Late last year, on the final day of 2014 to be exact, I read a fantastic piece by The Fader’s Steph Kretowicz that called in to question electronic music’s latest trend of feminine appropriation. In the article, Kretowicz analyzed and broke down the reality of said appropriation, admitting that while it made for a great, undeniably fresh form of music, there were still many troubling aspects of what it all represented. The primary culprit, and ultimate subject that Kretowicz put under the microscope, was London’s most intriguing collective, PC Music: a group headed by label creator A.G. Cook, and supported by the mysterious (but most definitely male producer) SOPHIE. I could try and further expand on what she had to say, but I feel like this quote does a good enough job of summing it all up:
“On the other hand, by appropriating and objectifying stereotypically feminine identities while obscuring their own, the men of PC Music and Sophie are literally colonizing the female body and using it as an instrument for projecting their own agenda.”
What’s left out of that excerpt is Kretowicz’ acknowledgement of everything PC has done in favor of female-driven pop music (and I use the term “pop” as loosely as humanly possible), including the label’s exaggerated celebration of stereotypically “girly” proclivities. But, after seeing the majority of PC Music’s roster on Thursday night in Austin’s Empire Garage, I can safely say that nothing this wondrous group of British twenty-somethings does is stereotypical.
I walked in later than I wanted to, having waited in line for a solid hour, and subsequently missed sets from easyFun, Lil Data, and Kane West (the last of which having apparently put on an unmissable show). Yet the unassuming Spinee proceeded to immediately win me over, with a DJ set that was the one resounding piece of evidence that nothing was sacred or immune to PC’s ever-expanding influence on today’s progressive soundscape. As “Save Me“, a sped up and hyperized version of Evanescence’s 2003 song “Bring Me To Life”, reverberated through speakers that seemed to be on the most souped up of steroids, I realized that the night would offer something special.
It was easy to be skeptical, especially considering that the label seemed to be completely based around the idea of a perversion of pop and dance, which had twisted itself into what might be the definitive form of post-EDM. With prominent figures like QT, Cook and SOPHIE’s dream-like collaboration made incarnate, boosting PC’s now global recognizability, you could even argue that the label’s very existence was one exaggerated, ongoing gag put on by a group of art school friends just for shits and giggles. After all, it’s not hard to tell that the doll-like performer (who’s as nice, polite, and amiable as can be, for the record) is a living breathing metaphor for today’s overwhelmingly commercial climate and, perhaps, an open mockery of consumerism. How else could you explain a 15-20 minute long set that only included QT’s one irresistible tune “Hey QT“, as she introspectively pondered aloud ways to push her titular energy drink on to a bedazzled (and bewildered) crowd?
Yet for all of the sugar-coated bounce, and cutesy to the point of obnoxious sounds, I, along with many other onlookers present at PC Music’s SXSW showcase, left with a clear understanding that there was still something genuine at the heart of all of the carefully constructed allure. While not necessarily original, PC Music was still something artfully inspired.
From Spinee’s sense-enveloping turn behind the turntable, to GFOTY and Hannah Diamond’s crowd commanding stage presences, the female likeness was not being appropriated so much as it was appreciated and championed. Distinct personalities shined bright as the former invoked a brasher, edgier version of Charli XCX, strutting out flamboyantly skilled backup dancers perfectly in tune with her choreographed routine. Diamond’s set on the other hand reminded us of an alternate version of Britney Spears, with her laser-like precision and focus during a captivating solo performance. Resoundingly, all three females dispelled the notion that this grand spectacle of glitzy electropop and house was some weird fantasy singularly enacted by A.G. Cook himself.
The “men” did also make their collective presence felt through similar, insular performances. But much like the women, each person felt surprisingly distinct through their own sounds. What was consistent throughout was the blaring, festival-ready levels of bass. And what I can’t necessarily dispute was the nagging-feeling of female appropriation that would ever so often reel its head. But what I can also say for sure is that we aren’t dealing with traditionally heterosexual males within PC (if heterosexual at all). In this current, evolving world of self-identification, the lines separating gender are becoming increasingly blurred. Names, colors, visuals, and clothing usually associated with the opposite sex have become increasingly viable choices for the other. This fact was fully represented during the 5-hour long show, and has been ingrained in the label’s culture since the very beginning.
Felicita’s pink shirt, and dyed blonde hair masked a darker, bombastic and ultimately rewarding production scale. Yet Danny L Harle kept it simple in appearance while putting on a masterful demonstration of buildup and accelerated house music, culminating with his 2013 sleeper hit “Broken Flowers“. But the two supposed masterminds behind PC Music’s hype were the ones who left their marks the loudest.
The bespectacled A.G. Cook took it upon himself to unleash havoc on the dance floor, sending sharp, jagged reverberations of electronic dance music shivering through every crack, nook, and cranny in the building. Fluorescent, neon-colored joyrides like “Beautiful” transitioned seamlessly into bubbling remixes like “Repeat Pleasure“, only to build and build before coming to a grinding halt. SOPHIE, who had previously resorted to sending cross-dressing stand-ins up on stage and banning photography during his sets, came out as his himself. With a curly red mane kept to one side, and a flashing of white lights against a black backdrop, the enigmatic producer resembled a spectral Bond villain up on stage. However, it was the hard, devastating fits of music shaking the foundations of the building that made him feel the most sinister. And with the pulling of the plug and power by the showcase’s venue, the show ended, a euphoric and raucous crowd satisfied yet still hungry for more.
On Thursday night, PC Music’s expansive roster emphatically proved to be more than just some gimmicky gang of quasi-producers and faux popstars. It’s true that some have gone to great lengths to obscure their identities. Others seem to relish in the tackiness of early 2000’s pop and K-pop’s emergence in the west. But what stands above all else is the collective’s willingness to embrace weird by doing things their own way. In the end, PC Music is a collection of living, breathing human beings: whether they want the rest of us to realize that or not.
(Pictured from top: PC Music, Spinee, QT, GFOTY, Danny L Harle, SOPHIE)