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Is PC Music still relevant?

Is this microgenre heading back into the depths of the Internet?

Almost two years ago I wrote an article for HumanHuman about PC Music and its artists. It never got published, because one day before the feature would go online, Pitchfork ran a very similar story. Between then and now a lot of things have happened in the world of PC Music.

The crew has signed a deal with major label Columbia Records and Charli XCX gave an influential co-sign to A. G. Cook and his friends, but interestingly the tone of the conversation surrounding “the most divisive record label in a long time” has shifted. It's noticeable that there aren't as many supportive articles floating around these days. Our question is, is PC Music disappearing again in the deep dark parts of the internet?

The internet has a lot of interesting characteristics that have had an influence on music in all its different aspects. For starters, the World Wide Web with all its tools has been the birthplace of new genres, notably post-internet styles of music that use our virtual home as an inspiration. Second, the internet has proven to be an accelerator of hype, for obvious reasons. At the same time artists’ buzz can vanish as quickly as it built up in the first place. And third, the digital environment is a cruel space where it’s easy to mock musicians because of the distance between consumer and producer.

A. G. Cook by Hannah Diamond

All these elements seem of specific importance when looking at so-called micro-genres. The most famous of these micro-genres is probably chillwave, which caught momentum in 2009 and quickly became a running gag after a quick death. As Colin Joyce once wrote for Pigeons & Planes chillwave projects were “for, by, and of the internet”. Accessible software allowed kids to start making music in their bedroom, while Bandcamp became an important platform to share their own songs and releases. Six years after its peak this genre has been buried. The word chillwave still continues to carry a negative connotation and critics can still have a good laugh about it.

Image from a Bandcamp Daily article about Vaporwave

Another genre that checks all these boxes is vaporwave. For those of you who are not familiar with it: you could describe this style of music as a vague internet interpretation of lounge music, often a bit disturbing and with emotional resonance. In 2016, its heyday is probably over, but it’s easy to see how vaporwave contributed to the modern music scene. Producers like Oneohtrix Point Never and James Ferraro became allround pioneers in the electronic music scene, and had an impact with cutting-edge records, while vaporwave’s love-hate relationship with capitalist pop culture became influential in electronic music (indeed, PC Music is in this respect very similar to vaporwave). At the same time the genre’s aesthetic was copied by stars like Rihanna and by television institution MTV. Equally remarkable is the continuing presence in the underground of the micro-genre, Dream Catalogue, which is putting out a lot of interesting records from artists like DJ Alina, who are pushing the post-internet sound in new directions.

It’s easy to see why PC Music is often considered another typical micro-genre: it has a distinctive sound that took the internet by storm and was replicated by infinite numbers of SoundCloud producers. It’s most definitely a product of the internet and after a steady rise, we’ve seen a kind of decline. After the crew’s deal with Columbia Records their output has drastically slowed down to the point where almost all the buzz surrounding PC Music has disappeared and only the cynicism of some critics remains. Moreover, like-minded labels such as Manicure Records were not able to break out of the internet community and gain access to a broader public.

Still, PC Music as a microgenre deserves more respect and recognition in the same fashion as vaporwave demands. Its initial hype was often based on an exciting, refreshing sound that defies music as we know it, the collective has had an influence on the music scene in general and they paved the way for innovative new musicians. Of course, it’s still too early to assess the final impact of the Internet collective and I still actually don’t know if this is not some kind of long silence before the storm while they’re preparing to unleash a massive beast, but there are without a doubt achievements we should already give them credit for. First of all, the bubblegum pop sound has been able to enter the mainstream via Charli XCX (A. G. Cook is even her creative director!), SOPHIE’s productions and Danny L Harle’s airplay. Furthermore, the PC Music approach still feels unique with its playful way of releasing music and unashamedly joyful songs. Last but not least, SOPHIE’s singles collection proved that this wave of artists produced at least one truly brilliant record.

At this point in time it’s difficult to predict the future of PC Music. For many it looks like another dying micro-genre, while I personally still expect big things from the crew - that major label deal should bring about something, right? No matter whether A. G. Cook’s crew becomes more than another micro-genre or not, we should be aware that there’s no point in declaring PC Music as a dead culture. Vaporwave sets a perfect example in showing us that post-internet music is able to survive without big media attention.

This article is written by Thomas Konings and was published a year ago.

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