Danny L Harle is an experimental pop musician intimately connected with the London-born PC Music label. As a producer, he crosses international borders, collaborating with artists from Asia, Europe and the US and creating a unifying, global pop sound in the process. His latest EP, 1UL, showcases his production skillset and inclinations: maximalist, sugar-sweet melodies with expressively pitched and edited vocals. Danny spoke to AdHoc about his music and his vision for the future of pop ahead of his Halloween show at Brooklyn Bazaar on Friday, October 27.
AdHoc: What are your thoughts on how PC Music has grown over the past four years, and where do you see it going?
Danny L Harle: There are always a lot of big exciting projects in the works, and that’s how we always operate. For me, the goal has always been to make music which is accessible, but is also deeply experimental in its heart and is an expression of things that I love. For example, releasing the Carly Rae Jepsen track is one of the pinnacles of what I’m setting out to achieve: it has its heart in the sort of trance music I love, and the kind of clarity of expression that I love. It’s just very exciting dealing with the pop industry, because there’s an open-endedness to everything.
There are various TV/film/game ideas that are always in the works. I’ve always loved kids’ TV, and I’ve always been into the fact that you can be completely experimental and kids basically don’t know what’s going on, especially under the age of three. I’m really into that, and I’m really into storylines of TV shows in that world—like the illogic of them [laughs]. That’s the kind of level that I’m at in terms of following narratives. I get it when there’s a funny monster that runs really far away then back to the front of the screen—like, very simple ideas. I’m into extremes of simplicity and I think kids are on that level as well. And really funny stuff, like the sort of thing that kids would find funny so it has to be really clear.
A long-range goal is sort of to infiltrate the world of pop music and push it over the brink of insanity. I like when pop delves into the realm of fantasy–I feel that pop music, and culture in general, points toward either reality or fantasy, and I really like that as an idea. I’d say pop at the moment is a reflection of post-EDM culture, which is like, “We’re done with the electronic stuff, let’s get real, with real sounds and with real people singing about real things,” but it’s a pendulum that swings from side to side, because of course this “real”-sounding music is just as fake as the EDM.
Ultimately, my heart lies in the more honestly fake-sounding music. I’ve been writing some Japanese pop music that’s coming out soon, and their aesthetics have been in that world for a long time. They can have a pop star like Hatsune Miku do a sold-out live show, and no one bats an eyelid. Whereas if she does a show in the UK, it’s presented as a more of an art [thing]. In Japan it’s just a live show from a pop star, even though she’s completely fake. I like that kind of pushing against reality, and it would be fun to push things more in that direction, both working with artists and with major label stuff as well.
I’m wondering how major labels receive your music, especially because you’re trying to push things in a more avant-garde, in-your-face direction.
Americans are usually more receptive, because over there it’s just pop music, whereas in the UK people are more suspicious that you’re making fun of everyone else. But I think as time has passed, people have realized that I just really like this music.
It’s been a very interesting process to go through various major label people. Like, it’s been interesting to have remixes rejected initially, and have people say things like, “It sounds like you’re making fun of yourself.” Then, once I gained more of a reputation, I don’t even have to ask—they come to me. But I’ve realized that it’s rare these days that you find an A&R at a record label who actually has the position to stick their neck out for something. Major labels aren’t structured in a way that even allows them to do that these days. That can sometimes work in one’s favor–like you can go into an office one day, and it’s one set of people, then you go into the same office two months later, and everyone’s been fired, and there are a whole new group of people there! It’s kind of like living in a dream, this David Lynch-esque [process of] replacing an actor with another one halfway through the film, and you sort of have to go with the flow, stay positive, and be happy with the music you’re writing.
You studied classical music in school. How would you say it influences how you think about pop and how you make it?
I mean, stuff like Baroque music is all really riffs—all pop music is all really riffs, isn’t it? Even the way people remember classical pieces is through fragments and catchy bits of song. Baroque music, especially, is made up of repeated arpeggios—it’s the same as trance music, and has influenced a lot of pop music. In the beginning of a pop track, there’s usually an instrumental section that’s three seconds long, and is sort of a catchy little hook. Same with classical music really—maybe in a more extended way, but maybe because people listened in a more extended manner back then. To me, it’s all about having fun, organizing sound into a way that produces a positive reaction.
Say we stepped into an alternate reality and came across a version of you that wasn’t a musician. What do you think he would be doing?
I would probably be the head of an empire of children’s TV, but I would impose certain rules onto all the shows. Like there would always be one character running throughout all of it, like a hilarious purple cartoon bird that would have to be in everything. Sometimes everything would go upside down, fall through the screen. But these tropes would be in absolutely everything, and every show would have these rules, this trademark style, that they would have to follow. In one sense, it would be a massive limitation on everything, but in another sense, it would provide this creative prism for everyone to make their own kids' show but have to follow these absurd rules that I would set. And kids would love it.