Whilst techno has been coming back into the popular eye over the past six months or so in the UK, Ali Wells aka ‘Perc’ is certainly no stranger to the genre. Having had his earliest release is 2002, Well’s has released on a multitude of well renowned labels such as CLR, Kompakt and Stroboscopic Artefacts just to name a few. Although originally growing up in Hertfordshire, the bulk of his career so far has been lived out in London, his productions often said to absorb and translate the city’s atmosphere.
However, Perc’s name is not just highly-respected for his releases. In 2004 he founded his own label, ‘Perc Trax’ producing its debut release ‘Ice Cream For Kenton’. Perc Trax has since developed from just a vessel for Well’s own productions, and has become a haven for forward thinking deep house and techno. Releases have come from the likes of Sawf, Truss and Ed Rush, and the label’s artist roster continues to grow. Perc Trax also put out perhaps Well’s best received work, the 2011 album ‘Wicker & Steel’.
Why don’t we start with what you’ve been up to lately and how this year has been for you?
This year has been great so far, my EP ‘A New Brutality’ did really well and caught the attention of a lot of people outside of the techno scene which was one of its main aims. I’ve also been gigging across Europe and in Japan, the USA, Australia, and Singapore. It’s been great really. Right now I am coming to the end of a run of remixes for Factory Floor, Truss, Mark Stewart and Black Asteroid, once they are done I really need to get my head down and work on some tracks of my own.
So your label Perc Trax has been running for roughly eight years now, what were your original intentions for the label, and how have you seen it develop?
The original intention was for Perc Trax to be an outlet for my own music, where I would be in control of what gets released and when it would be released as I was tired of waiting 9-12 months for my first releases to come out. Soon after the first release I started receiving demos and it turned into a ‘real’ label. The main developments over the years have been the assembling of a close family of artists who are connected with the label rather than releasing a stream of one-off, unconnected 12’s and the label’s move into album releases which has been brewing for 3 or 4 years now but only really been a success since Sawf’s album and my own ‘Wicker & Steel’ came out last year.
How do you go about sourcing artists to release on Perc Trax?
Sometimes I hear a release by an artist, especially one on a small label that might not give the release the promotion and exposure it deserves and really think they would fit on Perc Trax and of course friends send me demo tracks all the time. Other times it is from demos received by email but this is becoming increasingly rare, maybe one release a year is found like this. People need to realise that by sending trance or electro house demos to Perc Trax they are just wasting my time and making the chance of me hearing a gem from someone that understands the label even smaller. What they are doing is actually to be detriment of artists that might be suitable for Perc Trax and that really annoys me.
Despite having the foundations in place to release your own work, you have chosen to continue releasing productions with other labels such as Stroboscopic Artefacts and CLR. What is it that keeps you interested in working with other labels?
Each of these labels has a different aesthetic, musical philosophy and audience. Whilst there is a crossover between Perc Trax, CLR and Stroboscopic there are tracks I have done for one of these labels that would not work on the other two. I would count Lucy and Chris as friends of mine so it is good to work with people I know and mix it up a bit. Life would be very boring if I just released on Perc Trax without seeing what I could gain from working with other labels I respect.
Your album ‘Wicker and Steel’ has especially strong nods towards industrial influences, and some of the more down tempo tracks border on Musique Concréte in their approach. Are there any particular producers/musicians you would cite as a source of inspiration for these more left-field features on the album?
Hmmm, most of it still stems from the classic industrial artists, Throbbing Gristle, SPK, Cabaret Voltaire etc. During their more experimental, drawn-out tracks they all flirted with found sounds, news footage, drones etc. I do listen to a lot of Philip Glass and a little Terry Riley but I would not say I am that knowledgeable in this area of music. Coming back to current producers then Vatican Shadow and Pete Swanson are a big influence on me now, but that is pushing towards a more noise/drone sound than Musique Concrete in the classic sense.
I’ve read that during your musical upbringing there was at least to some extent, a conflict between electronic ‘dance’ music and rock or indie music. Do you see those early alternative rock influences to have a lasting effect on your productions or has electronic music completely won over?
No, there will always be a rock/guitar influence to what I do. It is more in the attitude and approach than me sampling guitars or trying to record full drum kits for my productions. I find a lot of modern techno too introspective when the rock music I listen has more attitude and is definitely projecting outwards to make an impression rather than looking inwards for answers.
Do you think moving to London played a big role in the shaping of your sound?
Yes, London is a continually evolving melting pot of styles and genres. The innovation the city continually displays cannot fail to inspire me and I think the clubbers in London are some of the most open minded on the planet. There are cities I can think of where as soon as you deviate from a steady 4/4 kick they stare at you like you are mad. In London they embrace these rhythmic variations and any new ideas you throw at them. That I something I absolutely love about London.
Would it be fair to say your music has a ‘cinematic’ quality to it, are films a big part of your life?
No really, I don’t watch many films. Maybe one or two a month at the most. That said I have mentioned it before the UK horror films such as Witchfinder General, The Wicker Man, the Hammer series etc that all play a big part in how I think about the more atmospheric side of my music.
Acts such as Blawan (including his side project Karenn), Gerry Read as well as the Joy O/Boddika partnership are doing a lot to turn the UK bass scene in the direction of dark house & techno. As a long standing affiliate of the genre, what are your thoughts on this new brand of the genre, and is it built to last?
Of the artists you mention I love some of them and really dislike some of the others so for me I have mixed feelings. It is hard to think it will last when some of these artists have attempted to make an impact in 3 or 4 separate genres in the last few years but someone like Blawan is a massive thing for techno and especially UK techno and is someone who I think is in it for the long run and will continue to make fresh sounding, innovative records for years to come.
You have an upcoming tour in August, beginning with Berghain for the Krake festival. When Djing do you formulate any ideas for your sets before the night, or will you assess the vibe upon arrival?
I prepare for every gig a few days before the date but normally I don’t prepare in a certain way for the particular city, club or country I am going to. For festivals I might play slightly differently and therefore that needs different tracks for it to work. For the Krake festival I was playing an experimental live set so I built a completely new set from nothing with just a few elements of some of my Stellate tracks for Stroboscopic creeping in.
Berghain’s stringent door policy is fairly well known worldwide. As a British producer yourself what is your take on their dislike for tourists? Personally I think it’s good that they are making some effort to keep out those with little interest in the scene, but I think often it does more harm than good, and makes legitimate techno enthusiasts feel rejected and isolated from the scene.
I have never been to Berghain apart from the times I have played there and upstairs in the Panorama bar, so I have never had to run the gauntlet of the door staff, but if you fly across Europe to go to a club that you know you are not guaranteed to get in to then that is the risk you take. I am not sure if the door policy has ever been fully explained but there are people of all nationalities in Berghain every weekend, some who might be visiting for the weekend and others that have made Berlin their home, so I don’t know how it works really. As Surgeon has said it is the ‘no cameras’ policy that sets the tone in Berghain far more than the door policy.
How do you balance your time as a producer, DJ and label boss?
I just try and prioritise what needs to be done each day which normally means my own production work is the thing that sometimes does not happen, but it is ok. Perc Trax’s release schedule is slowly slowing down and I am stopping doing digital-only releases soon so that will free up more time for my production. As you may well know the bulk of any producer’s income is from Djing income so everything else has to fit around my travelling and gigging.
And finally what can we expect to hear from you and your label in the future?
Next on the label is Truss’ ‘Ganymede’ 12” with remixes from Skirt and myself. After that will be a 12” by a completely new artist that I can’t mention yet, there is also another EP coming soon from Mick Finesse which as mentioned above will be Perc Trax’s last digital-only release for a while. Outside of Perc Trax I have a 12” coming on Sleaze with remixes from Sawlin and Ben Sims and my ‘Work Softer’ track from 2008 returns on Prosthetic Pressings with new mixes from Orphx and Desonanz. After there will be a pair of EP’s where I collaborate with other artists. One is with Adam X and the other I am keeping very quiet for now.