SXSW 2015: PC Music Showcase “Tie your brain to the tracks and let the neon gears rip through.”

By the time the doors finally swung open for PC Music’s huge showcase, the line of festivalgoers waiting patiently outside the Empire Garage stretched back for a couple of blocks. One badge-holder told me he had seen people queuing as early as 1 PM for the evening showcase, not a bad turnout for a musical collective that is so often clucked at by observers for their supposed divisiveness and inaccessibility. A passerby even asked if we were waiting in line for Kanye West’s fabled surprise show. If only I had been quick enough at the time to reply, “Um, it’s actually pronounced Kane West, sir.”


My stint in line amounted to about three hours, the last 45 minutes of which was spent in agonizing anticipation as the bouncer slowly beckoned people over two-by-two to check IDs. easyFun was just finishing up his set once I was successfully Noahed on in, leaving me with little opportunity to form an impression of the performance. However, one thing that stood out immediately was the audience’s mood: those who had already made it inside were hyped to the nines and finna find a good time. easyFun appeared to have honored the promise of his name, with a burgeoning chorus of woos and woops following him as he silenced the beats and departed the stage. One set down and the show already appeared to be in full stride.

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Then came Lil Data to remind everyone that tonight wasn’t gonna be your average PLUR-packed cake toss. Positioned commandingly behind the decks, Lil Data swerved the lanes of the sonic highway with abandon. He’d cruise along a four-on-the-floor rhythm for a few bars only to turn hard into thickets of glitch that puzzled some of the more rave-oriented crowd members. The set created an atmosphere of glorious confusion. Feet that stomped gleefully to a beat one moment were rendered motionless seconds later as the sound devolved into frenetic pulsations and alien ritual music. Intermittent blasts of lasers and wall-to-wall projections of animated information chains rounded out the scene, generating a sci-fi vibe that underlined Lil Data’s cold but fantastical manipulations.

#kanewest

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The aforementioned Kane West followed and reestablished a steady dance groove much to the delight of the get-down-crowd, whose ranks soon encompassed most of the audience as the set sweated on. This was the time when people really started to get crazy, the DJ expertly laying down his hard house cuts accented with explosive transitions and embellishments. That’s not to say that Kane West is afraid to play the signature PC Music withholding game, though. At one point, he pulled the rug out from under his beat and declared a state of no dancing, standing defiantly onstage with his arms formed in an X across his Juventus jersey (not Newcastle, silly Guardian, unless those two stars resting above his kit’s crest signify an aspirational pair of Magpie-won European Cups). Within a minute, Kane West relented and the revelry resumed as if the hilarious stoppage had never happened.

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Spinee hit the decks next and ably expanded on the vibe laid down by her predecessor. In fact, her set marks the moment when the crowd transitioned from simply going crazy on the dance floor to absolutely losing their goddamn minds. A mass of blissed-out people coruscated in lasers and lights as Spinee jammed her Evanescence-sampling “Save Me,” with folks getting bazonkers as the song reached its angsty apex. The rest of her set was equally as rapturous, surely leading many in the house to assume that the rest of the evening would bring nothing but bangers from here on out.

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The many brilliant minds behind PC Music do not cater to such banal expectations, however. Enter Felicita, who took to the stage awash in the shifting spotlights’ pastel pink and yellow radiance. Following a bit of technical difficulty that appeared to be solved by Lil Data’s helpful intervention (possible album title? [or sitcom??]), the DJ mixed a set that buzzed about like a fitful hummingbird, remaining stable and statuesque for a time only to race wildly to the next sensation. While this was another undoubtedly hyperactive display, Felicita’s overall effect was far more mesmerizing than it was danceable, a fact that seemed to please everybody in the crowd, save for one dumb fucker. (Yeah, I’m talking to you, shitheel, the subhuman sack of garbage who threw a cup of water at Felicita while he was on stage. I mean, a cup of water, dude? You don’t even have the decency to toss something you have a financial stake in, like a beer or a cocktail or bearer bonds or something? Being shitty is bad enough, but you’re the goddamn worst for being shitty at being shitty. Ya huge prick!)

A video posted by Gabs (@dreamygabby) on

After Felicita finished, Danny L Harle materialized onstage in a gust of violet wizard’s mist. I mean, that happened. An imposing figure in any circumstance, video screens emblazoned with the words “HUGE DANNY” hammered the point home, as did the voiceover that intoned the same information. Still, even all this propaganda can’t do justice to how huge Huge Danny was on that March evening. He played the hits and then some, stretching and tweezing “In My Dreams” and “Broken Flowers” to their limits as the increasingly inebriated crowd roared along. It was around this point that I became truly awed by the entire production. Six acts had passed the stage, and the five I witnessed were all unlike anything I have ever seen at an electronic show (and I’m sure easyFun was great too!).

Oh man, and then GFOTY happened. A visit to the bar nearly caused me to miss her entrance, an event which will go down in history as the most triumphant arrival of any individual since Julius Caesar marched into Rome with the spoils of Gaul, Egypt, and a few dead senators at his back. Flanked by two beaming backup dancers, GFOTY bounded onstage like the imperator she is and immediately set to werk. The trio barreled through her catalog, GFOTY shout-singing about a cowgirl getting drunk tonight and if your friend’s your lover let your friend be your lover and my good God “DROWN HER IN MY TEARS! DROWN HER IN MY TEARS!” And all the while, she and her two gorgeous male counterparts were moving like mad in a masterfully choreographed substantiation of pop splendor — striking fierce poses, serving major face, and swimming in the psycho glamor of the stage’s crimson glow. Utterly stirring. Hail, GFOTY.

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Not many people could follow an act like that, so they put the boss man up next to show ‘em how it’s done. A. G. Cook entered a stage that looked downright austere compared to GFOTY’s red planet setup, his gear returning the area to its previous non-dancefloor drabness. That aside, A. G. Cook delivered a performance that packed in just as much emotional weight and excitement as the evening’s flashiest acts. His work is defined by its flourishes, after all, those fleeting bits of sped-up sequencing or processed vocals that make the PC Music sound what it is. And after watching A. G. Cook do his thing in person, it’s incredible to see how quickly the man can conjure these moments of genius on the fly. His phenomenal reworking of “Beautiful” had people freaking out and swooning simultaneously, as he added layer upon layer into the mix, kneading the song into something ever bolder and more romantic. The image of his swaying silhouette behind the decks was energizing as well, like watching a lanky old druid or voodoo priest tremble as they deliver an incantation. Mark my words: there is something of the divine in this A. G. Cook.

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A similar case could be made for Hannah Diamond, who hit the stage in such a joyous, overwhelming surge of smoke and light and lasers that this reporter dropped dead on the spot. HD’s look radiated late-90s pop star grandeur, from her long ponytail and Aguileran black top/white rave pants combo to her mile-wide smile and Spearsian wireless mic. Her dancing was flowing and masterfully fun, like a cheerleading routine choreographed by Kate Bush. Most importantly, though, Hannah Diamond went all out on her songs — the sweet celebration of “Pink and Blue” coursed ethereally into the pining “Attachment,” which featured my favorite HD dance move that I’ve since dubbed “herky jerky bow-throwin’.” The crowd had long lost its shit by the time “Every Night” got going, with people all over the place jumping and singing and generally doing the things that people do when they’re having a really, really good time. Then, just as the music was building to a frenzied crescendo, well wouldn’t you know it but goddamn silver fucking streamers shot out all over the audience, unleashing a tidal wave of jubilance and reckless delight. Hannah Diamond is the kind of talent who can make any venue feel like a quaking stadium. I remain dead.

Next in this relentless lineup was QT, who took the stage serving up interstellar executive realness. Following a conference call regarding her namesake energy drink, she launched into her namesake single “Hey QT,” something that everybody saw coming but few were emotionally prepared for. Holy moly, did it get real on that dance floor. It was the evening’s crowning achievement: everyone in the venue united in what seemed like a blissful eternity of dance, just like the auguries of the ancient electro alchemists foretold! When the song ended, QT seemed genuinely touched by the crowd’s wild energy and thanked them profusely as she handed out cans of QT. The audience shared the love, reaching out for the mysterious drinks in a very will-you-touch will-you-mend-me-Christ! type of way.

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SOPHIE closed out the evening in bombastic style, although by that point I must admit your boy was pretty deep in his turn up and can’t recall much of the proceedings. I do remember dancing and having a dang ball, though, just like everyone else around me. This showcase was living proof that not only does PC Music have mass appeal, but also their potential for popularity is limitless. Judging from what I saw, I can’t think of many reasons why Gaga and T-Swift fans would be turned off by GFOTY or Hannah Diamond, or why today’s legions of sunshiny EDM heads would bristle at a guy like Danny L Harle. Meanwhile, fringier acts like Lil Data and Felicita cater happily to all the weirdos out there, rounding out one of the most well-curated label rosters in music today. The media kvetching about PC Music’s “authenticity” or lack thereof got old long ago, and it was immensely satisfying to watch those dull notions fly out the window in spectacular fashion. If you’re not already on board the PC Music train, just tie your brain to the tracks and let the neon gears rip through.

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