INTERVIEW: St. Louis’s Luke Markinson is PC Music’s Latest Offspring

First, everyone called PC Music, a collective of producers and artists headed by names like Charli XCX, A.G. Cook and SOPHIE, the future. Oft-likened to banging pots and pans together (usually SOPHIE gets that designation), PC Music, or hyperpop, or glitchpop (I can’t really keep track) has since been labeled as more an ‘expression of the present’ than a sign of the future.

In PAPER, Shaad D’Souza reviewed Charli’s quarantine album how i’m feeling now and said that PC Music and its contemporaries are more reflective of our ‘present dystopia’ than anything else. In The Atlantic, Spencer Kornhaber kind of snubs Charli’s magnum opus album (in my opinion) Charli, saying that Charli herself is just ‘playing with’ the future and that the album doesn’t have a ‘triumph’ track. Has he listened to ‘Gone’ more than once? Pfft.

In any case, PC Music is indubitably a key influence in the indie-pop space. I recently Facetimed with one of the newest offsprings from the PC generation (note: not PC as in politically correct, lol), college sophomore Luke Markinson, to talk about his PC and PC-adjacent inspirations and making and releasing DIY music in this hellscape year.

“I started making music on Vine,” he tells me, before I make an unfunny joke that he’s like an alt Shawn Mendes.

“Once Vine shut down, I wasn’t really able to translate my music and following somewhere else. But when the pandemic got bad, and everything started to close, I was bored and began writing music and working with producer friends and making things happen.”

Markinson, a Los Angeles native who just began his sophomore year at WashU in St. Louis, cites the typical crew as his influences; Charli and the PC Music collective, Troye Sivan, Tove Lo and The 1975, to name a few.

He also mentions artists like Flume, the megastar producer who first went viral by cutting together scintillating remixes of Disclosure‘s ‘You & Me’ and Lorde‘s ‘Tennis Court,’ as an inspiration. Louis the Child and Whethan are two other examples, also Midwest talents, of springboarding from remixes and re-works to putting out full original albums and developing their own sounds.

I ask Markinson where he records his stuff; being stuffed in a dorm in a pandemic can’t lend itself to the most comfortable music-making experience.

“Literally from my closet,” he says, laughing about the double entendre as his first song, ‘Never Alone,’ is about the relationship he had with his now-ex boyfriend.

“We were recording at my friend’s house inside before I came back to school, but then because of COVID-19 his parents were actually like, ‘Mmm we’re not comfortable with you being all inside right now,’ so we actually recorded some of the song out on his porch.”

‘Never Alone’ is a bouncy love bop, reminiscent of the cutecore (cutecore = word I just established which is like the Y2K aesthetic but re-fitted for 2020; it’s digitized and photobooth-y and emotionally motivated) that Charli’s quarantine album how i’m feeling now embodies, especially tracks like ‘detonate’ and ‘party 4 u.’

Fittingly, Charli herself found the song, and put it on an Apple Music playlist she curates. Queen of paying it forward!

Markinson says he commented on a post of hers where she was asking for people to share their music. He also replied to a similar tweet of hers, linking the song. Days later, he found out she must’ve seen his comment or tweet and liked the song enough to give it some playlist love.

In any case, Markinson followed up ‘Never Alone’ with a more cosmic, whimsical track called ‘Gimme Ur Love,’ and then a glitchy number with his latest, ‘Blastoff.’ I guess Gen Z loves PC!

When he’s not closet-recording, Markinson is studying for a psychology degree at WashU. You can see him perform soon; he tells me he’s playing at Uncultured Festival, which is running its next show November 20-22 on Minecraft and will benefit the Trevor Project.

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Tom Aspaul: A Refreshing Queer Voice in Pop

British-born singer Tom Aspaul, who has writing credits with megastar Kylie Minogue, producer duo Snakehips and vibe purveyor AlunaGeorge (though Aluna is out on her own and her debut solo album is amazing), is a new gay about town.

Black Country Disco, released in September, marks Aspaul’s first album. And what a triumphant entry!

Black Country Disco gets its name from Black Country, a region of England just west of Birmingham, and disco, the vein of pop that is getting pumped for all it’s worth this year. It’s a wonderfully crafted pop record; everything about it is dance-y, its choruses (at first listen) bringing us back to drunk nights out and lustful post-club adventures and the songwriting adds another dimension to the project holistically.

After a run-through listen, Aspaul’s connection to disco queen Kylie Minogue (who has her 15th (!) studio album coming soon, aptly titled Disco) is immediately apparent. He’s successful at doing what most pop stars invoking disco today have been successful at; harnessing the sound of the 70s and 80s but crafting music that still sounds incredibly modern and now. Further, we get gay storylines, and while there are sexual bops here, Aspaul recounts adversity, tragedy and heartbreak on the majority of the album.

Between a devastating breakup (and that relationship’s decline), the death of a close friend and an overwhelming case of impostor syndrome, Aspaul’s songwriting explores extremely dark places. And yet, for all the gloom, what we hear immediately coaxes us out of our seats and beg us to fashion our bedroom floors, the subway or wherever we are into a dance floor. Like Charli XCX and her contemporaries, or like the 2020 albums from pop titans Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, Aspaul heals his wounds by picking up his broken pieces and assembling dance anthem after dance anthem.

Aspaul, then, falls much more in line with the maximalist dance floor approach of MNEK (the two have actually worked together) than the emo, staring-into-blank-space world inhabited by Troye Sivan. Aspaul’s music still feels novel in comparison to MNEK and Sivan, a disco-infused trip to devastation for us to access his pain, yet soon after, cast it away with a turn of our heels and swing of our hips.

Queer pop, an arena I still need to really delve into, feels very forward-facing and future-focused. (SORRY for the alliteration.) What I like about Black Country Disco is the attention to a familiar sound and the impressive songwriting from someone with a story that feels incredibly relatable in many ways, perhaps most of all his self-doubt.

Aside from MNEK, Sivan and the PC music crowd, how many dance-floor-anthem-crafting gays of note are out there?!

Aspaul, who gives off the sexual energy and literal similar look to American comedian Jordan Firstman, is fun to have around. I look forward to where he takes us next.