“I never really had a plan for the label”, says Ali Wells. Discontented by how long it was taking smaller labels to put his music out, Wells found himself with spare cash due to a redundancy package and a question; “What better way to spend your spare redundancy money than to press up some records and see what happens?” The result is Perc Trax; initially created to put out tracks under his Perc alias, it is now celebrating its 10th anniversary as one of the UK’s most endearingly abrasive techno labels.
Though he now regularly puts out music by other artists, the label has always maintained its core intention, of providing Wells with ammunition for his DJing. This meant that initially releases were “all over the place” but as time has worn on, “things have solidified and become clearer.” This clarity comes through in the releases, but is considerably more lucid when you listen to Wells’ own material. Defined by “huge powerful drums” and a brutalist attachment to abrasion, the Perc sound is nothing if not recognisable. Wells puts this down to his experiences as a teen in a rock band that instead of a drummer had a “little Yahama drum machine” that “lacked any sort of power in the drums”. Being teenagers, those fortunate bands who did have drums took the piss out of them, which Wells reckons must have scarred him psychologically. “It’s just something that comes out of me [because] I don’t want to go back to people laughing at me”.
Wells has also developed a very singular aesthetic for his label visually, though once again this was something that came with time. “In the beginning I had this idea that it didn’t matter and… it’s all about the music.” As with most things, this changed with a wider dependence on the internet as it became evident that artwork that stands out is almost a necessity. Now, working closely with designer Jonny Costello, Wells is trying to move away from the “black and white dystopian Berlin warehouse type of look” by “slowly introducing more colour”, something immediately apparent if you look at the artwork for the Perc Trax 10th Anniversary Slowly Exploding vinyl releases.
Wells’ music also manages to be distinct by virtue of how head on he can be politically. His latest album, The Power and The Glory features a track called “David and George”. “The political side of things is definitely something I’d like to expand,” Wells states. “I would never ruin a track with sloganeering vocals. There’s nothing worse than a really politically outspoken track where the music isn’t strong.” He is definitely aware of the danger musicians face by introducing political elements to their music, but ultimately he thinks you should. “Especially if it’s something you believe in. If you lose a couple of people then so what? You’ll probably gain a few people at the same time.”
This belief that the music is what should come first and foremost is also part of what appears to be a marked shift in everything Wells has done to date. The Power and The Glory featured the likes of Factory Floor’s Nik Void and Dan Chandler of the late Dethscalator and Sex Swing contributing the sort of abstract and abrasive vocals befitting Wells’ releases. But last year he also released a remix of East India Youth’s ‘Heaven, How Long?’, signalling a change in interests that seems likely to impact the next fully fledged Perc album. “[East India Youth] is the sort of thing I’m looking for, solid vocals. I’m much more interested in remixing a singer/songwriter or some sort of band rather than being given a techno tracks and being asked to turn it into a slightly harder techno track. I’m over that.”
Wells has also pursued a change in terms of performance, playing more shows outside of the club space that has long defined him. He recently graced Shipley’s Golden Cabinet for a stunning show where he followed on from noisey drum therapists Sly & the Family Drone, who are decidedly not on the deeper spectrum of techno that Wells usually follows. Looking back at the gig, Wells considers this a challenge navigated successfully. This bodes well, especially having recently announced a show at London’s Birthdays with friend Dan Chandler, whose anti-club attitude has influenced the shift between this sort of show and standard club nights.
Fundamentally however, some things will stay the same. The future of Perc and Perc Trax is about staying the course as well as trying new things as typified by Slowly Exploding. It was important to him to have “a mixture of the close or established Perc Trax family like Forward Strategy Group, Truss and Sawf” while also covering newer artists like Happa and those to whom he is indebted to, like Berlin’s Kareem.
Wells will continue his partnership with fellow techno musician Truss, creating releases and DJing together. As for the new, Wells seems content to enjoy the position he’s in at the moment. Financially Perc Trax is in a good place, allowing for his recent forays into even more experimental territories via his Submit imprint. As far as future collaboration, Wells is open minded. Gazelle Twin is a new discovery he really admires though nothing is planned, and perhaps, he might even follow Surgeon’s footsteps in his work with Lady Gaga tour mate Lady Starlight. “Techno music is supposedly future music and is always pushing forwards but there’s a lot of people who are quite stuck in their ways and they love this sort of classic techno sound coming off vinyl. As long as it’s something that feels true and honest, an opportunity like that will be a lot of fun”.