For all PC Music’s influence on the current direction of pop music, the London label / collective have released surprisingly few compilations. Rather, label head and producer A.G. Cook has been focussed on a steady output of once-off singles and EP’s from his guard of pop agitators, flooding the genre (and the internet) with PC Music’s nebulous mutations of Top 40 tropes. It’s a strategy that has yielded unprecedented results. During their recent imperial phase, PC Music’s hold on the future of pop’s sound was pretty much indispensable, giving rise to what we now know as ‘hyperpop’ and ‘bubblegum bass,’ but also creeping into the mainstream in ways first foretold by their queen consort, SOPHIE. The two disc Volume 3 (or rather, Personal Computer Music for the Third Millennium) is a curated collection of PC Music’s releases from between 2018 and 2021, along with a few ‘unreleasable’ tracks. But for followers of the genre and the collective, it’s a fascinating look into how PC Music has shifted as the trends first set by them have evolved, and the concerns of the label itself has evolved in light of recent events.
Part of PC Music’s initial allure was that no one, or nothing, else sounded even remotely alike to whatever they were cooking up. Though widely diverse in sound and influence, the artists and producers of PC Music have always been unified in approach. Packaged as a vision of the future with one foot firmly in the not-so distant past, the concoction of extraterrestrial futurism and deep nostalgia was something that resonated with an audience of millennials, mostly uncertain about the impending future and the rise of a whole new generation seemingly out of nowhere. There was a comfort in PC Music’s rehashing of familiar trends from the 90’s and Y2K era, but also an undeniable cool factor to their edginess and outré sound design that allowed millennials to hold on to a feeling of relevance by turning them into tastemakers. In the years since, particularly during the time the majority of the music on Volume 3 was created, things have shifted. PC Music’s sound and image have become increasingly assimilated into the mainstream, and Gen-Z now applies the term ‘hyperpop’ to acts like 100 Gecs and Dorian Electra, with their obnoxious mid-00’s points of departure. As such, things on Volume 3 aren’t as immediately arresting as PC Music’s previous group efforts, despite all the major players being present. Disc 1’s Side A features familiar sounds from EASYFUN and Hannah Diamond, with the exception of filicita’s haunting ballad marzipan, sung in Polish by Caroline Polachek. Featuring a warbling drone synth and icy piano keys, it’s chilling, haunting, and unexpected at the front of the compilation. It also fairs surprisingly well as a sort of epilogue to the glacial trap of Tommy Cash’s filthy Pussy Money Weed. Side B is better curated, opening with umuru’s abrasive popular before plunging into the acid rave-cum-trance of Lil Data’s Burnnn. The track is a journey, spiralling and contorting its references and stylistic motifs to branch into a million directions, from 8-bit music to gabber. It’s the sort of subversion that’s synonymous with PC Music’s manifesto. Dare (AM) from Namasenda, one of the label’s most promising new talents, is an interesting choice considering the artist’s recent plethora of stronger offerings (Wanted comes to mind). In fact, most of Namasenda’s most outright PC Music moments are eschewed on the collection in favour of more low-key offerings from her.
Cook closes Disc 1 with Lifeline, a desperate and aching synth ballad that recalls his work on Charli XCX’sPop2. Cook also opens the second act of the compilation, this time with the addictive Xcxoplex featuring XCX herself. It’s easily the most hooky selection on the compilation, which calls into question what has otherwise been an essential part of the PC Music formula: saturated, saccharine, and totally addictive earworm pop hooks. Volume 3 is mostly occupied with sparse, minimal experiments like Ö’sGood Things On The Way and bubblegum ballads like caro<3’s over uor Danny H Harle’s Blue Angel (featuring Clario). There are some lip-smackingly glossy moments, though. Hyd’sSkin 2 Skin is deliciously fun and ridiculous, with its whispered verses and absurdly triumphant chorus. It’s a good example of the sort of juxtapositional pop tropes that made PC Music’s work so addictive. felicita and Kero Kero Bonito’s Cluck is equally irreverent, the closest PC Music has come to the jockish humour of 100 Gecs.
The compilation concludes with EASYFUN’s recent Audio, one of the label’s strongest recent releases. Upon its release a few months ago, Audio sounded like the most fun the label had had in a while, recalling the dizzying, effervescent bangers of their early years. It’s difficult not to imagine just how hard the past few years have been for this family of disruptors, starting with the pandemic crashing their party at its apex, and crescendoing with the death of SOPHIE shortly after. The shift in tone toward the sombre, delicate, and heartbroken is understandable, and in its own way Volume 3 tells the story of them rediscovering their spark. Perhaps that’s why tracks like AFK or Banana Clip are visibly absent. Volume 3 is not so much a proposal of the future as it is a reflection of what’s come to pass for PC Music, starting the process of rebuilding and perhaps, once again, disrupting.