Hannah Diamond and PC Music Are Retouching the Music Industry
Pop music’s glossiest art collective is here to stay.
When the buzz around London-based label and collective PC Music peaked at the close of 2014, critics were divided. For every time a review heralded the collective as the “future of pop,” another dubbed them the “worst thing to happen to music.” Each song was sweetly polished to the point of surrealism, the audial equivalent of a 3D-rendered ice cream cone, so deep in hyper-reality that it was immediately pegged as satire. The accusations of parody were later denied by A.G. Cook, who plays a dual role as PC Music’s producer and founder, and SOPHIE, a DJ heavily affiliated with the PC Music roster although he’s not technically part of it. Since their debut, the label’s hyper-pop stars have been hard at work carving out their own corner of the industry.
Flash forward two years, and PC Music has partnered with Columbia Records. Carly Rae Jepsen is a featured guest on “Supernatural,” a track by Danny L Harle, one of the label’s more chart-friendly artists. You’ve likely heard SOPHIE’s “Lemonade” in a McDonald’s commercial already. Cook has just signed on to be Charli XCX’s creative director. Even Madonna is getting in on the action. Regardless of whether you think they’re pop music’s cure or curse, they’re definitely more than a fad.
At the center of this evolution is singer and photographer Hannah Diamond, the label’s most forward-facing member, who is currently putting the finishing touches on a full-length debut. We caught up with the cyber-pop star before RBMA Radio PC Music event in LA last week to discuss what it’s like to be mistaken for a mannequin, just how crucial artistic liberty is, and how she landed on Charli XCX’s new song.
Let’s start with the basics: How did you get your start in music?
This is a little unconventional, actually. I was studying fashion communications and photography at university while I was interning at a magazine. I became pretty good friends with A.G. Cook, who was also at university studying music. We were kind of interested in similar themes in our work and decided that it would be fun to collaborate on something. Originally, he’d be working on something and I’d do a visual or fashion-oriented thing to go alongside the music. One day, he sent me a demo of a track he had made me for my birthday and he was like “I made this for you and I think maybe you should sing on it.” That song was Attachment.
Do you ever feel like people question your authenticity because you haven’t been dreaming about pop stardom since, like, birth?
I definitely think people question my authenticity, though I don’t necessarily think it stems from how or when I got into music. With me being a photographer, all of the press images being made by me are in a really glossy and crazy pop aesthetic compared to what you might expect from a new artist. That was always such a big inspiration for my photography. I think also, the style that I was retouching my images in kind of confused people and I think that a lot of people thought I wasn’t a real person to start with.
Like, CGI or a mannequin?
[Laughs] Yeah. Which is quite crazy, but it still happens. Every now and then, I see people tweet “Hannah Diamond isn’t real” or things like that, which is quite crazy. So I don’t really think my authenticity is questioned by what got me into music, I think it’s more about the relationship between the music I was making and the aesthetic that I was projecting through social media and my imagery.
“Our success is a bit of a “fuck you” to everyone who thinks that we as women can’t possibly be in control of everything we do.”
Do you feel like your involvement in the visual aspect of your work helps to amplify it sonically and vice versa?
Yeah, 100%. That’s why I started making music to begin with, because I’m a really visual person. I try my best to communicate an idea as visually as possible. My photography is really inspired by music videos. A music video is really the ultimate way to communicate an idea. It really helps being able to do both things because I can write a song, imagine how it would look, and then go out and create all of it myself. It gives me this element of control over what I do and how I put that out into the world.
Some people have critiqued PC Music for using women as decoration. Do you find these kinds of accusations disheartening or motivating?
It does sometimes annoy me when people say that but at the same time, I do see how people could kind of that assumption about PC Music. If they understood more about our structure and how we work, I know they wouldn’t feel that way at all. It’s definitely motivating though, like when someone tells you that you can’t do something or that you don’t own this. But when people say that the label is objectifying women, it really discredits the girls who are in PC Music doing so much and working so hard. So yeah, our success is a bit of a “fuck you” to everyone who thinks that we as women can’t possibly be in control of everything we do.
What’s the dialogue like between you and your female peers under the label when you hear these things?
QT and I talk about this a lot because we both share a huge passion for feminist theory and we both studied it in university. We’re always trying to figure out the best way of communicating with everyone so that everything we do is clear and that what we’re projecting aligns with what it means to be a girl making music in the public eye.
How did your collab with Charli XCX come about?
Charli first got in touch with me on Twitter after I released a track to let me know that she was really into it. We stayed loosely in touch for a while and then she was working with SOPHIE on “Paradise”, my favorite track that they’d done together. Then, randomly, I got an email asking if I wanted to feature on it and duet with her. It’d been stuck in my head since I first heard them play it, so I was definitely up for it. I’m really happy that that happened, actually.
Both your visuals and your music speak to a more nostalgic time in pop music. What part of late 90’s/early 2000’s culture leaves you feeling most nostalgic?
I’d have to say the fashion. I’ve always been really impressed by the styling of that era, there was a lot of really overt styling going on back then. For example, in a Destiny’s Child video, they’d be all decked out in Dolce & Gabbana or Dior outfits. That’s not as much of a thing now, you kind of see people wearing the heavily-branded clothes again lately, but it’s more of a sportswear thing. Back then, it was more about wearing designers.
“I’m in internet limbo.”
We’re in a time when we can compare not only pre-Internet and post-Internet dating, but also different eras of post-Internet dating. Which era did you prefer, texting and AIM or Tinder and Skype?
I’ve personally never done the online dating or anything like that. I’ve never dated someone that I’ve met purely online. Obviously, I’ve chatted with people that I’ve been already dating, but I don’t really feel like it’s my style. Due to the tensions that interacting online places on all of your relationships, be them romantic or friendly or otherwise, I’m much more of an IRL sort of person. I’d rather chat in person or talk on the phone. I guess, era-wise, I think I used to have the most fun online when I used to get out of school and talk to people on MSN or MySpace.
Oh wow, MSN. Better than Snapchat?
I think so, yeah. I mean, I do like Snapchat, but maybe I’m old-school or something. Not too old-school, maybe stuck between internet worlds. I’m in internet limbo.
Your debut album is coming soon, when can we expect it?
We don’t have a date. I’ve been working super hard in the studio every day, but it’s a little schizophrenic right now. I have a ton of demos that I’m really into and happy about, but I want to come up with a few more to see if that makes everything a bit more coherent. We’ll see. But I do have a new track coming out very soon, so that’s exciting.
Finally, what impact would you like to see your music (and PC Music as a whole) have on the industry?
Our sense of community as a label. I don’t really have much experience of the wider music industry because I’ve always been with PC Music, but I can tell you what’s good about the way we work and why I’d want that for anyone. We have a really good sense of community and everyone’s sort of up to working on stuff with everyone. We sit around a table and have these sessions together, it’s a little like cross-pollinating. It all gives me this great sense of freedom. I’ve seen other artists go through not being given that kind of liberty from their team and I really hope that my work is a testament to the benefits of freedom.
Watch the video for Hannah Diamond’s new single “Hi” above or cop it on iTunes now.
Photos by Hannah Diamond and William E. Wright.