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The effect of PC Musicon the pop landscape

by Otis Robinson

On the periphery of the mainstream and slowly, but surely, infiltrating radio play, is PC Music. PC Music is popular among internet and queer audiences for its deconstruction of traditional music creation, communication and consumption, and its polarising influence has reinvigorated the direction of modern pop music while widening the scope for individual creativity within the genre.

Founded in 2013 by British producer and singer A. G. Cook, PC Music is a record label highly regarded for its release of avant-garde, futuristic, bubblegum dance-pop tracks. Its music is presented as the unique solo projects of its signed acts or, quite frequently, as the conceptual collaborative efforts from its connected collective of artists.

Since the birth of the label, it’s approach to music has often been swathed in mystery. By 2014, following the first year of the label’s launch, PC Music had quietly uploaded 40 tracks to its Soundcloud page, featuring work from now-staple artists Hannah Diamond and Danny L Harle among other, strangely faceless personas, quickly earning a dedicated fanbase.

Eclectic, raucous, repetitive synthetic melodies would feature alongside robotic, affected, high-pitched vocals – the amalgamated product becoming a somewhat exaggerated, manipulated version of some of pop’s most popular ingredients without actually catering to mainstream trends.

Its sound was dominated by pop essentials – heavy collaboration, dance instrumentals, infectious repetition – while transgressive, caricatured visuals – such as Kane West’s use of the notoriously unpopular Comic Sans font for the cover of his debut EP, Western Beats (2014), or the overtly hyperbolic use of colour in Hannah Diamond photoshoots – further exaggerated the genre’s tropes. The online presence of PC Music’s artists teetered on cartoonish, but their connections to their audiences were strong: the meticulously crafted combination of online hype, imagery and music were beginning to forge the roots of a digital subculture.

The releases were rapid. Online only and only available to stream, initially. After eating it up, audiences seemed to crave more, which revealed the key theme many PC Music artists appeared to utilise as the subtext for their personas: the relentless nature of pop music consumption. With a dedicated fanbase comes room for creativity, and the artists highlighted this with the fearless deconstruction and reassembling of pop tropes, ethereal techy music production, and the use of irony to show pop critics that the perceived tackiness of pop music is actually an artistic choice.

Years on, the PC Music fanbase grew and its influence on Western music widened. During a period of critical acclaim from music journalists, who called the music “thoughtful”, “progressive” and “artistic”, the label saw numerous successes including a partnership with Columbia Records in 2015. And after A. G. Cook’s popularisation among the queer community as the creative director to British singer-songwriter Charli XCX, artists on its roster were introduced to the stan culture of LGBTQ+ communities in the digital space where PC Music had made its home.

It’s perhaps the attention of these internet subcultures that further popularised the label, and it began to transcend itself to become its own branch of pop music. The awe from fans seemingly supercharged PC Music’s journey to changing the music landscape.

Frequent collaborator, British record producer, singer, songwriter and DJ, SOPHIE, (who had similarly utilised PC Music’s penchant for anonymity) smashed pop music expectations with Product (2015), an EP whose releases spanned from 2013 onwards, but the identity of its creator held tight-lipped. Her rubbery, industrial sound appeared symbolic of the churning, demanding pop music factory PC Music had drawn attention to, but her unique perspective highlighted the need for a shake-up of pop. Product suggests the boundaries of pop music are non-existent, and SOPHIE’s track ‘VYZEE’ intended to inspire emerging artists: “Shake it up and make it fizz/If that’s what you want to do.”

During this time, SOPHIE and Cook featured on a number of Charli XCX projects together, including ‘Paradise (featuring Hannah Diamond)’ from the EP Vroom Vroom (2016), ‘Lipgloss (featuring Cupcakke)’ from the EP Number 1 Angel (2017), and ‘Out of My Head (featuring Tove Lo and ALMA)’ from Pop 2 (2017), an EP which was to become a turning point for mainstream pop music.

Artists featured on the EP represented unique brands similar to those within PC Music: for example, Kim Petras, a German singer-songwriter whose tracks are emblematic of opulent, hot pink sweet-sixteen birthday parties, and Dorian Electra, an American performance artist whose discography is electric political commentary, among others. Additionally, the EP welcomed some of pop’s mainstream artists, such as Carly Rae Jepsen, Tove Lo, Brooke Candy and MØ, which further widened PC Music’s influence on pop music fans unfamiliar with the label.

With a focus on production and artistry, the sounds were both futuristic yet nostalgic, with flashbacks to earlier pop music trends like relentless repetition while signifying a new creative space where artists could playfully mesh together a singular vision that exists outside of traditional radio play guidelines. It imbued pop music with artistic perspective.

Charli XCX was to become a symbolic spokesperson for pop experimentation in front of mainstream audiences. The lyrical content of her subsequent releases introduced the PC Music-inspired idea that pop artists could be bold, despite what critics may think of it. For example, Charli XCX’s “Porsche (featuring MØ)” boastfully and confidently explores wealth lyrically.

This experimental production and songwriting began to further influence the pop music industry, albeit indirectly. Albums like Sway (2018) by Swedish singer-songwriter Tove Styrke served to disassemble sound as if it were reintroducing its audience to the digital building blocks of modern music. Styrke’s track “Mistakes” features robotic vocals while momentary gaps of silence in production reveal a similar playfulness with sound.

To this day, these deviations from the norm of radio play are dropped online like a pop music conveyor belt. PC Music and its associated artists consistently produce simplistic pop music that is simultaneously complex; both warped yet unchanged; often apolitical yet political. PC Music gave to pop the ability to exaggerate itself in music.

On 15 May 2019 in an interview with BBC Radio 1’s Annie Mac, Charli XCX released the lead single to her as-yet-untitled third studio album, ‘Blame It On Your Love (featuring Lizzo)’, a Cook-remixed, flowery version of Pop 2’s SOPHIE-produced track, ‘Track 10’. With a familiar hook shared between both songs, the latter’s conceptual, PC Music-influenced pop became an exaggerated, digestible version for a wider audience, yet remained unique enough to make an impact on the scene.

During the session, Charli XCX expressed excitement for the current era of pop music, citing features that are reminiscent of PC Music’s influence – collaborations, rapid-fire releases, playful sound and boundless room for creativity.

“I feel really good right now. I feel like I’m in a very creative space. I feel like pop music has changed in a way that’s really good for me. Everything is less structured. People are so much more experimental with the way they want to release music.”

“The power is with artists.”

Photo Credit
Diamond Wright
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