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PC Music’s umru on steampunk, Tetris, and his euphoric new EP

The American-Estonian producer’s new EP, comfort noise, features Tommy Cash, Cecile Believe, Rebecca Black, and more

PC Music producer umru’s second EP takes its name from the ‘comfort noise’ played in the background of a phone call. Companies would often save bandwidth by gating out the transmission of audio whenever someone wasn’t speaking. But because the silence could cause uncertainty, comfort noise would play on the receiving end to fill the artificial silence. Written with and performed by the likes of Tommy Cash, Cecile Believe, and Rebecca Black, comfort noise sees the American-Estonian producer take a similar approach, deploying synthetic sounds that stretch and contort to, ultimately, convey very real emotions.

The self-described “search-engine-optimised” musician is part of a zoomer generation brought up on Minecraft and Discord gaming servers. At only 22 years old, he spent most of his teenage years forging connections online, uploading remixes on to Soundcloud, where he was scouted by PC Music head honcho A.G. Cook, who enlisted him to work on Charli XCX’s 2017 mixtape Pop 2. Soon after, he appeared on the label’s compilation album with 100 gecs’ Laura Les on the track “popular” and has since gone onto work on tracks for the likes of Dorian Electra, Diplo, Eartheater, and Hannah Diamond.

Although he has often been grouped under the hyperpop umbrella, a term that he rejects, umru remains a musician’s musician. He lives in Brooklyn and operates within a tight-knit scene including the likes of Fraxiom, Gupi and Petal Supply. Online, he’s a part of a vast network of artists known for their experimental and extreme take on pop music. In live sets, he’s a formidable producer with laser-beam precision. Occasionally, he will glance up at the audience, the light reflecting off his glasses like a mad bionic wizard. 

A frontrunner in the next generation of Soundcloud artists signed to PC Music, umru’s heady rise to fame has been swift. But he remains an unimitable force, launching his own Splice sample packs and hosting music festivals on Minecraft with his peers as part of Open Pit, a volunteer-run collective of musicians that have been throwing events in the game since 2018. With comfort noise, umru not only flexes his skills as an accomplished producer, but carves out a space for his own sound to shine.

Your second EP, comfort noise, is out now. What inspired the release?

umru: It was very nonlinear. There’s no goal for the songs, all of them just came through different sessions with people – most of them are friends. There’s no overarching theme, but it’s one of my favourite things that I’ve done in terms of production. Because it’s my project, I could hone in and have fun with it. 

Saw you’ve been posting pics from your family’s potato farm. Did you actually finish the album there?

umru: Not really, I just took those photos because it’s my mum’s cousin who lives in southern Estonia on a potato farm. We were there for a few days over summer with my family.

How did the Rebecca Black collaboration come about?

umru: She wrote this post about being the most hated teenager online a few years back. One of my friends got in touch with her, trying to convince her that there’s this whole scene online where people play “Friday” and Rebecca Black songs completely unironically in DJ sets. Our friend then put me and Laura Les in touch and we started making beats for her, but nothing came of it. 

Have you met IRL?

umru: Yeah, she’s so nice. We met briefly at a show in LA in Heaven for Halloween. I hadn’t even met her yet, but I texted her to come on stage for this one song. That was the first time we met – on stage.

“Pop music doesn’t mean anything right now, it barely has a definition – and I find that exciting” – umru

You and Hannah Diamond created a tune for the newest Tetris game. How was that experience?

umru: It was a really fun, light-hearted project, but the Tetris people were like, ‘please don't sample the Tetris song and don’t say the word Tetris and don’t make your song about gaming’ [laughs]. They wanted a Hannah Diamond song and they wanted a 4/4 kick drum. But I did sneak some Tetris-like melodies into it subtly. 

The first time we spoke was to talk about your Minecraft shows with Open Pit. What’s the origin story?

umru:  It started off as a bunch of producers online who couldn’t do shows together because they lived all across the world. I grew up in a small town not far from New York City, but still spent all of my time online, talking to people, playing games and doing music. Even now, some of the people like Matt Schramp (who works with Open Pit), I’ve known since high school and we met online. Slowly, out of necessity, we wanted to do something fun together that we couldn’t achieve in person. We did the first one for Max’s birthday and then it got so big that, by the time we did the next one, it was this whole thing. This was all before COVID too – and then it got weirdly huge when no one had anything to do other than stay at home.

Minecraft, and more generally, gaming feels so key to this music scene.

umru: I've played Minecraft to death, obviously. It's somehow lasted throughout my entire life. But, literally, this newer generation of Soundcloud kids all met each other playing Bed Wars (a mini-game) on Minecraft. Angelus was saying that every single musician they know is from like a gaming Discord server where they were playing Minecraft mini-games.

What were you like growing up?

umru: Exactly the same is what I’m realising more and more. I was a steampunk kid in middle school, I had a pocket watch. I was very lame. I was an airship Minecraft builder. There was a period in high school where I was trying to not be as lame as I was in middle school. But I was still only talking to people online. It feels ridiculous to tell a middle school version of myself that, as I’m graduating college, I’m playing Minecraft festivals with huge artists. 

So, you got your first break producing on Charli XCX’s Pop 2. How did it all come about?

umru: I was posting music online – mostly bass music, very Future Beats – and started doing shows in New York with very small underground production-like focus when I was 16 or 17. I was aware of PC Music back then. I was a fan, but more so of producers like Sophie and others who were doing production. I was less interested in songwriting.

At some point, A.G. Cook sent me an email and I thought it was a prank. I was already a fan of his music but I fully thought it was a joke. But it was actually him. He’d listened to some of my songs and one of them was a Tommy Cash remix. I still don’t know what it was that he liked about it, because it’s so far off from what I do now. It had me working on stuff for Tommy Cash and Charli XCX. I was 18 or 19 by the time “I Got It” by Charli came out. I only contributed to the sound design and drums, but it was mostly still him [A.G. Cook].

Charli really pushed producers, especially back then. Pop 2 was so producer-focused. She had me doing some of her live shows, like the New York show, I was on stage and she was posting about me. It was so surreal. That was the start of everything. 

What was it like?

umru: All of a sudden, all these people in that world were interested in working with me. Hyd was one of the first people I started doing sessions with – I had no idea how to do it, it was very embarrassing at first. I felt very out of my depth at the beginning. People knew everything about me from Twitter and I was constantly annoying and funny online, whereas every PC Music person was mysterious and never said anything and still had a huge fanbase. 

How has the pop landscape has changed since then?

umru: It’s changed so much. The fact that 100 gecs are making very non-pop friendly music and now they’re almost charting artists says a lot about what other music can become popular. Like, the whole landscape of music is changing. Pop music doesn’t mean anything right now, it barely has a definition – and I find that exciting.

comfort noise is out now