After close to a decade of running Perc Trax, Ali Wells finally succumbs to the temptation of expanding operations to include sub labels. Given the mother ship’s unpredictable path and its role in championing new artists, it’s no surprise that the first release on Perc Trax Ltd does not come from a household name.
Probably the highest praise for artists of a certain disposition is that it’s impossible for their audiences to tell whether they are being serious or simply taking the piss. This kind of ambiguity is prevalent among all the great alternative artists from New Order/Joy Division, The Fall and Throbbing Gristle to Larry Levan, Regis and Shed.
Will industrial suffer the same fate in 2012 as minimal did in 2006-7 and become synonymous with imagination-free bandwagon jumpers? Certainly the growth in the number of producers and outlets – including labels and media – who cite everything from Downwards to Throbbing Gristle as key influences is startling, especially in light of the fact that these converts include established names.
In an era where technology and cheap air travel guarantee that electronic music is tarred with the same homogeneous brush as the rest of globalised popular culture, Ali Wells has decided to make a decidedly British techno album. By invoking two distinct strands of British culture, eccentricity and industry - the latter at both at a societal and musical level - Wells has firmly pinned his colours to a mast marked ‘music-making English oddball’. The challenge is whether he can represent these values without in the process looking like a token dissenter from the borderless, incessant march of techno culture?
Certainly, album opener “Choice” is a promising start. Dreamy ambience and found sounds provide the backdrop for a camp, wistful interview subject talking about his mundane childhood and how it in turn affected his artistic output. Is it Perc himself or a disturbed, fictional representation of his character? We will never know. Despite this, there is something almost ghoulish about this track, allowing the listener to eavesdrop on someone who sounds vulnerable, but that’s also a great part of its charm.
“My Head is Slowly Exploding” also elicits a similar reaction; over the kind of hypnotic beat you’d expect from industrialists Throbbing Gristle, Perc throws down bars of slamming metal but softens the blow with layers of wispy ambience. It’s like watching one of the greatest British horror films, “The Wicker Man”, in reverse, and discovering first that the islanders burn intruders before experiencing the touchy-feely side to their paganism. With this part of the concept thoroughly covered – although “You Saw Me” also reveals a menacing undercurrent to his eccentricity with a slow chugging train groove - Perc then focuses on the industrial side of his album.
Borrowing as much from the former greatness of the north’s steel foundries as the unrelenting linear brutality of Surgeon and Regis, “Gonkle” and “London, We Have You Surrounded” deploy evil sirens and searing metallic riffs over malevolent broken beats and white-knuckle rhythmic fury. If there was ever a soundtrack to document the possibility of the British population north of the Watford Gap turning on their southern counterparts, it’s “London… “ Perc pursues this concept to a logical, merciless conclusion with “Jmurph”, where what sounds like a malfunctioning jackhammer descends into atonal repetition, but by that stage it is patently obvious that this is a unique album, birthed and moulded in Britain.
Japanese export Go Hiyama has graced some heavyweight techno institutions in the past including James Ruskin’s Coda, Spain’s Warm Up and Belgium’s ever reliable Token imprint. He begins the new year with a return to Perc Trax, his third appearance on the unstoppable London based imprint.
“Postmodern” is a deeply atmospheric track built on foundations of white noise similar to the techniques used by prominent glitch or click house producers such as Akufen from the early 2000s. It’s not an unwelcome return either, with the track building to a screeching climax. Stroboscopic Artefacts boss Lucy steps up for remix duties with a slightly more accessible version that stays true to the original but implements additional layers of percussion and teases your senses with the key elements.
“Concrete Advance” strips things back to the bare elements providing a linear background to the haunting horns that drift in and out of the mix and there’s also the implementation of a subtle yet effective breakdown. The Deadsound and Videohead mix completes the package nicely, tipping its hat towards the more industrial broken beat techno that emerged from Madrid some years back. A sophisticated release that offers something for everyone with a interest in techno.
With almost 40 releases to its credit and few creative slip ups along the way, there can be little doubt that Ali ‘Perc’ Wells’s imprint is one of the UK’s great modern techno labels. What sets Perc Trax apart is that its owner allows his artists to explore a range of creative avenues without losing sight of the label’s adherence to what defines it: techno music. Unsurprisingly, like most Perc releases, these remixes of “1909” are utterly distinctive: Millie’s version combines wobbly sub-bass and eerie atmospherics, in one fell swoop capturing the essence of two great UK electronic music traditions – the lurching swagger of bass and the menace of industrial. Perc’s own reshape sounds intent on achieving the same, but this time stepping rhythms are fused with bursts of droning noise and distorted, grainy drums that evoke memories of classic noisenik Landstrumm. By contrast, the original version seems restrained, but there is no doubt that the titanium drums and bad-ass bass will worry even the most resilient sound system. Finally, Perc welcome a transatlantic guest as New York DJ Derek Plaslaiko, who is due to release original material on Perc soon, drops a mangled, distorted bass over straighter 4/4 beats and steely rhythms. Forget the fads and hipsters - this releases shows UK electronic music at its most inspired.
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