Pressing On: PC Music and The Future of Pop



By Brendan Klinkenberg

Why do we insist on attempting to predict the future of music? In some areas of life, predicting the future makes sense—knowing what’s coming helps you adapt, which is why predicting trends in politics or technology is a worthwhile endeavor. In music, though, it’s nearly impossible to forecast more than a few months out since styles are evolving so rapidly, and unless you’re a label executive, there’s not much of a point. That said, we keep describing things as “forward-thinking” without having any idea what we’re really moving towards. Call it a compulsion, but the uncertainty of the future is fascinating, and right now we’re obsessed with PC Music for just that reason.

PC Music is an independent music label that started last year whose output, at this point, resembles an online art exhibit. Headed by A.G. Cook, a London producer in his early twenties, PC is developing a stable of artists and sounds to provide a manic vision of modern pop that comes out like our best guesses at what the status quo could be in 2025. The music is bright and inane, intoxicating and dumb, catchy and bizarre—considered together as a vision of what’s to come, this combination seems both futuristic and vitally current at the same time.

It’s as if someone tried describing what pop music sounded like to an alien—major chords, catchy hooks, danceable rhythms, young women singing about love or sex—and then told that alien to try to make a song.

The label’s driving sound is ostensibly pop, several steps sideways from what has dominated the Top 40 for the past twenty-odd years and deconstructed, melted down into something unrecognizable and captivating. It’s as if someone tried describing what pop music sounded like to an alien—major chords, catchy hooks, danceable rhythms, young women singing about love or sex—and then told that alien to try to make a song. PC Music tracks largely follow the same rules as a Britney Spears or Katy Perry song, but the results are utterly divorced from what we hear on the radio.

It makes a little more sense once you understand A.G. Cook’s eccentric taste in music. “One of my favourite albums is Cupid and Psyche 85 by Scritti Politti,” Cook said in a rare interview with Tank Magazine. “It 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. There’s so much other stuff that has been influential: J-Pop, K-Pop, Nightcore, Ark Music Factory, Hudson Mohawke and Nadsroic, Frank Zappa.”

The most popular PC Music song to date, according to Soundcloud streams, is Hannah Diamond’s “Pink and Blue.” On May 8, Hannah tweeted, “My first track Pink and Blue has now reached over 100K plays!” It functions well as an aural example of the uncanny valley, the point at which virtual humanity gets too close to realistically representing a human, and our minds instinctively reject it. The song is uncompromisingly sweet, the lyrics are simple and earnest, the backing track spare and soothing.

However, that cuteness is pushed to an extreme—Diamond’s vocals seem slightly pitched up, the instrumental complex enough to hint that there could be more going on here. The most naive of sentiments—“We’re falling in love!”—become challenging, off-putting, and ultimately, compelling. A maniacal focus on a single directive is something that really only happens in pop; think Pitbull and his unfailing dedication to all things party. “Pink and Blue” is what happens when you take that approach and apply it to something a little more complicated than shots at the club.

The response so far has been, predictably, divided. The primary complaint, something especially applicable to Hannah Diamond or Princess Bambi, is the childlike delivery of the vocals—the tracks sound like a middle schooler’s diary entry in musical form. The thing is, there are bonafide hits, say “Teenage Dream” or “Call Me Maybe,” that could be described the exact same way. This is the infantilization of the female pop star taken to its logical extreme, and it makes for music somewhere between intriguing and uncomfortable.

It’s interesting to watch just how puzzled people can become on first listen. It’s often anger-inducing how straightforward the music is presented; there must be a joke, a wink or a trick, somewhere. Cook has described the music as “kinda stupid and kinda sexy,” which is accurate but doesn’t address the burning desire some listeners have to define the line being walked between earnest and irony. “Is this a joke?” is what nearly everyone asks on their first listen.

If “Bipp” presented a paradigm shift, a newly-conceived version of pop, then A. G. Cook and his PC Music cohorts are the artists doing the heavy lifting to transform Sophie’s glittering mission statement into a tangible movement.

When trying to analyze where this weirdness comes from, “Bipp” (not associated with PC Music) serves as a useful entry point. One of the best songs of last year, the enigmatic SOPHIE’s summer hit was a rare case in that appeared divorced from any recognizable context. It appeared, fully-formed, with nothing to compare it to. Structureless, blindingly bright, and uniquely strange, you either loved it or hated it. There’s also a chance that you initially hated it but couldn’t stop listening because it was so different. After enough listens, you probably loved it and started sharing with everyone around you. If “Bipp” presented a paradigm shift, a newly-conceived version of pop, then A. G. Cook and his PC Music cohorts are the artists doing the heavy lifting to transform SOPHIE’s glittering mission statement into a tangible movement.

Like Sophie, A. G. Cook and PC Music are largely tied to and categorized as dance music. While its most distinctive output doesn’t resemble club music in the slightest, the label has released a collection of tracks aimed squarely at the dancefloor, for example Cook’s “Had 1.” However, they keep their distance from any traditional roles as dance music artists: their mixes, for one, eschew mixing entirely, instead featuring one-time-use original production, abrupt transitions, and narration from artists like GFOTY (who is also the coincidental winner of best moniker in the world). We haven’t been to a live show and recordings are scarce, but it seems those are far from what you’d expect from a DJ set as well.

PC music is an example of what happens when elements that are ostensibly lowest common denominator fare are utilized by a smaller, weirder committee and there’s no money at stake. In short, things get very interesting. In avoiding expectations, PC Music is offering wild predictions instead. If nothing else, this sound is new, and we can call it forward-thinking because the only thing we can say for certain about this music is that it isn’t looking to the past. This might not be the near future of pop music—most people are still working out whether it’s serious music or some kind of inside joke—but it’s a plausible vision, and something the audience will have to decide whether to will into existence.


  • Joe Price

    Strains of this sound can also be heard in Oneohtrix Point Never’s most recent output, albeit in a considerably more abstract matter. I LOVE ‘R Plus Seven’ so I just wanted a chance to talk about it again.

  • hipster

    Even though Sophie’s Bipp was officially released last year, it was actually uploaded before then (along with a handful of Sophie tracks on a really obscure soundcloud). And while everyone was hearing it in 2013, I first heard it in spring 2012 (pretty sure), and I was fucking spazzing. Literally screamed “THIS IS THE FUTURE”. Iunno, I think my mind being blown a whole year before consuming the entire year, 2013, in music, just makes me wonder what people thought about it when they heard it last year. And also, it just shows how ahead this sound is, because it STILL sounds like the future.

  • hipster

    Agreed. Definitely hearing that sound in Oneohtrix’s tracks like Chrome Country.

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