AG Cook: the insane producer behind the most controversial music of the decade | Electronic music

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redescribing AG Cook’s haircut is a challenge. Part mullet, part moptop, it also has elements of shag, perm and bowl. The more I try to put it in the context of hair history (Paul McCartney? Joan Jett? Deirdre Barlow from the late 80s?), The more disoriented I get. This is not the only thing about him that is likely to confuse. Cook, 30, of London, is the man behind PC Music, the label whose sickly, abrasive and ultra-synthetic release has doubled as the most divisive sound of the decade.

Yet in a typically contrarian style, the first single from Cook’s new solo album Apple sounds completely different. Oh Yeah is a catchy guitar ballad filled with nostalgia for late ’90s pop-rock. Like her hairstyle, she escapes all my attempts to find relatives (Natalie Imbruglia? Deep Blue Something? Hanson?). According to Cook, his main influence was actually Shania Twain.

Apple is Cook’s “second debut album”; its premiere, the stylistically sprawling 49-track 7G, arrived last month. There aren’t many people who could do the basic mechanics of releasing a truly comedic record, but Cook rarely does anything with a straight face. While her resume is packed with collaborations – producing for PC Music artists Hannah Diamond and GFOTY as well as for established stars such as Charli XCX; working with Sophie on the collective’s biggest hit, Hey QT, a plasticky act and launched with a link to a fictional energy drink – her solo release remained, he says, “hilarious and slim.” It made sense to saturate it – you just have to come up with this body of work.

In Cook’s opinion, a lot is hilarious, but the precise nature of his humor doesn’t always arise. PC Music’s postmodern pop has baffled many critics, eager not to fall victim to some kind of prank. “Even though this is an elaborate joke, PC Music dominated 2014,” Vice said, with a bet, while FACT dubbed them “a pure and contemptuous parody”. The collective’s overt nostalgia for the old-fashioned Eurodance was often seen as ironic, while the combination of estuarine vowels and bedroom producer amateurism smacked of pastiche.

For Cook, the idea that something must be a) totally serious or b) real is reductive. “It’s like real people – you can have someone who’s funny, but that doesn’t mean they’re pretending to be a funny person,” he says. “It’s not like everyone’s method acting all the time.”

And if PC Music is a joke, it’s only because almost all pop music is. “There’s something fun about recording ideas on tape,” Cook says. “It’s the same awkwardness to take a posed photo. He cites the Beatles “laughing off mic” on The White Album as proof, as well as “the warmth and humor of Motown, Kraftwerk, everything that happened in the ’80s.”

In a typically unexpected move, Cook is zooming in from the Montana countryside, having swapped LA for his girlfriend’s hometown just before the lockdown. There is a palpable pleasure in his voice when he describes feeling like an “alien presence,” his sense of Britishness exacerbated by heightened distrust of foreign visitors.

Cook performs in Arcosanti, Arizona, 2018. Photograph: Tim Mosenfelder / Getty Images

Before flooding the internet last month with his own irreverent, genre-leaping work (2-step robotics, lo-fi digi-folk, Sia bonkers covers, glitchy ASMR, etc.), Cook spent the start of the pandemic to help create Charli XCX. The How I’m Feeling Now album in just six weeks, largely, it seems, by SMS. In a way, it was even more stressful than it looks. “It was fuzzy,” he recalls, looking slightly haunted. “We had a very slow internet, so I was terrified; I had to go to the kitchen to download stuff and would go back there with no data. ”

Cook started working with XCX in 2015 after publicly declaring his love for PC Music. He became her creative director – “at one point she was like, ‘I could drop XCX’, I was like, ‘No, those are amazing letters!’” – then her main musical collaborator. “We’re on a similar wavelength – she’s also an only child and also has a slightly eccentric father. It was an unexpected alliance, given that she was a mainstream pop star with a handful of Top 10 singles and the enfant terrible of high profile electronic music, and there were caveats. on his part. “I know she thought I was going to be this undercover maestro who didn’t talk so much,” he smirked.

Yet despite PC Music’s cryptic online presence, Cook doesn’t cultivate an air of cool taciturn. One of the smileiest people I have ever met, he is extremely eager to discover the principles behind his work, one of which is an aversion to the golden mean. “I saw a lot more in common in purely traditional stuff and really avant-garde stuff. When combined with taste, they tend to leave me coldest. I’ve always been slower to get into Radiohead, for example, because I was like: it’s well done, cool, I’m not interested.

Cook attributes his appetite for extreme weirdness to his childhood. He describes his parents, architects Yael Reisner and Sir Peter Cook (1960s Archigram innovators), as “quite bizarre.” At the age of five, seeing people wearing moving costumes, bright green pieces, and CGI stuff set the bar pretty high for me in terms of what was normal.

Cook “was not very interested in music as a child.” Instead, he liked computers; rather than getting into software like GarageBand because he wanted to make music, he got into music because he wanted to use GarageBand. As a teenager, he recorded the musical efforts of his friends, finding himself on the outskirts of the mid-2000s indie scene. “I knew Bombay Bicycle Club pretty well, not that I was in that band at any time,” he specifies. Soon, however, his computer, which he likens to a prosthetic limb, misplaced him. “It rewired my brain to do what I wanted to do.”

AG Cook
Photographie: Hannah Diamond

A student at Goldsmiths, Cook developed his musical manifesto. “I immediately banned the instruments; I was very militant. Frustrated by the fact that “music on the computer was nothing to do with people, and I saw everyone around me using computers every day in a really relaxing way,” he began to define “the computer. as the only real instrument ”. He also turned to sounds with “a funny sense of personality,” as well as things that made him uncomfortable. “I trust my own aversion to things to lead to an interesting place.”

It was an approach focused on sensitivity rather than a specific sound; Cook says he saw an affinity in the work of experimental rapper Lil B and absurd indie Ariel Pink. PC Music’s roster has grown to include Danny L Harle (house / electropop) and Polly-Louisa Salmon as GFOTY (pop-punk / industrial), both contemporaries of Cook at the private King Alfred School in the north. from London, as well as Hannah Diamond (bubblegum) and Goldsmiths pal Gus Lobban AKA Kane West (inexplicable).

PC Music instantly won the industry hype, as well as an obsessive online fan base. Cook has always avoided forums that delve into every movement of the collective – “because that would start to get a little weird” – but likes to engage with PC freaks in other ways. “I really like putting Easter eggs for people I know how to comb. Sometimes it’s like, “No one’s going to have this, are they?” But most of the time, people get involved fairly immediately. However, commercial success remains elusive (the Charli XCX collaborations, although pioneering, have not produced success). Sanguine, Cook hears his influence on the charts in more subtle ways. “That doesn’t mean everyone is listening to PC Music in their car, but there are things that enter the brains of many people whether they like it or not.” That’s right: wild clashes between genres, post-ironic irreverence, and an attraction to distinctively trashy styles are now popping up everywhere.

Despite being content with his radically futuristic pop life on the fringes, Cook is still fighting for the big leagues. “I tried to pitch at Pitbull,” he beams. “I’m great for something like this to materialize.” If that ever happens, it will be just the unexpected latest move from a man who puts his fans on the wrong foot into an art form in their own right.

Apple releases Friday, September 18

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