Pop music, and the industry in general, wouldn’t be the same without PC Music. The London-born collective and label, which was the brainchild of sonic trailblazer A. G. Cook, took off via SoundCloud in 2013 and went on to reshape the landscape forever.
Now, after a decade of activity and a discography that spans more than 20 hours, Cook has announced that 2023 will be PC Music’s last year for new releases, with the label’s future dedicated to archival projects and special reissues. In cryptic fashion, he has teased “an undisclosed number of new albums and singles coming very soon”.
Building a community that encouraged experimentation and future-facing production, the hyper-glossy ever-expanding PC world shattered traditional genre standards by melting bubblegum pop and bass with electronic club sounds. Their success was hard-fought, though: initial skepticism saw The Guardian debate whether they were the future of pop or contemptuous parody.
Nonetheless, the maximalist, anything-goes artistic ethos of artists like Cook, the late innovator SOPHIE and Danny L Harle infiltrated the mainstream on countless occasions. The snapping synths of SOPHIE’s ‘Lemonade’ soundtracked a McDonalds advert and she co-wrote Madonna’s track ‘Bitch, I’m Madonna’ and Cook became Charli XCX’s executive producer. Most recently, the PC-indebted hyperpop snares of Sam Smith and Kim Petras’ ‘Unholy’ took the sound the label pioneered to the top of the charts for an entire month in late 2022, thus completing the so-called “gentrification of hyperpop”.
A new 100-minute SoundCloud minimix signals the end of an extremely exciting era. Fittingly, the final word goes to a corporate-voiced AI who seems to be reading out a statement on behalf of Cook: “I want to convey my deepest admiration and heartfelt congratulations to each and every one of you,” begins the funny, emotional farewell speech. “Standing together, we have overcome obstacles, shattered barriers and opened so many musical doors”…
We look back at how PC Music and its affiliates changed the game in 10 essential tracks.
A. G. Cook – ‘Beautiful’ (2013)
The standout from PC Music’s first compilation – a snappy 30-minute collision of electronic, pop and club beats – left critics both confused and infatuated. Somehow simultaneously nostalgic and futuristic, its pitch-shifted utopian rave fusion set the blueprint for the label’s signature sound. As one YouTube comment reads, “this song is like drinking perfume”.
SOPHIE – ‘BIPP’ (2013)
Every SOPHIE song has been instrumental in the PC Music story, even though she didn’t officially release on the label – her affiliation was via her friendship and collaborative work with Cook and Harle. The Scottish producer’s singular creations – including the in-your-face ‘Hard’, buzzing ‘L.O.V.E’ and euphoric tear-jerker ‘Just Like We Never Said Goodbye’ – shared PC’s ethos of fusing cute but menacing sounds. But it was the attention-grabbing ‘BIPP’ that introduced SOPHIE’s unparalleled artistic vision, a hit that sounds as futuristic now as it did then.
QT – ‘Hey QT’ (2014)
Cook and the PC Music crew have long been known to blur the lines between art and artifice, but the unveiling of this bubbly club-pop hit (co-produced by Cook and SOPHIE ) was their most elaborate statement. Accompanied by the creation of an IRL fizzy drink and released via XL Recordings (The Prodigy, The xx), ‘Hey QT’s live debut at a Boiler Room party in LA was equally memorable. Performing the song as QT, Hayden Dunham read a fashion magazine and disinterestedly lip-synched the lyrics while a voiceover endorsed the energy drink of the same name. A marketing masterclass.
SOPHIE – ‘Lemonade’ (2015)
SOPHIE’s unique approach to production was revolutionary and regularly left jaws on the floor. One of her key early releases, the fizzing ‘Lemonade’, was described as a “twisted little banger” by Resident Advisor. As well as making numerous best-of year-end single polls, it also featured in a McDonald’s advert. Following Sophie’s tragic death in 2021, the track posthumously entered the UK Physical Singles chart, further proof of the auteur’s ever-lasting influence on modern music.
Danny L Harle – ‘Broken Flowers’ (2015)
In late 2015, PC Music inked a deal with Sony’s Columbia Records, forming what the independent imprint described as “a new, highly advanced pop weapon”. The first release following the team-up was an EP from “music business heartthrob” Danny L Harle (who would go on to produce Caroline Polachek’s 2019 album ‘Pang’). Although all four tracks on it are undisputed bangers (see also infectious rave anthem ‘Forever’), ‘Broken Flowers’ – a hyperactive earworm originally released in 2013 that later infiltrated Radio 1 playlists – provided the commercial crossover moment.
Charli XCX – ‘Vroom Vroom’ (2016)
Produced by SOPHIE, ‘Vroom Vroom’ signified a new post-‘Sucker’ direction for pop queen Charli XCX and placed her firmly in the PC Music world. Released on her own label, Vroom Vroom Recordings, the EP’s experimental pop sound divided critics upon release but built a cult following. Retrospectively, it’s considered a pioneering work in the hyperpop movement.
Danny L Harle & Carly Rae Jepsen -‘Super Natural’ (2016)
This transcendent slice of trance-infused pop euphoria was the first major international cosign for PC Music, as classically-trained rave-lover Danny L Harle teamed up with pop princess Jepsen. “When he played me some stuff the first feeling I had was, ‘I’ve never heard anything like this’” Jepsen told The FADER at the time. “Today in music, that’s such an exciting feeling.”
Hannah Diamond – ‘Concrete Angel’ (2019)
PC Music has long made IRL popstars out of its extremely-online personalities, such as singer, songwriter and photographer Hannah Diamond. Although her glossy aesthetic raised questions about whether she was in fact a real person, her long-awaited debut album ‘Reflections’, was among 2019’s best. Fan favourites ‘Invisible’, ‘Fade Away’ and ‘Make Believe’ turned heartbreak into bubblegum-flecked pop, but it was the Cook-produced ‘Concrete Angel’ that added another dimension to Diamond’s Y2K sheen.
A. G. Cook – ‘Lifeline’ (2020)
Having once preferred to stay in the shadows, Cook stepped firmly into the spotlight with the release of 2020’s untypically-concise album ‘Apple’ (he also released the colloidal seven-disc album ‘7G’ a month later). The former saw him largely swap buzzsaw synths for acoustic guitar and, by pushing the limits of auto-tune, vocal-led tracks like ‘Oh Yeah’ and the ballad-style ‘Lifeline’ became singalong alt-pop anthems.
umru, Tommy Cash & 645AR – ‘check1’ (2022)
In a new decade, the next generation of PC Music artists encompass a typically wide range of genres and personalities. From the unconventional experimentation of felicita and pop sheen of Sweden’s Namasenda. But it’s Charli XCX-collaborator umru who follows in A. G. Cook’s footsteps most when it comes to pushing sonic barriers.
His 2018 EP ‘search result’ featured Laura Les of 100 gecs while 2022’s ‘comfort noise’ was full of challenging excursions, particularly ‘check1’ which crashes with speaker-shattering beats. It also featured on ‘Pc Music, Vol. 3’, the label’s first compilation in six years, which Pitchfork said “obliterates the notion that there’s any one PC Music sound”. Mission accomplished.