Whenever I spend some time with PC Music’s SoundCloud, I end up in a glazed, detached place. It feels like I’m binge-watching reality TV—it’s a hyper-processed, easily digestible media experience. If PC Music was a TV show, it would be Empire: a strong ensemble cast, over-the-top, juicy drama, and a very strong first season that almost seemed to satirize itself.
Let’s recap: There was the pilot episode, A. G. Cook’s “Beautiful,” a song that described the world of perfect love in thirteen smirking words: “Baby when you look at me, You know that I’ll be here forever.” The rest of the cast had their spotlight moments, too: Hannah Diamond’s appearance on “Drop FM,” Danny L Harle’s “Broken Flowers,” and GFOTY’s “Don’t Wanna/Let’s Do It” provided prizewinning post-pop moments. PC Music has been groundbreaking: their music is sly, pitch-shifting insanity that relentlessly begs you to dance. Friday night’s Pop Cube was the season finale.
There’s a long line, snaking down the block and around the corner at Brooklyn’s BRIC Art Center. I resolve not to see the end of it.
This Red Bull Music Academy event, this Pop Cube, has been billed as “a multimedia reality network.” That sounds a bit like daily life, but it’s in keeping with the group’s self-aware vapidity. Their music and marketing has built a considerable buzz, provoking more questions than it answers. I wanted a couple answered tonight: are PC Music’s fans in it for the music or the irony? Would the performances involve any actual instrumentation? Does their newfound popularity mean we’re starting Hunger Games IRL?
The last question is a hard yes: the line feels like central casting for Capitol City. Sequins, harsh bangs, fluorescent trench coats, and garish makeup dominate the front of the line. A Red Bull monster truck looms over the line, the roof extended skyward to reveal a DJ booth in place of the backseat.
The crowd is antsy, jacked up on the prospect of robot pop and vodka Red Bulls. There is nothing artificial about the on-line fandom—that much is clear when a white stretch Escalade slowly rolls to a stop at the entrance and the line erupts in squeals and guttural screams. Hannah Diamond, A. G. Cook, Danny L Harle, QT, GFOTY, and SOPHIE take turns emerging from the limo and voguing for the crowd. Photographers, some with three or four cameras hanging off their limbs, unleash a barrage of flashes. It’s unclear if there’s any film in their cameras.
The line starts to move. Once inside we’re set upon by two hyper-pop reporters, Entertainment Tonightmares with empty, searching eyes, and microphones plugged into nothing. “Who are you wearing?!” is the mantra. Everyone is a celebrity.
A. G. Cook and Danny L Harle (known as Dux Content when they perform together) are on the decks, perched above a growing crowd. Videographers hang about like fruit flies, projecting the biggest smiles and best costumes onto the screens dangling around the space. Another line forms in the corner for pictures with our favorite PC Music pop stars. I am reminded of childhood trips to Disney World, waiting for Goofy’s drunken scrawl to grace my autograph book. The memory is a happy one.
The whole spectacle is sticky-sweet and indulgent, full of wild eyes and cackles. Concert-goers compliment each other’s most reflective and plastic costumes as “very PC.” The room, appropriately, feels like the inside of an energy drink: full of laughter and ecstatic energy.
A. G. Cook once described pop music as “overwhelming, extravagant and banal all at the same time.” The first two have dominated this first hour.
Suddenly, all attention is drawn to a glass wall on the upper level. I hurry over to see Blood Orange frontman Dev Hynes in action as part of a band called Thy Slaughter.
Dev is rocking out, but he’s encased behind thick glass like a futuristic museum exhibit. He’s the guitarist in a four-piece metal band called Thy Slaughter. The band is turned all the way up—they slug whiskey and spill it everywhere, soak themselves in beer and punch at their instruments—but we can’t hear a note of it. It’s a soundproof performance, A. G. Cook’s synthy sugar-pop still booming behind me. Just as the band’s sounds start to bleed in, however, a computerized female voice comes over the loudspeakers.
“Please move to the main theater. The main theater is now open.”
“Please move to the main theater. The main theater is now open.”
A cautious migration ensues. The PC masses are unsure what, exactly, we’re walking into. It could be a trap. The event is momentarily transformed into a fire drill, complete with flashing lights and a coagulation at BRIC’s main stage.
Danny L Harle is first up, and he opens with a string quartet and a harpsichord by his side. This is not PC. This is very much not PC, Danny.
Harle and the musicians do battle. The real instruments trade sonic blows with the DJ, and together they create a screeching, avant-garde piece as classical as it is noise. Once the instrumentalists leave the stage, Harle dives into a purely electronic set, backed by time-warped projections of computer-generated trees and landscapes.
Next comes Hannah Diamond, the wide-eyed, perpetually smiling teenybopper construct behind “Every Night” and “Pink and Blue.” It was an earnest, high-energy performance complete with backup dancers and some first-rate lip syncing. The fact that Hannah Diamond isn’t a professional dancer but poured herself into the performance was another perfect embodiment of PC Music’s appeal. She won the audience over almost immediately—you don’t have to worry about looking cool, or waiting for the punchline. If you bring the energy and the positivity, the music will take care of itself.
QT followed Hannah with an extended live commercial for her QT Energy Drink (which, as of this week, is available for real-life purchase). She only has one song, (another indictment/endorsement of the pop machine), but when she finally did play “Hey QT” with her two backup dancers, the crowd went nuts. Maybe you only need one.
PC Music ringleader A. G. Cook followed with an impressive—albeit straightforward—set that included “Beautiful” and, somewhat shockingly, a song played on (acoustic!) piano. It was the first sign since Harle’s quartet that there was any instrumentation linked to the sounds. Cook’s piano piece was still straight pop, but after an hour-plus of electric burbles, whirrs, and clicks, it was a welcome moment of respite.
At this point, the crowd had started to noticeably sag. Part of the problem was the space itself: there was a mezzanine with seats overlooking the main pit. The mezzanine crowd had remained seated since the beginning, and they seemed to sit in looming judgment. It was like having someone read over your shoulder.
GFOTY was next, roaring onstage with the punkest performance of the night, A. G. Cook’s glossy pop sheen had transitioned into a raw, unabashed sexual energy. GFOTY (Girlfriend of the Year) brought dancers, pom-poms, and a welcome IDGAF mentality. She finished in a flesh-colored bikini, dancers draped around her body, $100 bills stuffed into her swimsuit.
Still, the crowd continued to thin, in stark contrast to PC Music’s SXSW show, where the audience seemed to buy in completely to the gimmick. It wasn’t until SOPHIE took the stage, just past the midnight hour, that some adrenaline returned. He’s become the biggest name on the bill thanks to bubbly bangers like “Lemonade,” and he took the opportunity to premiere three new collaborations with Charli XCX.
It was a beautifully executed finale, a fully immersive PC experience. But most of my questions going in to the night remained unanswered. It didn’t look like anyone was actually playing anything, yet when I interviewed Danny L Harle, he insisted there was plenty of “live manipulation” happening onstage. A very PC answer. Still, they can leave Brooklyn with their heads held high, knowing the Pop Cube was full and fanatical. But the crowd seemed most engaged when they pulled the curtain back: A. G. Cook’s piano solo and Harle’s quartet intro revealing humanity bubbling beneath the Auto-Tune.
Like any new pop sensation, however, they’re now faced with “what now?” pressure. We’ve all seen greatness undone by its own originality, in TV and music alike: the sophomore slump is a very real danger. Will PC Music reinvent themselves by bringing “real” pop stars like Charli XCX into the fold? Or will they go deeper down the wormhole and continue building fake narratives around the cast? PC Music made waves through shock and awe. Now that the advantage of surprise is gone, however, where do they go from here?