Perc – relentless artisan, uninfluenced innovator and dark horse among the EDM community.
Ali Wells has gradually become an international force within the realms of EDM. Though a culmination of his transcending label, his inimitable production and his intense performances, the London based dignitary is setting an example for the next generation and their creativity. We spoke with the man ahead of his upcoming performance at Dystopia.
Describe to us the purpose and intent of Perc Trax.
It has developed from a vehicle for my own productions, which I expected to last for two or three releases at the most, leaving me with a garage full of unsold vinyl and a stack of debt, to something approaching a real record label. Perc Trax intends to showcase the music that I love, whether it be from upcoming or more established producers. It is always developing both musically and experimentally, such as the move to album releases over the last couple of years and the recent decision to stop with the ‘digital only’ releases. Those digitally exclusive releases served as a test lab for new producers, however, now I am of the attitude that if I were confident enough in a record for digital release, then I should put my money where my mouth is and put it out on vinyl too.
Describe to us your current method for production and live performance.
My producing is a mix of in the box laptop technique and analogue hardware. Ableton Live is my daw of choice and I tend to stay well clear of big VST’s such as Omnisphere and instead chain together smaller devices by lesser known developers with custom made Max for Live plug-ins. On the hardware side, it is an ever changing pile of cheap items. Glancing over at my desk now I can see Jomox Mbase 11 and Mbrane, MFB522 drum machine, a Casio SA-1 keyboard, a Vermona Retroverb, a cheap Chinese signal generator built for school students to learn about waveforms, a twenty year old Maplin analogue echo unit and an assortment of Boss and DOD pedals. Performance is much simpler, a laptop running Ableton controlled by a A&H K2 going into 4 channels of the mixer, sometimes a Boss RE-20 if I am playing live. I prefer to do all my DJ EQ-ing and cutting on an analogue mixer rather than with plug-ins via a midi controller.
Tell us about your influences outside of sound and music.
Futurism, Marinetti, Russolo (despite their occasionally questionable political views), William Blake, Barbara Hepworth, any architecture that grabs my attention, though I’d be pushed to start naming architects that I follow. The British Hammer horror films that I always go on about. Grimy old British comedies like Steptoe & Son. The duality between my two weekend states: long periods of solitary travel then and a few hours of hyper-social, interaction-heavy time at the club.
Explain your unyielding work attitude and rigorous release catalogue – has your devotion unconsciously unfolded through a love of music?
I am driven by a number of factors, to promote the music that I love and believe in, to help artists who I feel have far more to say than other more well-known, yet creatively hollow, artists. Plus I enjoy my life; I want to keep doing what I do, to keep gigging and travelling and releasing vinyl. To do that, and crucially, to do that on my own terms. Releasing the music that I want to rather than tracking Beatport sales trends where a professional, business-like attitude has to be applied. The Perc Trax schedule is slowing down and is already releasing at half the rate it was last year. The key point is I love what I do, so very little of it seems like work, so you don’t have to struggle to achieve a life/work balance. You just get on with things.
There are a lot of subliminal messages, sounds and references in your work – are you hopeful that a given listener would pick up on these artefacts?
Yes, I like that people sometimes pick out a sound and ask me, but I usually like to keep it on the quiet, rather than do an interview a month after the release comes out talking the reader through the meaning of track titles or the origin of speech samples. Most of my track titles reference a place, person or moment in my life. Any speech samples I use, which are more than you think, are always relevant to me and have a rooting in my background. Not just your usual random clip of a sci-fi film that a producer thinks would sound cool.
Tell us about your ‘Endless’ collaboration with Giorgio Gigli – will we hear any future releases with the project?
We were talking on skype and decided to make some tracks together. Those productions fitted a certain time and mood for us both. Together we have done two EP’s for Electric Deluxe and two remixes, the second of which is out soon on Silent Steps. Endless was never meant to be the launch of a big new project or a new ‘act’, just an occasional collaboration to make music and DJ together. I am sure it will return but I don’t know when.
Being a label owner, you’re an advocate for originality – how do you feel about re-invention?
I am always suspicious of producers that suddenly make ninety degree turns into other genres, for me it just reeks of bandwagon jumping and desperation to make music in a genre that is ‘flavour of the month’ in order to get gigs. The same counts for labels, switching genres too much just looks like a vain attempt to cling onto sales. On the other hand, I believe artists should develop and change through their career but it should be organic and gradual. The artists that are fascinating to me are ones that have a definite career progression, I might not like all the phases they drift through, but I respect that they are trying something different. When I read about a producer or label that has solely been releasing dub techno or tech house for the last ten years and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Don’t you get bored making the same music every day, forever?
What are we to expect at your upcoming performance at Dystopia?
I am playing with Surgeon and Peverelist, two DJ’s I really admire and who I both expect to throw some curveballs in their sets, so I will be doing the same. Expect a lot of upfront music from me, Perc Trax and beyond, with a few surprises and new takes on old favourites. I can always get away with more of a mix of stuff in London than most other cities, so I am hoping to surprise myself as much as anyone else.
Where next for Perc and the label?
Two collaborative EP’s, one with Adam X and one I can’t mention yet. I have a remix coming up for Electric Deluxe and possibly an experimental track for the excellent Public Information label. Right now, I am finishing off all current projects and not taking on any more remixes. Once everything is done, I need to have a long hard think about what comes next. Gig-wise Berghain on 20th of October is a big one for me as is my first gig in Argentina on 6th of October. Perc Trax has just released Truss’ new 12” with remixes by Skirt and me and I’m currently eyeing up some album projects but they won’t see the light of day until some time in 2013.
Perc will perform at Dystopia, alongside Surgeon and Peverelist, on the 13th of October. Tickets are available from Resident Advisor and Ransom Note. Further information can be found via the Dystopia website.