A. G. Cook Revolutionized Pop Music, and Now He’s Finding New Ways to Push Its Boundaries

"The goals I have at this specific point in my career really relate to a new way of thinking about the mainstream and underground," he says of his album 'Britpop' and label New Alias

Photo: Henry Redcliffe

BY Josh KorngutPublished May 14, 2024

A decade ago, British alt-indie label PC Music caused a tectonic shift in the UK underground dance scene. Spearheaded by pop music mad scientist A. G. Cook — alongside now-iconic contemporaries like the late SOPHIE and Danny L Harle — his hyperpop experiments initially received a mixed response.

"We'd try and put on club nights in London," Cook tells me from his Brooklyn hotel room. His hair is still wet, and he explains he'll soon be getting ready to play a show. "Me and Danny L Harle would be constantly rejected with our ideas, and our early shows that audiences actually went to were really not well-received. There'd be a few people who were like, 'This is revolutionary,' but there'd be other people being there like, 'This is dance music? What is this? Is this a joke?'

Fast-forward 10 years, and the ex-PC Music exec has produced for — and collaborated with — the likes of Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Jónsi, and his longtime partner in pop crime Charli XCX. As Cook embarks on a new era, starting with the recent release of his third album, Britpop, the producer has mostly retired PC Music in favour of new opportunities. However, this isn't the end of his unique brand of musical curation.

Still fascinated by collaboration, Cook recently launched New Alias, a different type of indie record label. The first project to be released under the imprint is Britpop, his excellent and sprawling new album featuring the talents of Charli XCX, Caroline Polachek, and TikTok star newcomer Addison Rae.

"The idea for New Alias is that it feels quite different to PC Music. The goals I have at this specific point in my career really relate to a new way of thinking about the mainstream and underground," Cook says of the differences between the two. "The reason I called it New Alias has to do with the masks we have to wear as artists now, to exist in a post-streaming world where there are hundreds of thousands of tracks dropped every day."

"I think it's surprisingly not a departure, really," he tells me of Britpop. "I think the point of me doing an album is for it to be quite personal in its own way, but also to play some kind of game to draw that personality out … not for it to just feel like a generic producer album with features or whatever, but to dig deep into it all."

The landscape of the record is huge, sprawling over three discs conceived as the past, present and future. "There's a central disc," says Cook about the record's slightly more accessible middle section. "It's very lyrical — then I really double down on that. I try not just calling it The Present, but these tracks are sort of recorded as they're written, and feel almost like snapshots, photographs of that space and time."

Charli XCX lends her vocals to multiple tracks on the record. And while Cook has been collaborating on her music for nearly a decade, he assures me that the studio dynamics are no different when she's working on his.

"I've worked on so many Charli albums at this point, I'm really grateful to be let into someone's artistry like that, that it's still so interesting, and that we're always mixing it up. It's not like we're just going over the same few tricks," he tells me of the collaborative nature of their partnership.

"We are trying to challenge ourselves all the time. And Charli's been really supportive of my own stuff, too. It's a bit of a coincidence that the timeline lines up so closely with BRAT," he tells me of Charli's hotly anticipated new album, which drops next month. Cook worked extensively on BRAT and was featured in the music video for the single "360." Charli even namedrops him on the song.

However, not every A-list pop personality offers Cook the same intimacy as Charli. In 2022 he contributed production to Beyoncé's groundbreaking RENAISSANCE album, producing the track "All Up in Your Mind" alongside BloodPop®, earning Cook his first Grammy nomination.

"For the Beyoncé album, she has her team and close confidants, but I'm obviously not part of that tiny, well-guarded circle," Cook says. "I'm in the really extended group of people who are brought in to give certain flavours, or to do certain things. I wasn't given access to all the parts, and I had no idea what the other album tracks were. I just knew what they were going for."

Cook may be working with the biggest names in pop, like contributing to a rework of Lady Gaga's "911" on her 2021 remix album Dawn of Chromatica. His work is still undeniably disruptive, experimental, and often quite extreme — but when I ask him if he considers his music to be outsider art, he seems unsure.

"I have a bunch of books on outsider art," he tells me. "And I think it's a really interesting thing, because it's really about craft coming as this irrepressible, unstoppable thing … almost an obsession. I do think it's quite interesting to think about mainstream, underground, outsider, insider, all those things. I think the really good stuff, whether it's art or music, is made on those boundaries where you're not sure if they are or aren't."

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