Ali Wells AKA Perc has been a prominent fixture in UK Techno for over 15 years, in that time he’s kept himself busier than most with a packed touring schedule, releases on major labels, not to mention his own imprint Perc Trax.
Craig Connolly caught up with him to get a glimpse of how he fits it all in.
It’s been 11 years since the birth of your label Perc Trax, was it always an ambition of yours to start your own label, or having previously released on so many labels was it a means of having total control of your sound and output?
Everything I’ve done has happened organically with a lot of accidents and luck along the way. I always wanted to make music but I never expected to have any sort of physical release out, let alone own a label or gig anywhere outside of the town I grew up in. Having a label is very important to me, it means complete control as you say, but also the ability to champion artists and music I love and hopefully help them reach the bigger audience that they deserve.
‘Slowly Exploding’ was a compilation release of new material to celebrate 10 years of Perc Trax which featured your first ever commercial mix. Did you approach all the featured artists
beforehand about contributing or was there a folder of music sitting in waiting that needed to be released?
My plan for the new tracks of the compilation was to have at least one track from all the key Perc Trax artists and then invite some artists who had not been on the label before but who fitted its mood to be part of the project. None of the tracks were sitting on my hard drive, whether they were sitting on the artists hard drive is something you’d have to ask them!
I’d like to think they were all written with Perc Trax in mind. Either way I was really happy with the way the compilation came out, I wanted something that captured the spirit of the label and looked forward rather than a greatest hits type retrospective.
You’ve now released two studio albums, ‘Wicker & Steel’ & ‘The Power & The Glory’, on both occasions was it a conscious decision to write an album or did you find yourself making tracks that would work better together as a collection?
Both albums were written as albums rather than being assembled from existing tracks that had not found a home elsewhere. Whilst I was working on the albums all other remixes, collaborations and projects for other labels were put on hold. I had been trying to write an album on and off for a few years before ‘My Head Is Slowly Exploding’ appeared and that set the tone for ‘Wicker & Steel. With the ‘Power & The Glory’ I just stopped everything and wrote about 20 rough sketches of tracks. Once I had these I looked for a recurring theme amongst my ten favourite demos and moulded them into the final versions that you hear on the album.
‘Gob’ is your first solo release on Perc Trax since ‘The Power & The Glory’ LP. Was it intentional to come back with such a dance-floor ready EP after the release of an LP?
In recent years I’ve been finishing less and less tracks that I am happy with. Maybe it is because I have less time in the studio due to my gigging or maybe I just am imposing higher standards on my studio output recently. I missed having a steady stream of new tracks of my own to play in my sets so when I set aside time to work on a new EP for Perc Trax my eyes were definitely set on the dance-floor. Since ‘The Power And The Glory’ I had only really made ‘Tri-City’ for Stroboscopic and ‘Hyperlink ‘ for the ‘Slowly Exploding’ compilation so I really needed some new tracks. ‘Change To Win’ on the B2 of the 12″ is a bit more ragged and experimental so that provides a bit of balance to the EP and shows a different side to what I do in the studio.
Aside from having a very distinctive sound, Perc Trax has also become synonymous with having incredibly strong art direction for each release, how important is this in your eyes when it comes to releasing music and do you have a frequent collaborator that creates the work?
When the label started I thought that you should package things as plainly as possible to let the music speak for itself, but as the years went on and Perc Trax started to release albums and be more prominent online and especially on social media the visual side of the label became crucial. The covers of my own two albums are so linked to the music that when I see the cover I hear the album and vice versa. Perc Trax’s main designer is Jonny Costello, who now lives in Birmingham after being brought up in Dublin. I work very closely with him and his designs are now synonymous with the label and how it is perceived.
Speaking of art direction and the ‘Gob’ EP, your latest cover sees your face covered in a porridge-like substance, I assume this wasn’t your idea?
Of course it was my idea! The ‘Gob’ EP was written in the run up to the UK’s general election earlier this year, so politics were on my mind at the time. The porridge on the front and back cover of the sleeve refers to political greed, the expenses scandal, noses in the trough, that kind of thing. I wanted something that hinted at greed, but using a cheap type of food so the porridge was perfect. It’s a strange one but it makes a change from your usual techno shot of some run down inner city warehouse or industrial site.
Coming from Cambridge, which isn’t necessarily seen as a Techno haven, were there any nights or parties that stood out and helped form your sound?
There were lots of parties there that came and went very quickly, rather than established nights that ran regularly for years. Techno was not that strong when I was living there but there were some psy-trance and acid techno nights which were fun. My first proper solo gigs were playing 150bpm live acid techno sets at parties in Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire. In Cambridge I used to play in a venue called ‘The Boat Race’ (unsurprisingly) which has long since been turned into a coffee shop. Those days seem like so long ago now, but I have fond memories of it and of the people that fought to make the scene what it was then.
Finally, this Saturday sees you return to Dublin to play at Hangar. Having played with Dave Clarke last year at District 8, do you feel Dublin is in a good place at the moment for Techno?
I think right now it is a scene that is changing very quickly. New venues seem to have opened every time I’m there and the closure of the Twisted Pepper changes things a lot. I love to get an update on what is happening in the city as I make the journey from the airport to the city centre. Whatever happens though the crowd is always up for it and I get as warm a reception in Dublin as I do anywhere else in the world. Dublin was the first place I played outside of England so will always be a special place for me to come back to.