From Online to IRL: Inside PC Music’s Debut Live Show at SXSW

QT at PC Music's 2015 SXSW showcase.
QT at PC Music’s 2015 SXSW showcase.

AUSTIN, TX: At last year’s SXSW, word spread around Austin that rising UK producers SOPHIE and A.G. Cook had DJ’ed while a woman basked onstage in a kiddie pool, scrubbing big rubber balls with a sponge. It was a novel story to tell, about seemingly novel artists few had heard of at that point. If they had, it was definitely through the internet; explaining their collective, PC Music, definitely required visual aids and a thoroughly digital context.

At this year’s SXSW, PC Music needs little introduction. It’s still early days on this endlessly fascinating strain of electronic pop, which forces listeners to consider what is real and what is fake, what is good and what is bad, and how intention factors in. What’s interesting about the PC Music crew in theory (near-satirical levels of commentary on the pop machine) is different than what’s great about them in execution (bizarre bubblegum bangers). Essentially, their music is hedonistic fun with a wink.

In the last year, SOPHIE has co-produced Madonna’s “Bitch I’m Madonna” with Diplo, giving the Rebel Heart track his chopped-and-screwed Jock Jams treatment. QT, perhaps PC Music’s marquee project at this point, graduated from the mysterious London crew’s well-maintained SoundCloud account before even releasing last year’s underground smash “Hey QT”; out the gate, QT was signed to XL — though it wasn’t quite clear if a full album could be something to expect from the project. She/they/it were more interested in selling the QT energy drink than records. SOPHIE and Cook are behind the boards on the QT project, while performance artist Hayden Dunham is the public persona. She lip synchs the words to her only song, “Hey QT,” dances around in chic club wear, and passes out the QT energy drink to the crowd. When I saw her DJ on Valentine’s Day at New York’s China Chalet, she held a can of the QT energy drink in one hand much of the night. After all, really committing to the act is a big part of how PC Music pulls it off.

That’s exactly what the PC Music crew — including loads of future electronic stars like easyFun, Kane West, Lil Data, Danny L Harle, Felicita, GFOTY, and Spinee — did last night at their SXSW showcase at Empire Garage. The show marked the first time all PC artists and affiliates have performed together on a single lineup, with visuals and new music premiered for the occasion. The SXSW gig also doubles as prep for a live spectacle in Brooklyn during Red Bull Music Academy’s month-long festival this May.

QT and Hannah Diamond.
QT and Hannah Diamond.

Of course, SOPHIE and Cook have been playing all over the place this week, including a dog food-themed Boiler Room set and back-to-back DJ sets at the Pitchfork day parties the day before the showcase. While QT and SOPHIE closed the night with rapturous reactions from the crowds, it was Hannah Diamond — the Katy Perry of PC Music — who impressed the most.

From the looks of her Instagram, the “Pink and Blue” singer worked hard on her dance routine for the show — and it showed live, recalling early Britney Spears choreography plus a bit of cheerleader arm work. With very little live performance history to note, I wasn’t sure what to expect of Diamond’s set. When she sang the line in “Attachment” that goes, “Now I’ve saved you as a picture on my phone,” life imitated art and the meta circle was complete.