Artists Of The Year CMU Approved

CMU Artists Of The Year 2014: PC Music

By | Published on Friday 12 December 2014

Every weekday in the run up to the Christmas break, we’ll be revealing another of our ten favourite artists of the year. See the full list of artists announced so far here. Next up is PC Music…

Hannah Diamond

Doing a quick scan back over 2014, I can’t think of any one sonic ‘thing’ as innovative, or on the flipside, as mind-slicingly schismatic and impossible to pin down as PC Music, aka Personal Computer Music. And no, in spite of this being an Artist Of The Year feature, PC Music isn’t any one artist, but a London-based label collective of many, captained by young London producer and pop fanboy Alex ‘AG’ Cook.

And it’s not an ordinary label, either, more like a mirror maze of criss-cross collaborations by a sitcom-like cast of avatars and aliases (most listed in this handy ‘who’s who’ feature on Pitchfork), all in some way looping back to Cook, the JME or Johnny Jewell-like boss of his own A&R kingdom.

Cook’s own “shiny and detailed” dance-pop makings are traceable back to his time studying at the arts-specialising Goldsmiths college, University Of London, and the genesis of PC Music “prototype” Gamsonite.

Of all the acts on Gamsonite, only a few got carried over to its level-up PC Music, Dux Content, GFOTY and most significantly CMU approved singer/stylist Hannah Diamond. Although never much more than a name on Gamsonite’s roster, Diamond was the one who kicked the PC’s profile into high gear with her first solo single ‘Pink & Blue’, a spinny fantasy ride of babyish vocals and sticky-sweet beats as addictive and sickening as candy itself.

It’s safe to say that not all the world liked it, at least not at first. But with its universal story of ‘a love unrequited’, told in the most basic ABC rhymes at top pitch over a ‘Shanks & Bigfoot go to Disneyland’-style beat, ‘Pink And Blue’ is at once ‘just a dumb pop song’ and also a highly smart bit of manufacturing. And so, so good… infuriatingly good.

Dux Content, the other common factor to the PC Music and Gamsonite directories, is one of AG Cook’s collaborations with PC Music’s other main lynchpin, experimental classicist and trained composer Danny L Harle, whose poppiest tracks ‘Broken Flowers’ and ‘In My Dreams’ are perhaps the most – dare I say it – ‘chart ready’ of any in the PC library, both delicately layered sugar-towers belying an intimidating intricacy.

It’s hard to spotlight PC Music’s higher ranks without clicking over to the outfit’s most A-list satellite affiliate, the CMU approved Sophie, who via singles like the Numbers-released ‘Hard’ and l-l-‘Lemonade’ has changed the face of electronica, irreversibly. There is no going back from the likes of ‘Bipp’, itself a mini Hadron Collider of extremes; sweet and creepy, static and manic, conventional and abstract, pop and its polar opposite.

In reality a man named Sam (that’s him on Cook’s right, DJing at SXSW), Sophie is the first of Cook et al’s circle to sign a big deal with another label, having released his single ‘Hey QT’ (also a 50/50 split with Cook) on XL Recordings earlier this year.

This was the first (and to date only) release from the world’s first virtual-popstar-inspired ‘virtual reality’ popstar QT (given a face and voice by American artist Hayden Dunham). QT herself is a deeply meta twist on the idea of the post-internet celebrity; having risen as if from an alien pod, with no history and only the personality her ‘press team’ creates for her. In this, her big live premiere at a Boiler Room x Ray Ban event in LA, she sings – or lip-synchs – sweetly, looks immaculate, and even has her own energy drink (“Looks fizzy. Tastes bouncy. Feels QT”) to sell to the pop-thirsty kids.

As typified in QT – a mesh of flesh and bone, lipgloss, fibre-optic wires and html code – Sophie, AG Cook and co deal strictly in the ‘hyperreal’, both in the OTT-kitsch imagery clipped on to every PC Music release, and in the pithy elixir of the tracks themselves, which is (and I’m generalising massively here) a mix of regular genres like UK garage, Guetta-style club trance, chart pop and R&B, only elevated to the hyperreal extremes, inspired in that regard by J-pop artists like the deathly-sweet friend-of-Sophie Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, who herself cites – and then, twists – Japan’s ‘gyaru’ (girly) and ‘kawaii’ (cute) trends.

In fact “extreme” is a word Cook fires off a lot in an early interview with Tank Magazine, which since it’s the only case of him speaking in any depth on the PC Music ‘aesthetic’, is now like a kind of style bible in terms of getting to the gooey centre of his creative brain. “I always find any kind of ‘extreme’ pop music interesting”, he says. “One of my favourite albums is ‘Cupid And Psyche 85’ by Scritti Politti, which was a conscious decision to take pop music and make it as shiny and detailed as possible – it’s a really beautiful balance of great hooks, rhythms and sounds”.

Strange, then, that a most the jibes aimed at Cook et al relate to the idea that they’re snidely ripping on that exact kind of mass-appeal chart pop, making it dance on its hind legs for their own high-minded entertainment. And whilst it’s fair to say that Sophie, and acts like PC Music’s gobby GFOTY (Girlfriend Of The Year) is, by cheerleader-chanting lyrics like “Go to the party, time to get drunk / Arrive in a Clio, driven by a hunk”, are in a way wringing something dark from the clichéd things teens do/don’t do on a ‘Friday Night’, AG Cook, for one, appears to have a real, non-ironic and almost dorkish love for even the most commercial GM mega-hits.

In the Tank piece he cites Taylor Swift hitmaker Max Martin and R&B team Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, and even the Rebecca Black ‘Friday’-enabling Ark Music Factory, as prime – or at least partial – inspirations, also adding: “I really like [R&B star] Cassie – some of her tracks epitomise the minimal, synthetic, almost robotic potential of commercial music, something which can sound crap when it’s done badly, but can also become a sort of perfect, untouchable product when done in the right way”.

And that (as I’m sure was the point of him saying it) says a lot for his own operating system, and for the OS of the PC Music network as a whole; it’s about sucking you in to this totally other “untouchable” space and leaving you to consider it, or simply soak it in, in all its infinite weirdness, some of that strange and some of it strangely familiar.

It’s sort of impossible to pick any one emblematic PC single from the pile, so this is PC Music’s mix of its ‘Top 40’ tracks, followed by a mix of ‘Mixes’, followed by one of the most bizarre Boiler Room live-streams of all time, c/o Sophie (or a man in a wig fake-DJ-ing Sophie’s set while the real Sophie hides in plain sight as a ‘security guard’):

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