My PC Music & SOPHIE Pop Cube confirmation email warned “dress to impress… you’re going to be on TV!” I’d been informed that the mysterious “Pop Cube,” part of this month’s Red Bull Academy Music Festival, was going to be “an Immersive Multimedia Event,” but according to this, there was going to be a full-on red carpet, too. Knowing the slaphappy absurdism surrounding the British electro-pop label (and its associate SOPHIE), it seemed like anything could happen. Maybe a delicious cake?!
Would Pop Cube, which was scheduled to take over Brooklyn’s BRIC House, be just another subversive PC “haha art” prank? Would it be an actual TV network? Would Time Warner Cable be OK with this? How best to “impress” a British glitch-pop community of gender-ambiguous DJs and performers? What Pop Cube would entail was anyone’s guess, but PC Music I knew something about: A secretive London-based collective, with a roster of munchkin-voiced, gender-bending personalities that chew up traditional bubblegum fare, swallow it, and barf up a rainbow of computerized fuckery.
Whether or not I was prepared, said musical aberrations were set to make their New York City debut, complete with sets from the label’s founder, A.G. Cook, plus the equally amorphous staples Hannah Diamond, QT, GFOTY, and Danny L Harle — and, of course, SOPHIE. Below is my Red Bull-addled account of what went down last night.
7:00pm: I set off to BRIC House with my co-editor Dan Weiss. The foremost thought on my mind is, “Fill up on pizza and coffee before this show. Also, TUMS.”
7:53pm: We arrive at BRIC House to find a giant stretch limo parked next to an even bigger Red Bull-sponsored monster truck. It looks like it could flatten every car on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. I also picture the entire PC music crew knocking back shots of QT energy drink inside.
8:00pm: The line outside the door is growing longer and more intimidating. A chick with neon-orange platforms struts by. She definitely dressed to impress. Suddenly find myself wishing I owned more stuff from American Apparel.
8:06pm: We get our entry credentials and take our places in line. Dan says “I feel like I’m about to enter a Disney World ride.” He’s not wrong. There is a feeling of the unknowable in the air — a strange sensation for New Yorkers, who aren’t often surprised by stuff.
8:30pm: The line grows with a bevy of ultra-trendy, ’90s raver types. Am reminded of the time my cousin took me to this really slick club in San Francisco, and every girl there was wearing a tiny, boob-bearing dress, and I was chilling in jeans and a flannel. Feeling the same way now, only instead of busty bandage dresses, it’s crop tops, chokers, platforms, and other Spice Girl attire. I look more like Winona Ryder in Reality Bites.
8:34pm: Cheers break out — something’s moving in the Red Bull truck.
8:37pm: That someone is QT, who starts a street DJ set atop the truck, beginning with a bizarre remix of Charli XCX’s “Doin It.” People crane their phones forward to catch a snapshot.
Hey QT. pic.twitter.com/TsTjD4EKlD
— Rachel Brodsky (@RachelBrods) May 9, 2015
9:00pm: At last, we’re shuttled in the building, but not before walking an actual red carpet and getting our pictures taken. I leap into frame with Gabriela and James from Stereogum.
9:19pm: The inside of the cube (?) — can’t really tell where I am yet — is super-bright, all white, and looks more like an art gallery than a club. A.G. Cook and Danny L Harle — a.k.a. Dux Content — are spinning tracks, including SOPHIE and Cook’s bonkers remix of Yelle’s “Moteur Action.”
9:24pm: PC’s publicist sneaks us over to a meet and greet area, where QT’s posing inside with “fans.” “Get your picture taken with a pop star!” a sign reads. The model-tall, crazy lanky “singer” greets us warmly and stretches her arm out to take a selfie. Yes, she is that pretty in real life, and the line between fantasy and reality have never been more blurred.
9:49pm: “The theater is open,” chimes a disembodied voice over the speakers, sounding an awful lot like GFOTY’s British deadpan. The crowd, who must’ve thought that the all-white room they were standing in was the theater, does as they’re told.
9:43pm: We’re in the ACTUAL cube. It’s dark. An eerily spinning Pop Cube logo is projected on the screen.
10:02pm: Danny L Harle, who is tall, skinny, and resembles a cross between Buddy Holly and Peter Parker, is up first. Opening the set with pixelated galaxy visuals, a harpsichord player, and a full string orchestra, he dives into “In My Dreams” and “Broken Flowers.”
10:14pm: Dan and I are convinced that the dude who plays Jeremy on Broad City — Stephen Schneider, apparently — is hanging out on the balcony. We wonder how many women have offered to peg him since that episode aired.
10:26pm: An “anchor woman” with a Pop Cube mic dances up to Dan and asks him who he’s wearing and if he likes girls.
10:36pm: Up next is Hannah Diamond, who bounds onstage in what looks like one of Britney Spears’ leftover outfits from 1999; a tiny tank top with the words “It’s All So Simple,” low-riding white flares, and a high ponytail. She dances too enthusiastically and not enthusiastically enough as the opening blips to “Every Night” play.
10:47pm: Ribbon dancers come out and wave their sticks around dramatically as Diamond sings one of the collective’s only slow jams, “Attachment.”
Hannah Diamond is basically a long lost spice girl or the cheer captain of #pcmusic #PopCube #RBMANYC pic.twitter.com/Uo7QAxqwGH — I DIG THIS TRACK (@idigthistrack) May 9, 2015
11:04pm: Now QT’s back, and this time she’s got two costumed friends with her. Arranging a row of QT energy drinks, she speaks in a slow, robotic Nicole-Kidman-in-Eyes-Wide-Shut voice about how these fizzy beverages will help you with “communication.”
11:17pm: No time to think about what’ll actually happen if you chug a QT energy drink — she’s singing and dancing to “Hey QT”! The audience loses their collective shit.
11:28pm: Now it’s PC founder A.G. Cook’s turn. Switching from his station behind the decks to a piano, Cook at one point sings straight into a microphone. I realize I’d never heard his “real” voice before — it’s not bad! I mean, it’s still being digitized, but it’s almost like watching a “traditional” show! Once he’s back behind the booth, Cook runs through warped pop concoctions like “What I Mean” and “Beautiful.”
11:56pm: At last, it’s GFOTY time. Flanked by two dancers, she’s in a teeny mini skirt and blue fur coat. Dollar bills are stuffed in her bra. More mess-diva than Hannah Diamond’s twinkly star, she adapts “Don’t Wanna/”Let’s Do It” to the New York audience, yelling, “I don’t wanna do it! I don’t wanna do this fucking show! Let’s do it!” Meanwhile, giant clown and Santa Claus wind socks balloon on either side of the stage, and the persnickity GFOTY throws an inflatable palm tree into the crowd, proclaiming it “disgusting.” Never change, GFOTY.
12:10am: After a brief exit, GFOTY reemerges onstage in a nude thong bikini with more bills stuck in the strings, singing, “Cum hard in my tits.” There is nothing else to do but sip more Red Bull and laugh hysterically.
12:30am: The night closes out with a set from SOPHIE, and everyone’s straining to see what he looks like (basically because nobody knows what he looks like). Turns out he’s got ultra-styled curly reddish-blonde hair, and is wearing a sparkly black jacket. No time to fixate on his outfit, though. My eyes are blasted with STROBES.
12:46am: GFOTY runs back onstage, chanting, “I get so hard!”
12:50am: SOPHIE’s visuals appear to be the inside of a human stomach?! Feel my Red Bull and vodka briefly resurface.
12:57am: The room loses it again when the opening plip-plip bubble-popping sounds of “Lemonade”/”Hard” sounds. Right now, we’re all candy boys.
1:10am: The Red Bull has worn off. I can feel the yawns coming on. I drag my feet outside and pray the cabs are in a giving mood, but not before reflecting on the unbelievably insane night I just had. It’s one thing to listen to PC Music’s infectious meta-pop on your own, whether it’s asking “WTF?” to GFOTY’s “Cake Mix” or spinning their just-released compilation album, but to actually submerge yourself in their anything-goes universe of bubbly terror? The only thing there is to do is dance.