Culture

PC Music's Hannah Diamond Is Ready for a Fresh Start

First, people doubted she was a "real person". Now, the woman who gave us PC Music's first digital download has made debut album 'Reflections'.

by Emma Garland; photos by Heather Glazzard
21 November 2019, 9:15am

In 2014, Hannah Diamond was surprised and confused by what was happening around her. Twenty-three at the time, she’d released three songs – “Pink and Blue”, “Attachment” and “Every Night” – through PC Music. All of them played with the same stark synthetic pop sound, distilling overwhelming feelings of romance – the honeymoon periods, the heartbreaks – into simple details and melodies, like bottling magic.

An artist and photographer primarily, those songs marked Diamond’s first foray into music, but established a solid identity right off the bat. Whether it was her signature high-pitched vocals, heart-on-sleeve lyrics, or her face – smiling, sometimes avoiding eye contact – in the self-portraits she shot for the artwork, Diamond was front and centre in every respect. She also designed artwork for other PC Music artists, helping to establish the identity of the collective as a whole, while “Every Night” became PC Music’s first single available through iTunes (it was also Diamond's first song to appear on a Billboard chart). However, the attention she was getting as part of PC Music was full-on, and not entirely positive.

“I just found it pretty nuts,” she says of those early days. “For me, the most disappointing part was that it felt like it removed all my agency in my work” – no doubt, she’s referring to how music writers at the time struggled to decide whether PC Music was a serious project, their assessments ranging from “pure, contemptuous parody” to “Internet drag”. Some even accused them of being a group of men “appropriating and objectifying stereotypically feminine identities while obscuring their own,” disregarding women like Hannah Diamond, GFOTY, Spinee and SOPHIE (misgendered by the press at the time – she's since come out as trans).

“So much of it was coming from me, and was about my feelings – and so much of it was made by me, too. The visual world and all of that kind of stuff. I feel like we were all doing super-important work, but we were caught up in that ‘are they real, is it just a load of guys?’ kind of thing. But it was nice to prove people wrong.”

And so she has. Since that debut, Hannah Diamond has established herself as a new kind of figure in pop, even with a less-than-straightforward rise. By the time she started giving interviews (a rarity for the PC Music cohort for years), her flesh-and-bones existence was met with surprise and disappointment. It was almost as though we never wanted her to exist in the first place. Incidentally, now Hannah Diamond looks exactly the same in person as she does in the artwork for her early singles: white puffer jacket, liquid eyeliner winged to the heavens, razor-sharp eyebrows and big hoop earrings. She sits across the table from me on a brisk October afternoon, sipping green tea, reflecting on those early years.

PC Music artist Hannah Diamond shot by Heather Glazzard

Undoubtedly, the pop culture landscape Hannah Diamond is releasing music into today is a lot different to 2014. The wonky, abrasive pop put forward by PC Music to a sea of raised eyebrows is now balls-deep in the mainstream. A.G. Cook is Charli XCX’s artistic director, Danny L Harle is producing critically acclaimed music for Carly Rae Jepsen and Caroline Polachek, SOPHIE was nominated for a 2019 Grammy, and Hannah Diamond has been busy working on visuals for Offset, Bladee and Olly Alexander. As she gears up to release her long-awaited debut album, Reflections, she feels excited that “no one’s going to be as freaked out by it now.”

“I don’t know if it was because we were putting out this new, weird kind of sound or whether the visual aspect of my work was pretty defined – and the aesthetic of it quite commercial-looking – that helped bring that ‘is this real?’ narrative into play,” she adds. “No one regards commercial imagery as being personal. It’s not the kind of aesthetic that you associate with ‘genuine’ artists, which is like... black and white film photos of someone on a sofa or something.”

Originally announced as a four track EP in 2016, Reflections snowballed into a larger project as Diamond encountered various speed bumps – “emotional ones, career ones” – that took time to work out along the way. The more time passed, the more she ended up writing music that felt like it was “in the same world".' Three years later and Reflections is a cohesive album of sad bangers inspired by a prolonged period of romantic turmoil. Produced by A.G. Cook and EASYFUN, it’s sonically broader than previous releases, leaning into softer indie pop detail – which veers towards The Postal Service territory on the title track – while refining that unique Hannah Diamond sound: genuine warmth of emotion draped over glossy, metallic sounds.

Lead single “Invisible” swells with soaring, sugary vocals intruded upon by ominous, blown-out synths. They might belie the fact that the song is rooted in a past experience of spotting an ex dancing with someone else on a night out. The video, inspired by Hype Williams and directed in collaboration with visual artist Daniel Swan, sees her wandering down a digitised London high street, surrounded by towering brand logos – Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Swarovski – as she sings about trying to recover her sense of self after the dissolution of a long-term relationship. I ramble about it reminding me of shopping while depressed, wandering in and out of buildings and finding a sort of comfort in manhandling £350 jackets I definitely won’t buy, and the emotional ways that people engage with capitalism.

“Uh-huh, got you,” she nods politely. In conversation, Hannah Diamond is warm and good natured; as bright and bubbly and as her music, and excited to be talking about it even though my interpretation is way off base. "For me, it’s more to do with being continuously on show and visible to everyone all the time, which is why all the adverts in the HD reality London are all of me. It’s that feeling of always being watched, always having to be present and be in ‘pop star mode’, but at the same time paradoxically feeling totally invisible to someone that you care about or someone that you wish would notice you more. The video tracks me as I’m trying to become visible to that person. Trying to improve myself and fully digitising myself, because I think that’s the way they’ll be able to notice me.”

PC Music artist Hannah Diamond shot by Heather Glazzard

Hannah Diamond’s lyrics have always been pretty self-explanatory, but Reflections is as much about self-worth as it is about heartbreak. "I had a rough couple of years when I was writing the album. I was at the lowest point I think I’ve ever been in terms of self-confidence,” she says. I learn later that she started going to counselling around the time of writing the album, so some of what she learned there made its way into the album too. “I’ve struggled with my self-esteem for a really long time and I think breakups can really put you in a hole.”

And so imbued within some of the album’s hopeful synths and MSN screen name-worthy lyrics are lessons most of us will have to reckon with eventually. How to divorce your self-worth from other people, how to be kinder to yourself, how to be alone. Sonically, Hannah Diamond’s music has drawn understandable comparisons to 90s euro-pop and house, but the impact of 2000s Oceana floorfillers seems to have been largely missed. After growing up on Donna Summer, Whitney Houston and Celine Dion – all vocal titans introduced to her by her granddad, who would lend her cassette tapes as a kid – Diamond eventually found herself a teenager in Norwich in the late 00s, bang into trance, hardstyle, bassline and UK garage. “It wasn’t very cool to be into it, everyone else was into bands,” she says. “So it was like this secret passion.”

Songs like “Love Goes On”, a bounce-back anthem full of defiance and yearning, or “Fade Away” aren’t a million miles away from something by Cascada, DJ Sammy or Ian Van Dahl – artists who also aren’t considered to carry much critical weight, despite their massive popularity. When talking about her love of "club anthems", she describes them as "super euphoric, but they’re also hyper-emotional", which is a good way of describing her own music. To that end, a hardstyle cover of Gareth Emery and Christinia Novelli’s 2012 club hit “Concrete Angel” (which originally appeared on a 2017 EP) has also been included on the tracklist for good measure.

PC Music artist Hannah Diamond shot by Heather Glazzard

PC Music's DIY foundations mean that Diamond, in this way, has a lot of control over the terms of her music, which comes as a package deal with the way it looks and feels. The album, for example, is currently being advertised via her Instagram page, where she’s designed images of the same “HD London” we see in the “Invisible” video, complete with alternate reality Tube stations advertising the album. There’s also an ad for “Fade Away” – a signature Hannah Diamond perfume that doesn’t actually exist, but in theory is something you spray on yourself to slowly disappear. “If you can make all the images, design the bottle, make it 3D and do all of that – you don’t actually need to make the perfume. The physical product doesn’t matter so much,” she says.

We still might not have a strong idea of who Hannah Diamond “is” behind the music, but that’s true of any artist. At least now she can be taken on the same terms. As for Reflections – it’s a straight up pop album. No tricks, no ulterior motive. Literally just vibing.

“I think there’s something really powerful about losing yourself in someone else, hitting rock bottom and building yourself back up again,” she says. “Even though I hate that I had to do that, it’s made me feel really strong. I feel so much more secure in who I am and what I like and think. I trust myself more. I hope this album can make other people feel like that, too.”

@emmaggarland

All photos shot by Heather Glazzard at Tonight Josephine in Shoreditch, east London.

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