Percs Of Touring

15 August 2012 | 11:06 am | Cyclone Wehner

"There are too many new labels or producers that put three utterly generic, disposable tracks up on Beatport or iTunes, spam Facebook a few times, get upset when they sell less than 30 downloads."

Today the sound of London is dubstep, grime or something in between, but once it was techno. Could London DJ/producer Perc (AKA Alistair "Ali" Wells) be leading a revival? The Guardian recently identified him as belonging to a fresh wave of "bleak but danceable" British industrial music.

"London has been a musical hotspot for decades now and seems to lead the way in new musical innovations, so it is a great environment to be part of," says Wells. "Outside of music, the pace of the city, the architecture, and the variation between different areas of the city are all inspiring. I love to travel and experience other countries and cities, but I am still always glad to return to London. I was not born there, but I have lived in London for over 10 years and I consider it my home now."

From the outset, Wells has liked it hard. He grew up listening to metal (Guns N' Roses!). Wells became attuned to electronica via hip hop (Run-DMC) and went on to embrace hardcore and, eventually, ravey '90s techno (comps from Carl Cox, Jeff Mills, and the Berlin label Tresor). The sometime Sainsbury's warehouse worker was active in the early 2000s, with James Holden a champion of his I Make Nuclear. Wells released the breakthrough Up on Kompakt in 2007. He'd then remix DJ Hell. Over time, the DJ has had issues on such labels as Adam Beyer's Drumcode, Chris Liebing's CLR, and Germany's avant-garde Stroboscopic Artefacts.

Wells started Perc Trax, initially for his own music, in 2004 – and during an era in which labels rarely make money. "There is money to be made, just not as much as before," he insists. "There are too many new labels or producers that put three utterly generic, disposable tracks up on Beatport or iTunes, spam Facebook a few times, get upset when they sell less than 30 downloads, [and] then go on the Internet moaning that the music business is dead. If you can provide a high quality, individual product at a good price, then people are still willing to pay for it." The key, he says, is to "reduce frivolous spending and stay realistic." 

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Wells' sound spans drone, industrial, and techno both tribal or big room and deeper or dubbier. "My music is just a combination of my influences, history, and a place I want to be in the future. While there are definite industrial influences in my music, and in many of the Perc Trax releases, I am cautious of this tag and the baggage that comes with it – the same way I was wary a few years ago of Perc Trax being branded a 'Berghain techno' label. I challenge myself by always trying to move forward, to somehow distance myself from trends, and to not repeat either my own music or the music of others." Indeed, Wells is familiar with techno's history, and its myriad "chapters" – Detroit, Chicago, Birmingham, Amsterdam and Berlin – but, while deeming that knowledge "important", he believes in innovation, not reproduction. "Techno was always meant to be a 'future music' and way too many people right now are just looking backwards."

Last year Wells presented his debut 'artist' album in Wicker & Steel, which has a conceptual arc, its title referencing 1973's cult horror film The Wicker Man, starring Edward Woodward and Australian Diane Cilento. "When I look back on the album now, I am immensely proud of it and the reception it received from fans, critics and the press. Of course, I can hear a few things in it that I would do differently if I had another chance but, generally, I am still very happy with it." 

Aside from The Wicker Man, Wells is inspired by Hammer horror. "The music of these films, the general atmosphere, [and] the 'Britishness' of them all means a lot to me. It is a certain aesthetic that is just not present in American horror films, for example. The portrayal of British life through various periods of history in these films is more interesting to me than actually researching that particular period of history. It is a distorted impression of certain eras – and that kind of reinterpretation is fascinating."

Techno is an inherently anonymous music, one of the reasons it's long remained countercultural. Yet Wells told The Guardian, "I don't want to use the word 'soul', because it brings up awful connotations of soulful house, but there has to be personality behind the music. It can't just be loads of layers of black." So what aspects of his personality do come through in his music? "I think there is light and shade, touches of humour, and, of course, a summing of my influences," he replies. "The music I make is generally without lyrics, so sometimes the humour has to reach the listener via track titles and jokes in the liner notes. The race for generally younger producers to be harder, faster or darker does not interest me. A 12-track album of dark techno would leave me bored stiff. I have no interest in being a purist – or in purist techno. I would hope the different sides of my personality do manifest themselves in my music, not just my occasional moody or dark side."

Curiously, Wells used to produce drum 'n' bass, but contemporary tear-out dubstep doesn't attract him. "It is not my cup of tea, but it does not bother me. What passes for dubstep now is a different sound to the original Croydon dubstep, but the same could be said for present-day European techno compared with the music of the Detroit originators. I don't have any ill feelings against the huge stars of the US dubstep explosion. Sometimes technically they are pushing the envelope far more than people slavishly copying the age-old Berlin or dub techno blueprints."

Wells is industrious. He's been cutting remixes for Speedy J's Electric Deluxe label, the UK 'post-industrial' outfit Factory Floor (on DFA Records), and The Charlatans' frontman Tim Burgess. "I also have a desire to produce bands and work with hip hop and other kinds of music – that is why remixing and working for Tim Burgess, Factory Floor, etcetera, is a vital step forward for me." Wells has just issued an EP, A New Brutality, and has collaborated on another with New York's Adam X due on Perc Trax later in the year.

A serious techno auteur Wells may be, but he has his guilty pleasures – kinda. "I have never been a fan of the term 'guilty pleasures' as I am proud of my pop choices," he protests. "[But] my idea of pop is more indie and guitar music, rather than proper chart-bothering pure pop – Pet Shop Boys, some early synth pop, some Timbaland-produced stuff, [and] the baggy sound of the '90s all appeals to me."

Though Wells occasionally performs live, he'll be DJing when he hits Melbourne and Sydney this weekend. "For my two Australian dates I will be DJing, playing a largely upfront selection of my own new music and that on Perc Trax, plus a few cheeky remixes, re-edits and classics."