Love it or hate it, PC Music is here to stay – at least for the foreseeable future. Named after producer A.G. Cook’s London-based record label and art collective, PC Music is a strange breed of both anti-pop and hyper-pop. Its vocals are pitch-shifted, highly processed, and feminine; the textures are bright, fizzy, and excessively sugary. Often, the inherent cuteness manifests as camp, begging the listener to question whether the music is authentic or merely parody. It’s hard for the listener not to feel a sense of eerie discomfort when bombarded with such extreme sonic bubblegum; it makes the music’s themes – consumerism, corporate branding, and cyberculture – feel nearly sinister. Many of the vocal distortions fall into the uncanny valley, which could help to explain why the genre itself is so divisive. And yet, it is in the uncanny valley that PC Music finds its sweet spot – as something synthetic and inhuman, as something futuristic and wholly unique.
To even attempt to understand PC Music, one needs to start with its characters. Take, for example, PC Music “star” QT. According to a press release, QT is Quinn Thomas, a transatlantic artist and chemist based in London and New York. QT is also the name of a (presumably) fictional energy drink – a drink marketed as “an energy elixir empowering consumers to supercharge their senses and elevate their consciousness.” Peppered with corporate branding, heavy airbrushing, and glossy surfaces, the video for QT’s single “Hey QT” functions as a bizarre ad for this product. PC Music leaves it purposefully ambiguous as to whether QT – both the drink and the woman (human? doll? robot?) – actually exist. Mythology aside, the project is engineered by producers A.G. Cook and SOPHIE, and QT’s public persona is portrayed by performance artist Hayden Dunham. She is but one member of an ever-growing cast of equally eclectic and mysterious PC Music artists operating under a similar aesthetic, from Hannah Diamond to GFOTY (Girlfriend of the Year) to A.G. Cook. While SOPHIE, the enigmatic producer behind Lemonade and Charli XCX’s “Vroom Vroom” EP, does not operate under the PC Music label, he has collaborated with many of its acts.
Since its inception in 2013, PC Music has confounded listeners. It breaks every convention of modern Western electronic music (in the East, where K-pop and J-pop dominate airwaves, the sound is not so alien). The sound is genderless, metallic, and glossy. It’s wholeheartedly, ridiculously fun. Pitched vocals allow for producers to disguise their own voices as a particular character – NPR Music even called it “Internet Drag”. In a world where so many electronic musicians put so much effort into branding themselves as serious, PC Music’s playfulness is surprisingly delightful. Through pops, pings, and plastic, PC Music toys with the norms of what listeners have come to expect from modern music. Maybe it’s performance art; maybe it’s a satirical social critique. Maybe it’s all real. The story, the characters, the aesthetic, the sound – the world of PC Music is a puzzle that each repeat listener thinks that maybe, just maybe, they can figure out. And, love it or hate it, that’s why people keep on coming back.
For both those in need of a PC Music crash course and seasoned veterans of the genre, here’s a playlist of PC Music (and affiliated artists) for your listening pleasure. Just warn your friends before you put it on aux.
Visit PC Music’s website for a full list of releases and the label roster.
Words and playlist by Megan.