Where Pop Music Pops-Off: Why I Keep Going To PC Music Shows

Where Pop Music Pops-Off: Why I Keep Going To PC Music Shows

Where can you find hipsters, jocks, and health goths wobbling to light-speed, hip-hop lite Charli XCX and Carly Rae Jepsen? Look no further than PC Music, the hyper-kinetic pop collective pushing the limits of this style to its sugar-coated extremes.

To give a bit of an idea of where PC Music falls in the realm of electronic, here’s a comparison in rock terms: where dubstep is like heavy metal and garage is like indie-alternative, PC Music would be punk. Unruly, frenzied, and largely androgynous, this music hits audiences in two different ways: either at a loss of control, or at a loss for words. In its rise, it managed to transcend genre and gender, flowing into hip-hop and punk sentiments while finding favor in both bros and bussy boys.

One of the wonderful aspects of PC Music is its paradoxes. Though disobedient in tone, it very much obeys the conventions of pop music and structure. Catchiness, as in pop, is key, and PC affiliates abide by that mentality to craft gems that occupy a line between standard pop and electronic music. Take for instance PC pop star and personality, GFOTY (Girlfriend of the Year), and her incomprehensible anthem, “ The Argument”. The ‘argument’ here is that despite being practically indecipherable, this still qualifies as a pop song, harmonious in melody, simple in tempo, draped over with layers of electronica. It’s tongue-in-cheek, and very much the PC spirit.

My own first experience under the haze of PC music occurred in March of last year at LA’s Echoplex, featuring a triple bill of PC Music acts. Its sonic centerpiece, UK-producer SOPHIE, appeared alongside android-starlet, QT, and PC Music’s leader, A.G. Cook. As I watched a crowd diverse in background and gender collectively lose their minds over this pitch-shifted phenomenon, I realized I’d come across a live spectacle worth pursuing. Since then, I’ve gone to five different PC related events in Los Angeles, all ranging from nightclubs to museums.

Just last week, I found myself at a double-billing of SOPHIE alongside the UK’s premier punk-pixie, Charli XCX, in downtown LA’s Exchange nightclub. Strolling through the crowd, I still was continuously surprised at the wide range of people PC music shows attract, even with my prior PC experiences. You’ll find college-aged hipsters right next to 30 to 40 year-old couples, who are all standing behind high school jocks, everyone bouncing and/or thrashing along to music that sounds like a mischievous sprite leading you down a rabbit hole.

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Charli and SOPHIE. Photo courtesy of Paul Carter and Red Bull Sound Select

During my interviews, I came across a couple, Charlie and Stacy, later twenties/early thirties, who had no idea what to expect. They knew little about Charli and nothing about SOPHIE, so instead I asked them what they thought of the crowd assembled here for the evening. Even as unfamiliar fans, they too took special notice of multifaceted crowd. Stacy remarked upon the wide range of ages “chilling together” amongst the crowd, while Charlie spoke of the vibes it gave off.

“It’s diverse, like a punk crowd,” said Charlie. “It’s very laid-back, pop, modern, millennial.”

“Like America,” Stacy remarked.

Photo courtesy of Brent Stirton and Red Bull Sound Select

Photo courtesy of Brent Stirton and Red Bull Sound Select

But while some were here on a whim, others were here on a mission. Asking members of the crowd why they came to this show often resulted in the utterance of one name in near rapture: “SOPHIE”, whose gender-less voices have captivated and confused pop culture for three years now. A younger couple, Rylee and Alexis, closer to my age (24), explained SOPHIE’s appeal, and why Rylee’s been to three of his shows so far in the past two years.

“Everybody was just dancing and it was just nonstop,” Rylee said of his second experience, a show earlier this year at the El Rey Theater, also featuring Charli. “It’s a very different type of energy. I think it’s new, it’s fresh, a kind of care-free experience.”

This aspect of freedom was also something I found repeated by many of the people I interacted with, including one girl named Shelly. After she and her friends became “obsessed” with PC music, they began attending the events, including last July’s PC Music Presents Pop City at Create Nightclub. What she finds thrilling is its ability to loosen one from their inhibitions, which is key at a live show.

“I feel like it makes people free, and garners to their own individuality,” Shelly said. “People seem honest and free spirited, and they’re not afraid to dance.”

Photo courtesy of Philip Cosores and Red Bull Content Pool

A.G. Cook at PC Music presents “Pop City”. Photo courtesy of Philip Cosores and Red Bull Content Pool

Since I first saw him in 2015, SOPHIE’s made strides into J-pop, hip-hop, and even the attention of the queen of pop herself. Meanwhile, PC label-mate Danny L Harle is composing smash collaborations in critical darlings, Carly Rae Jepsen and Caroline Polachek. Harle especially seems to be on the pop upswing, crafting earworms like “Broken Flowers” and “Ashes of Love”. While “…Flowers” coasts on a tropical dream-scape, “Ashes…” sears like hot metal, yet both will get you moving and singing along.

Though it undoubtedly stems from pop, PC Music thumps just a bit harder to bring it fans that are more inclined towards the heaviness of hip-hop or a mosh pit. Take for instance, “Vroom Vroom” off of Charli’s recent EP of the same name. While the chorus may echo a well-known Annie melody, the lead-in blares like the sound of the future, a twenty-second century criminal making her getaway in her jet-fueled Ferrari. And this sound is not just for women, men are just as susceptible to its charms.

Rather than try to invent something entirely original, PC Music instead brings together a host of influences, mashes them into a melody, and then pitch-shifts the results. Despite its unique sound, it actually can instill wistfulness in even it’s youngest fans. One young man, Mike, said “Vroom Vroom” reminded him of high-school days, while another young girl, Flor, referred to PC Music as “nostalgic”. Interesting that two younger minds would feel nostalgic, but it speaks to the playful childlike sound of the genre that undoubtedly recalls the carefree feelings of childhood.

Such playfulness is thoughtfully explored in the track above, “Be Who I Want 2 B” by J-pop icon, Namie Amuro, and artificial pop star, Hatsune Miku. A softer SOPHIE production, it bunny-hops all over itself in an innocent manner, all while belying heavy sentiments about being an independent woman in modern Japan. In the same way, PC Music is subverting our ideas of pop in an age of mashups, both musical and cultural. That’s one of the reasons I find it so stimulating, because it draws from so much, and in doing so says so much. Its excess in almost every regard brings to mind Warhol’s famous adage that “too much of a good thing is wonderful”, and PC Music is a wonderful bit of everything.

Photos courtesy of Paul Carter, Brent Stirton, Philip Cosores, and Red Bull Sound Select. 


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