But sometimes we need to scrub our soul free of all that soul-grime, pour Ubik-strength bleach into our insides, retire to our pink and blue pop citadel in the sky and just… disintegrate.
Which is why, probably right at the point where everyone is sick to the back stomach of the words ‘PC Music’ you find us musing hard over the problematic pop offered up by Hannah Diamond and AG Cook.
We were late to the hate-party on this one. Only stumbled across PC Music’s Soundcloud when our m8 Katie in LA sent us an email that included a link to Attachment and one word in the subject line: ‘why?’
It was a ‘Why?’ that said:
- What the crap are you doing over there?
- Why do you British people hate music so much?
- Just… just fuck off.
But in less words. And, yeah, on first listen it was all a bit
I tweeted it, I bullied it.
But… for every embarrassed squirmy feeling as I listened to the various PC Music avatars perform slightly incorrect versions of what in another world might have been chart hits, there was a mad fizzy dopamine rush – the kind that you might have got from eating too many sweets, taking too many drugs or just looking at too many bright colours and spinning round in an office chair until you vom.
What IS this.
That ‘What IS this’ factor is what all music nerds secretly crave, because we’re so burnt out and bored of everything that is identifiable as pertaining to genre. PC Music, on the hand, was deliriously difficult to rationalise. Ah yes delicious sound drugs of strange origin… how I have missed you.
“I listened to it twice at 5 in the morning while high and drunk and still felt nothing,” Katie elaborated.
The songs of PC Music are steeped in the minutiae of modern love. Hannah Diamond moon-junes harder than anyone this side of Barney Sumner when she sings about imprisoning lost loves as pictures in her phone. The music is the cold, cosmetic, perfectly-vacuformed plastic of pop.
But not just any pop. A recent Wire thinkpiece nailed it, not linking PC Music erroneously to vaporwave – as other pundits have – but to 90s chart pop. But not good 90s chart pop. No, not the big budget hip-hop and nu-jack swing-inflected American productions like early Destinys Child, but the cheap, lurid British stuff.
Even more specifically, to me, PC Music sound like an updated megamix of the British dance pop smeared across that decade’s Now compilations. Defiantly anti-canonical, you’d be hard pressed to name a single one of these artists, who mostly knocked out just one or two hits before submerging back into whatever weird semi-corporate production line sludge spawned them. Your false memories will tell you the 90s were all about Cool Britannia, union jack guitars, ‘The Battle of Britpop’ – these are Total Recall implants. That stuff existed – unfortunately – sure, but in mainstream culture it was backgrounded by all this nameless pop noise. This stuff was inescapable at the time, and none of us can remember it now.
It was deeply uncool. There’s little nostalgia to be mined of it. But there’s something fascinating about that – this shadowy anonymous brainwashing pop that cloaked our childhoods. In a sense, PC Music is the most singularly “British” music since grime.
PC Music clearly find it fascinating, too, though their reading of the era is a miasma of misremembering and necessary irreverence. If they’ve taken anything from that music they’ve embraced wholeheartedly its lack of cynicism, its simplicity, its heart-on-sleeve big dumb teenage sighs and the glassy-eyed major-key machinery of its production.
They’ve embraced that so much in fact, that it wouldn’t be inappropriate to suspect them of the sly piss-taking of faux-naivety. Are PC Music for real? Who knows, but sometimes there’s something so heartbroken and pure and bluntly unselfconscious about their clunky outsider pop that at times all it reminds me of is Xiu Xiu.
Wire compare PC Music to noise, and that isn’t inappropriate either. Certainly AG Cook and associates brew up a sound that’s more divisive, antagonistic and, yes, annoying than any of the complacent, expected oscillator shrieks of the now-conservative noise scene.
(If you need proof of this, we attended one of the Broken Flag anniversary alldayers a few years ago and there was something quaint and sadly humorous about seeing an age-withered Consumer Electronics man flop his bare belly out onstage, rub his nipple and shout SHIT and FUCK through a microphone – YEAH YOU TELL EM GRANDAD, MAGGIE THATCHER WOULD TOTALLY THINK THIS TRANSGRESSIVE NIPPLE DISPLAY WAS A THREAT TO SOCIETY OK NOW TIME FOR A LITTLE NAP it was sort of like a noise version of the Bad Manners-headlined seaside punk shows for old Oi! boys. However, when our hardened noise buddy Louis – who we attended that show with – went to a recent PC Music night in London he practically ran screaming for the exit.)
It’s noise that noise dudes find unlistenable – and what could be more perfectly offensive than that?
Sometimes what seem like deliberate wind-ups decay into what are actually quite sweet little tunes, though. And that makes me think of Saint Etienne.
Saint Etienne were another pop concept that flickered between arch referential geekdom and giddy heartfelt twee with an unashamed aggression. But listen to Like The Swallow from Foxbase Alpha and you’re reminded that, at heart, Saint Etienne were/are pop nostalgics/academics/historians besotted with their record collections, most of which came from lists of best records ever.
By contrast, there’s almost something nasty about the sounds PC Music draw from. They could hate this music as much as they might claim to love it. It’s beyond irony.
It’s a headfuck of a thing. Our advice is not to think about it, and if anyone asks you what you think about PC Music, just tell them: I think if Zoella was a pop star, this is what her songs would probably sound like.
Facts we found out about the Now series while writing this post:
- ‘Now That’s What I Call Music! 43’ (released 19 July 1999) was the first in the series to be released on MiniDisc. The last Now on MD was Now 48, released 9 April 2001
- Now That’s What I Call Music! represented for cassette all the way up until 14 April 2003 and Now 54 (featuring, for context, t.A.T.u., Richard X vs Liberty X, Junior Senior and, perhaps strangely, a track off 100th Window by Massive Attack)
- Vinyl did less well. The Now masterminds threw in the circular plastic towel after Now 35 (featuring both Pearl’s Girl by Underworld and Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Deep Blue Something) in November 1996
- The weirdest song we could find on a 90s Now compilation was Paranoid Android. Though in 1997, to be fair, Radio One rinsed that song every bit as hard as MMMBop
- (MMMBop was better.)