PC Music's Showcase at Berghain Was a Collision of Dance Music's Most Controversial Brands
Unpacking the label's bubblegum commercialism is more exhausting than waiting in a 3AM Saturday Berghain queue.
PC Music has spent the past few years parodying the norms of commercial music. But as their musicians move further into the mainstream—with A.G. Cook taking over as Charli XCX's creative director, and Danny L. Harle working with Carly Rae Jepsen—the label's jokey stance feels more and more indistinguishable from reality. Last month, the London-based imprint released their second compilation—another hi-shine celebration of the synthetic aura that has developed around its artists. To celebrate the compilation's release, PC Music took over Berghain with a rare showcase of its acts on Thursday, including performances from label mastermind A.G. Cook, diamante bubblegum popstar Hannah Diamond and bleepy budget airline pastiche EasyFun.
Even as the first squiggling chords of EasyFun's set reverberated into the cavernous hall, it felt like everyone in the audience knew that the show was not the real version of PC Music—or at least, not the only version. The label's amorphous existence resides primarily on the internet, where its artists can more easily attempt to flatten concepts of gender, commerce and authenticity. PC Music and its relationship to "authenticity" been talked about to death, and the they have done some grade-A journalist-baiting, including turning interviewers into photo shoot props, to provoke a litany of thinkpieces. But unpacking the irony inherent in their sincere bubblegum commercialism is more exhausting than waiting in a 3AM Saturday Berghain queue. The more you try to figure out how seriously to take them, the more it seems like a trap: whatever conclusion you come to, someone's probably going to loudly argue that you're wrong.
It was also hard to ignore the fact that PC Music's flashy, viral-focused stance on saccharine sincerity took place in Berghain, a club with a strong, silent demeanour—and a very different approach to "authenticity," the media, and online culture. Grimly firm in its maintenance of a walled utopia vibe, the techno church continues to stand its ground against the rising tide of social media lifestyles, infamously mandating that taking photos inside is verboten. While Berghain maintains its own social media accounts, it uses them more for practical than hype-building purposes. Its Instagram account only exists to command people to take down photos they've posted from inside the club. Their verified Twitter account only puts out one tweet per month that tersely announces forthcoming listings. (Apart from this one time, in 2014, when they tweeted "Happy Christmas" to their followers—must've been the social media intern's first day.)
Like PC Music, Berghain has become ripe for parody in the dance music world, inspiring everything from video games to fake Lego sets. Today, it has the dubious honor of being the world's most viral club. Obviously, the version of Berghain represented through these cliché-ridden jokes (which I myself, as a baby Berliner gif blogger helped to create) is a poor imitation of reality. In meme-world, Berghain is often portrayed as a snooty, techno sex rave, but IRL it's a mishmash of humans bumping flesh to a diverse program of beats. The whole place gives the impression of never having wooed the legions of acolytes it attracts.
Whatever PC Music's acts are, they are decidedly not nonchalant. Early in the evening, a (male) DJ named Felicita, who was dressed in a white, little girl nightie-dress and Doc Martens, staged a fake fight with someone from the audience wearing an "I'm with Felicita" T-shirt. In a Punch and Judy-like scene, the "fan" tried to take control of the laptop and iPad as the DJ chased him over and around the DJ table. Then, Hannah Diamond shyly shuffled around the stage to her syrupy, TK Maxx vocals—"Baby I wish that/we could just meet at a party/I think we could have great chemistry"—as front-row fans clutched at her fur-cuffed Dior sleeves. Fun, yes, but also farcical.
From the ADD, 8-bit streams of Lil Data to A.G. Cook's reworking of Bieber's "What Do You Mean" into an '80s power ballad, everything about the PC Music showcase was transparently, forcefully purposeful. The label wants your attention, trolling you with its hot-take-baiting commercial and aesthetic decisions. The night ultimately felt like another link in the label's bio to show what it can do. But here, inside the stony-faced temple to seriousness, this stance felt weirder than ever. Two iconic dance music brands collide, placing us in the eye of a perfect storm of over-analyzed mystique. In these situations, the best recourse is to stop thinking about authenticity versus irony, and just have fun. The fans clutching at Hannah Diamond's garbs don't care whether they're grabbing French couture mink or market-stall fake fur. Danny L. Harle's Crash Bandicoot grin and exuberantly spread arms are just so pumped to bring you the fizzy Smirnoff Ice drop of "Broken Flowers." You can see the unbridled joy in the rave-pointing fingers.