The image of this PC Music showcase will surely be burned into my mind the way people remember American jazz clubs in the 20s. Except instead of handsome men sucking on pungent cigars and talking business and the mundanity of domesticity, I watch twinks in Keith Haring print shirts puff banana-flavoured vapes furiously as they talk about the logistics of facilitating the PC Music Discord.
For one night (June 15th to be precise), Camden’s KOKO becomes the Mecca of alternative gay culture. The inspiration for these Discord servers, endless YouTube thinkpieces, this very gig, is PC Music. Founder A. G. Cook has managed to produce a roster of artists, each with their own personal agenda of pushing pop till it clings for dear life. You’ll definitely know the people affiliated with the label, too; pop royalty Charli XCX, oceanic enchantress Caroline Polachek, or the comical squeak-trap of 645AR.
Where previous showcases required the audience to bounce between three different rooms, tonight features a whopping fourteen artists in ten-minute bursts. In fact, A.G. Cook calls tonight a ‘speedrun’ in a sprawling conversation with Rolling Stone published on the same day.
True to the PC Music ethos, the artists that stuck out the most were those unafraid to go all out. Here’s a rough breakdown on who impressed and who didn’t – and what each artist says about the state of PC Music today.
A quick apology
This event started rather crisply at 6:40pm – and unfortunately, I missed Planet 1999 and Ö! I’d like to say it was down to traffic, and not due to scoffing a Sainsbury’s sausage roll. Call it karma for being a greedy arse.
Lil Data, EASYFUN, umru
The DJs and producers of the PC Music universe have been essential in consolidating the PC Music ‘sound’, and they continued to reinterpret pop to the delight of fans. Lil Data played most of his co-creation with Danny L Harle, MC Boing, which turned out to be surprisingly fun, especially given that the mixing turned down the obnoxiousness of MC Boing’s voice live. Meanwhile, EASYFUN brought back Pop 2 underrated gem ‘Femmebot’ and turned it into a glitchcore fantasy, whilst umru played a remix of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Take Me Back To London’. These DJs proved that ‘hyperpop’ still had some interesting sonic avenues to take.
PC Music originally made their names off charming, girly voices chanting over rubbery chords and fizzling synths. Tonight, Hyd and caro♡ showed a different side to the PC Music princess, presenting music inflected with slower, R&B influences. Hyd’s brand of nuanced, slow-burn music didn’t translate particularly well to an audience eager to rage (although she ended with a rare performance of the disco-inspired track produced by SOPHIE, ‘Makeover’). caro♡ sounds more like cloud rap and ambient fusion, and although it was enjoyable, it was a relatively straightforward, simple set.
Namasenda, Hannah Diamond
The other original PC Music damsel who played tonight was Hannah Diamond, and she – along with Namasenda – represented the past and future of the label. Hannah is a beloved fixture on the roster, whose sweet choreography, bubbly demeanor and frenzied remixes bowled me over. Her performance of 2019’s ‘Reflections’ demonstrated how the euphoric combination of good sound design and some heartfelt lyricism made huge waves in the mid-2010s. Namasenda, on the other hand, showed off her Eurodance-inspired songs with crowd-pleaser ‘Donuts’ and ‘Banana Clip’, where she invited Mowalola on stage. Both gave really excellent and engaging performances, and shows that PC Music, for the most part, hasn’t quite abandoned its original sound just yet.
Felicita, Kero Kero Bonito
The weirdest acts definitely came from Felicita and Kero Kero Bonito, who pulled out the performance out for the KOKO showcase. Felicita invited Hong Kong-based Youngqueenz to perform as a duo. Felicita came on stage with an aquatic creature-looking mask, pouring water from a jug, and then promptly launching into an incredible screamo performance. I really appreciated that it was a different change of pace compared to other artists, and that they were dedicated to bringing a real experience in their short time on stage.
This seemed to be the case for Kero Kero Bonito too, who opened with a skit I can only describe as the band consuming an impersonator, declaring: ‘WE are Kero Kero Bonito! WEEEE are Kero Kero Bonito! Justive will be served!’. They played a mix of old and new material, including one mysterious, jazzy heist song, and apparently pledging allegiance in front of the flag of the Principality of Monaco. It was completely bonkers and totally unexpected, but it was also one of the most impressive sets of the night, and called back to the of PC Music philosophy of confusing the hell out of everyone.
645AR, Tommy Cash
I’ll be honest, the appeal of Tommy Cash eluded me when I listened to him in headphones – he’s definitely an affronting character with a singular aesthetic. Seeing him live, it’s clear that he can harness energy unlike the rest of the crew tonight, and he was the only act people properly moshed to.
But out of all the chat I could parse in the crowd, people were most excited to see 645AR. After all, if 645AR was going to find a musical home anywhere, it would be with PC Music. He’s only played a handful of shows before, so tonight was especially exciting. Surprisingly, he can hit the high notes live! If 645AR was going to find a musical home anywhere, it would be with PC Music. He played ‘Sum Bout U’ (minus twigs, sadly), ‘Yoga’, and ‘4 Da Trap’, all hits in their own right – and then brough on Tommy Cash for ‘check1′. It’s a great sign that PC Music is more committed to collaborating with rap acts, especially given 645AR’s popularity tonight.
A. G. Cook
Compared to the other acts, the founder himself was allotted a generous 12-minute set. Cook stunned with live renditions of ‘Being Harsh’, ‘Lifeline’, and ‘Superstar’, which was a really special moment. Although he’d performed these at Primavera just a few days ago, the vocals resonated much more intimately in the KOKO. It’s clear the fans savoured seeing A.G. Cook singing live as much as he did performing for everyone.
Cook finished off with a DJ set which somehow outdid all the previous DJs – a mix of ‘Show Me What’, ‘Xcxoplex’, and ‘Beautiful’, the latter being the song that introduced me to PC Music all the way back in 2015. There’s been recent worries that PC Music has turned into nothing more than a formula of glitches and distortion, but A.G. Cook’s set proved that there’s also genuine heart that people are missing when they talk about the current wave of hyper-pop.
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Words: Alex Rigotti
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