through finding new music but also by embracing the major label concept of 'artistic development'," said A.G. Cook in an interview with Tank Magazine. "I particularly enjoy recording people who don't normally make music and treating them as if they're a major label artist." Cook seems to occupy a state somewhere between Phil Spector, Birdman, Malcolm McLaren and the guy who produces all those songs that sound like "Friday" in the stable.
The sound these guys are making is about as far away as you can get from the moody world of UK bass and snapback techno that's dominated the British electronic music scene for years now. A playful composite of disregarded sounds and genres, it calls to mind everything from Night Slugs to nightcore to the Vengaboys; Martin Garrix, the funner side of B-More club, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Darren Styles. Visually, it's somewhere between Cyberdog, Jeff Koons, Interstella 5555 and The Fifth Element. It's loud, it's pitched-up, it's camp and it's really, really dividing opinions.
Some of the comments for "Hey QT"
Look through the comments on any article or video relating to a PC Music artist and you will find a sprawling wall of confusion, revulsion and total fury. "Absolute garbage, music for pedophiles," says one guy below the "Hey QT" YouTube video. "This is fucking shit. WTF are XL thinking signing this. Used to be a trusted label," blurts another. "That's it, music's dead," is my favourite.
The comments on the Resident Advisor post of "Hey QT" are even more hysterical. "Theres [sic] not a single original idea here, these two fuckers owe royalties to everyone on the beatport top 10 electro house chart," says "ProAngelWings", one of the less angry commenters on the piece. Somebody called DaftJacques drops that classic, classic par of merely posting a clip from Nathan Barley, a sitcom that aired for a month in 2005, essentially making his own opinion on contemporary culture redundant in a banal, misjudged kamikaze attack.
I have personal friends, people whose opinions I respect, people who really know their shit on music and culture, who hate PC Music. "Some of the worst music made in my lifetime," said one. "Fake twinkcore," said another. Look beyond the dated Chris Morris references and seething purist anger and another common complaint seems to be that it's all been done before, all-too recently, with the Tumblr-born fads of seapunk, vaporwave et al.
"Broken Flowers" by Danny L Harle
But on the other side are a whole lot of supporters. Michael Holden, an original raver and writer of high esteem, told me he was "pretty convinced" that Danny L Harle's "Broken Flowers" was "amazing".
"If I heard that 25 years ago my head would have come off," he told me when I stuck my oar in on Twitter the other day. "This was the weirdest performance I ever experienced throughout my legacy as a concertgoer. I was as confused as everyone else in the room. Cool ass shit," said one commenter on a video of SOPHIE's recent Boiler Room performance.
On a personal level (as if that even matters with such a divisive thing), I'm into it. The tunes are good (some better than others), I like the experimentation with identity and performance, the clever little traces of post-modernism and the massive, massive hooks. And having been to a few nights that various members have played, I think they bring a much-needed element of playfulness and femininity back to a club culture that is rapidly turning into guys with Mourinho stubble and expensive hats standing near the booth Shazaming rare disco records. An antidote to a game that has become more High Fidelity than Paradise Garage.
The other part of me can see why people aren't into it. It's inherently, unashamedly shallow and as wed to a sense of nostalgia for 90s pop-rave sounds as it is to futurism. But rather than agreeing to disagree, I think the ultimate validation of PC Music comes in people's obverse reactions to what they do. The fact that some people utterly, utterly hate PC Music is what makes it so attractive to me – in fact, in my eyes it's what makes them absolutely vital.
The cover for "Hey QT" (Image by Diamond Wright)
We live in a tepid, consensus pop-culture where tribalism and partisanship are in short supply. It's an old argument, but we've access to more culture than we've ever had access to before, and the power of the internet is bound to have knock-on effects in the real world. No one's getting beaten up at the bus stop for wearing a hoodie any more. You can hear Beyonce, The Lumineers and Disclosure within half an hour of each other on the same radio show. Goths, trap guys and shufflers are all smashing MD at the weekends. The world's most famous rapper is basically wearing the same trousers as the 13-year-old Agnostic Front fan from Norwich getting his nose smashed open at the Owl Sanctuary. If we don't like something, we can just ignore it, or flood our lives with more of what we do like. As such, we currently exist in a tedious subcultural ceasefire.
Most modern music is slickly and routinely mastered, packaged and marketed. The instruments might be different, but essentially the songs are the same; palatable, disposable, forgettable. Tracks go through the same processes at the same studios not so that they stand out, but so they sound like everything else. The pop stars only really come close to controversy when they use the word "kush" on Instagram or get themselves embroiled in some cultural appropriation debate. The music? Well, you'll hear it everywhere, from student halls to Fashion Week parties to passing vans. It's precision-designed to sound cool, while being easily consumable, almost totally middlebrow. The cultural equivalent of a Heston Blumenthal Waitrose readymeal, macaroni with a bit of nutmeg in it to make people think that they aren't eating total shit.
PC Music are so unashamedly pop, so adolescent, so disinterested in the modern perception of taste, that despite taking musical cues from the likes of Alice DeeJay, what they do sounds offensive, abrasive and deeply different. If Charlie XCX is a Blumenthal lasagne, then SOPHIE is a bubble tea loaded with cane sugar and liquid ecstasy. If Iggy Azalea is Tesco Finest hunter's chicken, then A.G. Cook is a caterpillar birthday cake doused in Wray & Nephew's and set on fire. By sounding like the sweetest, most joyous thing around, Even away from the mainstream, PC Music somehow manage to sound harder and nastier than any once-interesting, now-plodding festival techno act you could care to name.
For me, music (and especially electronic music) should be bound up with its own type of fashion, its own type of art, its own type of drugs and its own type of sex. But none of that seems to apply any more. Follow the right accounts on Twitter, and you'll come away with the impression that this generation's big-name DJs seem as jaded as any stadium indie band you could mention; moaning on EasyJet, whinging about food, playing the same records to the same types of people and walking away with the cash at the end of their set to do the exact same thing somewhere else. Only the crowd's accents seem to change.
PC Music don't do that; they curate their events, they bring in the guys from Tim & Eric, they get hench transvestites to stand in for them, they bring on guest vocalists seemingly pulled from some nightmarish webcam fantasy, they deliberately rile the RA heads by using pre-mix CDs – essentially, they fuck with people. Which is what all the best artists do and always have done.
But what PC Music have beyond that is a world, not just a box of records and a few T-shirts. It might not be a world that you appreciate, but the ideas, the sense of fun, the ambition to be something other than just a bunch of blokes playing tasteful records should be something that everyone strives towards.
Time will tell if PC Music really were just another Tumblr fad, or if they'll go on to be remembered as the next Cabaret Voltaire, but right now, they're a fuck of a lot more interesting and exciting than anything the heads are offering up. Plus, they bring girls to their shows. And what good's a party without girls?
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