After ten years, the esoteric London music label helmed by A.G. Cook announced that 2023 would be the last year of new music releases. It’s painful news for niche music nerds like myself, who have waited with anticipation for each new release the label puts out, scrolling on Reddit forums dedicated to mining the scraps of any new information on the latest EASYFUN release or A.G. production credits. But the writing’s been on the wall for a while now, with relative label newbie Namasenda announcing her departure from the PC sphere, Danny L Harle exiting to work with the likes of Dua Lipa and PinkPantheress, and PC’s covergirl Charli XCX publicly denouncing the highly contested term ‘Hyperpop’ – a term which threatens to envelop the record label within a commercialised, Spotify-curated sub-genre which runs antithetical to Cook and founder’s first subversive intentions.
Analysing the irony of those first PC releases warrants its own piece in itself, I’ve bored many unassuming techno enjoyers at house parties explaining the significance of Hey QT’s fictional energy drink campaign for Hayden Dunham and SOPHIE’s first collaboration and the gag that PC Music’s first live shows were sponsored by RedBull, the very energy drink company PC Music knowingly satirises for Hey QT. In-jokes aside, it would be at those same house parties that I’d hijack the Bluetooth speaker to play Hannah Diamond or Serious Thugs or the clattering and abrasive sounds of Umru, quickly pissing off most of the people in there and hearing friends complain about the pitched vocals, thunderous bass and twinkling synths that defined the early sound of PC Music.
Feeling out of place at these parties, festivals and gigs perhaps owes itself in part to those formative years of my life in the closet. Like many LGBTQIA+ people, that deep-rooted feeling of isolation never really goes away, even after coming out. Knowing that you are different from your friends and family, not yet having found your people. At fifteen, I remember dragging two of my closest girl friends to see Charli XCX at Leeds festival after everyone else refused to come with me. At that time, Charli was gearing up for her ill-fated third album, closely collaborating with the late SOPHIE. The music was unbounded. She played the unreleased track Bounce, equipped with inane lyrics, bubbling bass and hacksaw synths which obliterated the Radio 1 Dance music tent. The feeling was euphoric, finally being able to let go of those insecurities and the fear of an imminent hate crime or mocking laugh from a group of straight boys; hearing the music that I actually wanted to hear, surrounded by people who all felt the exact same way.
The idea of community within the LGBTQIA+ is riddled with its own prejudices and problems – even after coming out, the community I thought I should be accepted into proved more nuanced and complicated than I’d initially thought.
The idea of community within the LGBTQIA+ is riddled with its own prejudices and problems – even after coming out, the community I thought I should be accepted into proved more nuanced and complicated than I’d initially thought. How does one identify when you don’t fit into those mysteriously demarcated categories of ‘Twink’ or ‘Jock’ or whether you are conventionally attractive or not. It’s a harsh reality that while listening to remixes from straight producers such as Jax Jones or Joel Corry in gay London nightclub HEAVEN, you’re being shoved out of the way by a more conventionally attractive gay patron, or even being rejected at the door whilst a group of straight white males are able to jump the queue. It’s disillusioning, but PC Music felt like the antidote to this.
When I first heard those glittering opening chords to A.G. Cook’s Beautiful aged fourteen, something clicked inside of me. Those deceptively simple lyrics, pitched way up high and somewhat genderless – “Baby when you look at me you know that I’ll be here forever / Baby, when I look at you, I know that we’ll be here together” – it felt deeply personal. Personal Computer Music, discovered online and existing in the ether of Soundcloud rips or shoddy video recordings from one of the rare live events PC Music threw in the early 2010s. The sentiment was there: connection in an ever-increasing digital space. Hearing Hannah Diamond wistfully lamenting, alone in her bedroom, over a lover who never texts her back on the track Hi, has a strong resonance with how online dating culture operates within the gay community. The travails of Grindr and other gay dating apps, coupled with growing self-confidence issues reflected within Diamond’s music, the message of self-acceptance and it being okay, encouraged even, to feel those feelings of disillusionment, disconnection and disappointment.
The feeling was euphoric, finally being able to let go of those insecurities and the fear of an imminent hate crime or mocking laugh from a group of straight boys; hearing the music that I actually wanted to hear, surrounded by people who all felt the exact same way.
SOPHIE’s ‘It’s Okay to Cry’perhaps epitomises this best. Co-opted as a manifesto for transgender youth, SOPHIE created the song as a medium for her own coming out as a transgender woman. The formally anonymous producer pioneered a sound unheard of in the EDM community. Part-bubblegum bass, part-techno, part-pop – descriptions fail to capture the pure, unadulterated magic of hearing the likes of ‘BIPP’ or ‘LEMONADE’ for the first time. ‘It’s Okay to Cry’however, was the first time SOPHIE bared her face and more importantly, her voice – devoid of sonic manipulation, raw and tender. The title captures the simplicity of early PC Music lyricism, its profoundness lying in its directness. To hear as a young queer teenager that it is okay to feel sad, to recognise the pain and loneliness which is bound up within understanding who you are in the world, it was epiphanic. The rainbow which shines above SOPHIE in the accompanying music video blurs into deep oranges and purples while black clouds gather behind her as she sings resolutely into the camera, staring directly at us – the audience – as thunder claps and rain pours, an image of both vulnerability and power. It understandably struck a chord, and still to this day, if I’m feeling alone, I lie in bed with the lights off and listen to the song until it inevitably makes me cry, a complete and utter release of emotion.
I managed to see two iterations of PC Music showcases here in London, where the roster of artists perform back-to-back sets of old PC classics alongside coveted unreleased new music. A certain energy could be felt on these two nights, wild excitement and anticipation, building for months since the first announcements were made. In 2021, eight years since the previous PC Music live show, their Pitchfork Music Festival takeover at Fire in Vauxhall was packed out. Seeing A.G. Cook perform a rapid-fire DJ set under a wall of dizzying LED lights, surrounded by hardcore fans of the label, it was the first clubbing experience in London in which I truly felt at home. The music itself speaks to like-minded people, unafraid of vulnerability who embrace their insecurities. The bass during Namasenda’s Shots Fired made the floors vibrate, everyone was drenched in sweat, with Mowalola hyping up the crowd, ricocheting from the stage to the mosh pit. People took their tops off, stripped down to scream “Shots fired, no feelings to be found / But if you push me to the edge / I will take you down and I won’t regret a thing!” That no fucks attitude was electric, and for the first time in my years of struggling with body confidence issues stemming from my sexuality, I thought, “Fuck it” and I took off my shirt that was wet with sweat and felt confident, hanging over the barriers on the front row, shouting every word.
The thought of no more nights like those saddens me, although I am still wishful that PC Music will return with a final live showcase to close out their ten-year run. Over the past decade, I have not been alone in how PC Music has soundtracked the transition from insecure teenager into burgeoning adult. Their music has connected me with friends I never thought I’d make and opportunities thirteen-year-old me could have only dreamt of. And as we wait for those final few releases promised by A.G. Cook in his anniversary Instagram post, it makes me wonder how many other lives have been changed by this still relatively underground record label. PC Music Forever.
Joel Danziger is a recent graduate of King’s College London where he studied English Literature whilst freelancing as a fashion stylist, casting assistant and writer.
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