UK techno dude Perc, aka Ali Wells, had a momentous first clubbing experience while still at school, he tells DJ Mag. “I borrowed one of my older brother’s mate’s student cards and blagged my way into the Hacienda [in Manchester],” he recalls. “It was such an intense experience, after having only been to a few indie discos and half-hearted raves in East Anglia.”
Ali started making electronic music when he messed up his GCSEs, “and I bought myself a drum machine to take my mind off it all. By the time I was 18, I knew it was what I wanted to do and studied music production in Newcastle”.
He quickly became half of an acid techno duo gigging around the city, and once he left Newcastle he kept on making techno on his own and sending out demos. Needing a name in a hurry, he looked around his studio for inspiration. “A piece of tape was stuck across the mixer with all the channels’ names scrawled on it,” he remembers. “One said ‘Perc’ as a shortening of percussion, and it just stuck. I still love the name and with the music I make having a name related to drums and percussion, it’s very apt.”
Gradually he started cementing his rep, releasing on labels like Kompakt, Ovum, Drumcode and CLR, and then in 2011 he put out his acclaimed ‘Wicker & Steel’ album and started gigging more and more and building up his label. Now comes his second album, ‘The Power & the Glory’, which is part-experimental and part-dancefloor killer. Some of the more dancefloor cuts have been road-tested at assorted gigs he’s played at over the past few months — for instance, the corrosive, panel-beating track ‘Dumpster’ with its off-kilter jazzual fillip. “'Dumpster’ was in my live set at Tresor in the summer, and it really kicked off in there,” Perc says.
“It was one of those moments, like playing 'My Head Is Slowly Exploding’ at Berghain, where you finally know you are on the right track with something. ‘Take Your Body Off’ [an awesome skuzzy industrial track that recalls the more extreme excesses of metal-bashers Test Dept] was only finished in October but I’ve been playing it out everywhere since then.”
DJ Mag suggests that it’s good to see techno turning more industrial again, but Perc doesn’t agree wholeheartedly. “There is so much so-called industrial techno coming from people who last year were making dodgy mnml or tech house that certain elements of this sound are getting played out very quickly,” he believes. “You can easily spot a track made by someone that knows their house music compared with someone that jumps scenes as they rise and fall in popularity, and the same is true with this kind of music. Some producers do everything they think signifies this kind of noisy, industrial, lo-fi sound and still they are way off the mark.”
It’s bandwagon-jumpers that make Perc strive to keep pushing forward with new ideas. To this end, he’s teamed with Factory Floor’s Nik Colk Void after a remix swap led to them becoming friends. ‘Speek’, the Perc track Nik features on, is all half-whispered voices in dungeons and strangulated intonations — not your standard vocal performance at all. “Nik has a very complete view of her vocals, where the actual performance and the effects she adds cannot be separated,” Perc says.
Elsewhere, the vox of Dan Chandler from noise-rock band Dethscalator is featured, screaming manically on the aforementioned ‘Take Your Body Off’ and seemingly experiencing Saw-like torture on ‘Rotting Sound’. The album as a whole is as arresting for its soundscape tracks such as ‘Lurch’, which boasts Autechre-style dissonant popcorning beats and an eerie synth drone, as it is for its 4/4 numbers. “Some of the soundscape tracks were played at an ambient live set I did in a church in Hackney recently,” Perc says. “It was a rare chance to play tracks like that through a big soundsystem, and there was the added bonus of my mum being able to finally see me play in a non-rave environment!”
London-based Perc tends to get more gigs in Europe than the UK, although he’ll be gigging all over the world in support of this new album (Asia, both Americas etc). He thinks that the techno scenes in London and Glasgow compete on a global scale, but that it would be nice if there was a stronger techno scene in the rest of the UK. “Big cities having three or four strong techno events competing with each other would be great for the UK,” he reckons. “Berlin, Amsterdam, Barcelona all have strong scenes, with Paris definitely coming back to form after a few years getting into electro a bit too much.”