“People come to live in pure simulations, replications of reality that resemble it in all aspects save they are representatives through and through” – Livkin and Ryan, 2004
Postmodernism; a vague, novelty, umbrella-defining term often used by pretentious art critics and people with JSTOR memberships to pigeonhole the abstract and define polarizing contemporary media. Often creating art that openly criticises society, consumerism, and advertising, postmodernism has flourished into arguably the leading philosophical counterculture of the 2010’s, viewing the status-quo of today through Orwellian spectacles. A movement that developed in the mid-20th Century, postmodernism itself relies more or less on its consumer’s interpretation, changing and manipulating the relationship between performer and audience. A vast rise of postmodern musical sensibilities in the past decade can most likely be credited to the growth of the Internet in spreading information and connecting more and more people; now we see that in this sense of realness is being overridden by technology and the information that exists within it. In this unique environment art has been given the opportunity to flourish and reinvent itself in the face of these evolving mediums.
Postmodern philosophy has influenced musical creative discourse and has encouraged genre-bending art to exist ubiquitously on our phone screens. This article will help you to navigate some of the philosophical nitty-gritty behind this, as well as helping to introduce you to why postmodernism is such an important movement in the landscape of contemporary music today.
Indeed, one of the most interesting projects that has developed out of this concept are PC Music, a unique counter-culture that criticises and ridicules the shallow appeal of corporate created media in advertising and popular music. Headed by London producer A.G Cook, PC Music in itself has very little background information; its intentionally murky creation in 2014 meant that it was able to spring onto streaming platforms and garner a popular following in a short amount of time. PC Music is an outlet in which said media is released almost randomly to its streaming service platforms created by a synecdoche of mysterious artists. This includes Hannah Diamond, airbrushed pop princess, Lipgloss Twins, described by Cook as “two identical twins with nothing in common” and GFOTY: loudmouthed, arrogant, and the most outwardly political character on the label. Each artist is essentially working under the outward form of a hyperbolised personality, each individual character representative of a different idea in the way that they create, release, and share their art.
The label is also backed by an impressive roster of talented producers, including SOPHIE, easyFun, Felicita and Spinee; Cook is also credited as a leading producer who appears to control the labels stream of releases. Other features of creative control such as the visual aspect of the labels output is also produced within the group – artist Hannah Diamond (pictured below) is accredited to much of the photography released for example, truly making PC Music a universe within itself. The project’s overall impressively prolific output and distinct art style demands recognition and respect for the effort that has been put in to create such an interesting universe. This universe, along with my own confused reaction to it, has fuelled my overall interest in finding out what PC Music actually is; the journey starting at the first song of theirs I ever heard, Wannabe by Lipgloss Twins (2014).
The song comprises of barely in-tune gibberish vocals from the pair that argue and conversate over scrambled synths, a staccato melody that drifts in and out of the mix and an all too intentionally annoying sine that drones and drills at your eardrums. Listening to the song I am reminded of the ever prominent materialism that plagues London’s billboards and phone screens; percussion ping-pongs under the twins that stay just barely in time: the form can’t even seem to decide when to change from chorus to verse, sounding sweet yet audibly deranged and distorted. A few questions I was able to write down during a listening session were: who are these twins? What does “My genes are ripped” mean? What is the actual point in responding to this intelligently? The short and most obvious answer lies in exploring PC Music’s postmodern attitudes and its constant challenges to wider cultural norms: there is no clear meaning, however in this the idea of meaningless art is itself a challenge to cultural and artistic modernist norms. Isn’t all art supposed to portray a meaning in some way? Although the inherent message of the song audibly seems to dissociate from any feeling rooted in tangible reality, spiritually the song still sings of the rampant consumerism of today: elaborate advertisement is swapped out here for binaural voices prattling between each ear, fighting for our attention. The sonic juxtaposition presented here is highly characteristic of postmodern theories, illustrating a total contradiction of meaning. The message that may be hidden in Wannabe, then, lies in theories and discussions rooted in the idea of postmodernism, portraying a distinct reflection of the confusion and anxiety of 21st century life.
One postmodern concept that encapsulates these complex themes was written by French sociologist, philosopher, and key postmodern prophet Jean Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulation (1981). This paper discusses the way in which sign systems have replaced our conscious reality: because the corporate media that surround us are able to manipulate symbols to represent ideals, our concept of what is real and what is not has left us in a distorted Hyperreality– using a four step process to illustrate this. Using this as a guide we could describe PC Music as a perversion, characterized as something that masks a profound reality. Wannabe, then, could simply be an outward representation of an aspect of the simulation that we have come to live in; two characters taking on the characteristics of the consumer that corporations like Topshop believe they are speaking to in advertisements. This is a direct criticism of a real life hyperreality in which corporations imagine a simulated customer, perverting reality for the sole purpose of marketing and selling a product.
Lipgloss Twins, however, are not an isolated example within this world. When the collective is backed by a human face it is often presented robotically, lacking humanity, exemplified by Hannah Diamond’s visual art style. Whitewashed, and photoshopped to near camouflage, the aesthetic of the music is reflected concisely. In Hannah’s case this is also juxtaposed in the character of a lonely millennial teenager, dwelling within the internet. On pop ballad ‘Hi’ (2015), Hannah sings on top of a cute plinky melody and square synth chords, creating a filtered, clean, and endearing atmosphere- a feature heard commonly in Cook’s production. The track portrays the total embracing innocence and purity of a teenage love affair over the Internet, however hidden within these shallow themes, the lyrics could also present the idea that Hannah is heavily invested in her Internet persona because she craves something real. Furthermore, taking its 90’s pop aesthetic and making it meaningful by destroying its original message, a distinct element of postmodernism is presented, emanating both ‘highbrow‘ and ‘lowbrow’ styles (Kramer, 1997). As teen pop and dance pop are genres marketed for the casual, chart-playing teenager, PC Music is able to transform something vapid and tasteless in something purely fragile and meaningful.
Self-portraits taken by Hannah Diamond for her single Fade Away. More images were released besides this shoot: notice the amont of artwork she releases to promote one 4 minute single.
PC Music functions not only as genre-pushing dance music, but also as a work of post-internet art in a world fully absorbed by the Hyperreality that life online presents us with. A way in which PC Music does this is by pulling together multiple different styles into one unique sound. Producer Danny L. Harle works under multiple aliases, Danny Sunshine and MC Boing as just two examples. MC Boing in particular fuses hardstyle, happy hardcore and even some gabber on track Dancefloor, unleashed on the label’s May 2017 Month of Mayhem tape, appropriating and mutating existing styles to make something ostentatiously new out of familiar sounds. Articulated by Crary in 2013, as innovation accelerates, the time period in which something is relevant becomes increasingly short; our culture is incredibly reliant on constant stimulation and new ideas. This means that often art is thrown without much thought onto the Internet; PC Music’s consumption of new and old sounds shows a clear awareness of this. It relies on the contexts of the technology, brands, and contemporary culture it references in order to create meaning by juxtaposing these phenomena with one another. Here arises another postmodern theme, showcasing here a distinct self awareness of the culture that they are trying to criticise; PC Music emulate their muse by becoming their product – manipulating and reshaping it into a hyperbolised yet recognisable reflection of itself.
Shot by Hannah Diamond for MEAT Clothing. This images brings a sinister dimension to Hannah’s art, swapping her usual minimalistic aesthetic for a sea of tar, truly a PVC hell.
PC Music is a cultural movement both ahead of its time and rooted deeply in modernist sensibilities; a truly authentic combination of both highbrow underground art styles and synthetic popular culture. To answer the question – ‘is it possible for music to sound intentionally off-putting yet still carry meaning?’ – one cannot deny the sheer creative intellect employed by Cook and his creative team in the formation of PC Music. Jean-Luc Godard once said, “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to”, reflecting the intrinsic postmodernist ideal of reusing and recycling everything to take on a completely new meaning. This, fused with the neon billboards of London, the bombardment of advertisements in our shop windows, the quick-fixed intensity of everyday life, and the monopoly of corporations that dominate our TV and phone screens, has born a new genre of music: PC Music.