But just because Harle doesn’t adopt a hyper-real persona, doesn’t mean he’s excluded from the PC Music philosophy. On the contrary: after spending much of life as a trained classical musician, Harle’s breakthrough came when considering how to transmute those classical ideologies to the fixed structures of pop music. “Broken Flowers” demonstrated how the two worlds could find a happy medium, and he hasn’t slowed down since.
At Red Bull Music Academy’s PC Music Pop Cube last month, Harle was the opening act. He bridged the gap between the classical and futuristic world from the start, inviting a string quartet and a harpsichord player to flank his DJ decks. The result was a maddening, beautiful interplay between the instruments that set the stage for an evening of sonic mischief.
What made you bring out the harpsichord and strings?
I knew I wanted to start with a harpsichord, and I wanted to include this big bending synth sound, and I wanted to imitate that in the music, but a harpsichord can’t do that. So we brought in the string players, who could really do that in a straight line. That bend was the conceptual basis for the start of my set.
That’s a thing I’m interested in—classical music will always exist alongside, but also separate from, the pop stuff. But there are moments when they come together. It’s not a thing I have a larger ambition for, but in this context it really came together.
You and A. G. Cook had known each other before; how did the rest of PC Music come on board? Was there any type of recruitment?
It kind of happened as an inevitability. There was never any recruitment, it was always people communicating with us or us hearing things that were similar, and when we reached out they had already heard about what we were doing. It was very easy the way it came together. Funny thing is, we’d never really been in the same area until SXSW, but there was immediately a similar rhetoric, we were all on the same level.
Compared to the rest of the team, you have less of a hyper-real “character.” Was there ever any desire or pressure to do so?
I just make music. It was always just—there’s always a sense of everyone having their own thing, each of us with a very strong personality, and that contrast came out in the best of ways. It was genuinely people having fun, and the NY show further solidified that feeling. I don’t have any certain idea of how people should listen to it, if they’re enjoying it in any way I’m happy. But the way I truly love seeing people enjoy our music is through a sense of fun and silliness—but silliness doesn’t negate it being emotional or anything like that. It’s a sort of craziness, a sense of heightened emotion.
It’s a sort of craziness, a sense of heightened emotion.
When talking about the show afterwards, I had no doubt it was a very real fandom. Was the performance real as well, or were you all just pressing play?
There was a lot of live manipulation going on there, in everybody’s sets. The stuff that was choreographed with Hannah and GFOTY, there has to be choreography of some sort—you can’t be improvising when there are cues for dancers and 20-foot props. But all the people on the decks…there are similar tracks playing but always some variation going on, sometimes new verse being added, always a fresh take on it.
You said earlier that PC Music represents an emotional experience, but there’s this stereotype of pop music being devoid of emotion. How have you tried to fight that?
The funny thing is, people always ask how my classical training has influenced my pop music, and it’s actually the other way round. Pop music just has that overriding standard, it has to communicate something in a big way, otherwise it misses the mark. You can’t expect people to sit around for 18 minutes, when the payoff might come at the 10 minute mark [as with some classical music]. That mentality made me think, “why am I writing this music that doesn’t satisfy me as a listener,” so it became the other direction.
Often, for me, I can just be inside a tune—the fact that I don’t like the singer’s voice or the beat is irrelevant, I just find the melody or the chords emotional. I can just listen to things in isolation like that. It can be a really cheesy song or a really weird thing. I find a lot of chart music written by specific people appealing—David Guetta I like, but Avicii, I really haven’t found any emotion in that, ever.
People always ask how my classical training has influenced my pop music, and it’s actually the other way round
It’s just what occurs to them as a melody—I know what it’s like. It’s a sense of, you’ll move up or down by this interval, or this rhythmic idea that comes at the end of a phrase. And there are other artists that don’t do those little things, they come from a completely different aesthetic—I’m not saying Avicii makes bad music, it just doesn’t speak to me in an emotional way.
Was there anything that surprised you about the Pop Cube, about the audience reaction?
I was hoping for it to go the way it did. It was just a further assertion that PC Music works in the real world. I was so glad to see it go down the way it did.
Things like the multiple TV screens communicates a kind of confusion involving digital representations of people. You’re being put up in frames everywhere, and you’re not sure why, or why they’re being held up. You’re not sure if you’re in the show or not. It’s an experience that recalls the uncanny valley.
I read that you’re a big fan of Tim & Eric, and that made so much sense listening to your music afterwards. How did you get into them? Do you have a favorite sketch?
There’s endless stuff. Some of their best stuff is their interviews for the Sundance Film Festival, they are all so funny. Some of them are normal, but then one of them will just go off. They work so well together…the way in which they pointlessly promote Shrek 3 instead of their own film, there’s no sense of logic or conceptual organization, it’s just like, “that’s perfect, let’s do it.” That really correlated to the way Alex and I work together, there’s no logic, perception or discussion. Only in hindsight do you really analyze. Whilst it’s happening, you just do it.
Where do you fall on streaming and the monetization of music?
People want to pay for stuff, it’s just about making it easy. If people are given the option to pay for something, they’ll pay for it. Masses of people want to be involved in culture, they want to all listen to the same Spotify playlist. Music isn’t just about music for most people, it’s about being involved in a much larger cultural framework. People will pay money to be a part of that, there’s no doubt in my mind. It’s basically just been stupid on the part of software developers.
I wanted to see a film recently—I was about to say where and how, but that’s not a good idea—but because the software was so bad, I literally couldn’t pay to watch this film so I had to find another way. If I’m the distributor for this film, that’s the first thing I’m doing, finding a way for people to pay for it online. It’s inexcusable.
People are lazy, you just have to make it really easy. One click.
Where do you go individually from here? Are you looking to expand your set in any way?
Live singers, yes, I’m always interested in that kind of thing. My visuals, that kind of thing. That’s always on my mind. The really fast sunset projections that kept happening behind me (at Pop Cube), that’s literally me playing video games. I’d also like to release some tracks! I’ve got the tracks, I’m just sorting out how I’m going to do it.
I sometimes liken PC Music to a rap collective. From here, is there any specific release strategy? Is there the big name that’s going to release an album with everyone else featured, or are you just releasing music as it’s ready?
That’s more like it. I don’t know, Alex is big on strategy, I just make music. I’ve always been involved in the aesthetic buildup of what’s good, but Alex is the guy on the larger cultural framework of what we do. We’ve always worked well together for that reason—I’m so micro, and he’s so macro in terms of the way we think about things. We reign each other in quite well.
Who have you been listening to these days?
I’ve always been listening to Nightcore. From the second I first heard it, it’s been so intensely emotional for me to listen to. I don’t feel like it’s an interaction from another human to me, it’s just MP3 sound making me feel emotional in my head. With that kind of stuff, it’s just a representation of heightened emotion for me. What else…Thomas Adès, a fantastic composer who’s about to have an opera coming out, called The Exterminating Angel. There’s a fantastic remix of the Hamster Dance song, I love the instrumental part of that. I love watching pop music videos too, the production is just amazing.
Pop music especially, you hear hooks from ’90s dance things that resurface today all the time. I’ve looked into the legality of this, but I’m pretty sure they’re just lifting a hook from something and rewriting it, nobody’s really getting paid there.