A deeply British vision of techno's dystopian soundscapes...
'Bitter Music'

Ali Wells, AKA Perc, is perhaps the most trusted voice in UK techno.

Since his first releases in the early 2000s, experimenting with the heavier side of tribal dance and rave, Wells established his label Perc Trax and began curating a roster of artists that illustrated a particularly British aptitude for condensing grey skies and brutalist architecture into austere, thudding sounds. Since those early days, Perc has built his label into one of the UK’s foremost independent outlets, releasing artists such as Truss and Forward Strategy Group, as well as his own singles and LPs. Wells’ third LP, ‘Bitter Music’, following on from 2011’s ‘Wicker & Steel’ and 2014’s ‘The Power and the Glory’, is the latest incarnation of this exploration of the techno genre.

While ‘The Power and the Glory’ was notable for its distorted aggression and frantic intensity, bringing to mind a dystopian soundscape on tracks like ‘Take Your Body Off’, ‘Dumpster’ and ‘David and George’, on first listen, ‘Bitter Music’ is a more subdued affair. On his third record, then, Wells employs his production expertise to display the subtle power and even meditative qualities latent within techno.

Opener ‘Exit’ places a writhing bass frequency and distorted vocal sample underneath hints of a euphoric synth, displaying Wells’ skill at evoking a cinematic sound palette through the layering of often jarring and atonal sounds. Similarly, ‘Wax Apple’ eerily pairs reverberating bass with discordant piano and brief flashes of high frequency to create a strangely meditative soundscape amongst the noise. Even the more straightforward, kick drum-heavy tracks such as ‘Unelected’ and ‘Chatter’ display restraint and a singularity of purpose in their deceptively complex arrangements.

Wells constantly plays with crescendo, subverting the listener’s desire for a club-friendly pay-off and instead furnishing his tracks with a depth made for the album format. ‘I Just Can’t Win’, for example, displays a subtle aggression in its minimalism, placing a vocal sample of artistic frustration over a languorous kick drum, avoiding a more conventionally percussive arrangement.

Perc hasn’t gone soft though; later tracks such as the horror movie scream fest ‘Spit’, the ingenious sound collage of ‘Rat Run’ and the metallic coldness of ‘Look What Your Love Has Done To Me’ thump much harder and bring the dance floor into focus. Ultimately, Perc displays the best of both worlds on ‘Bitter Music’: without compromising his artistic integrity, he presents techno’s potential to create a sonic assault amongst an insidious quiet, as well as the capacity for calm and reflection even in the most hectic and jarring moments.

Closing track ‘After Ball’ is a perfect example of the record as a whole, simultaneously switching between heavily distorted noise and a crystalline, redemptive synth, it shows both the hard austerity of Wells’ productions as well as their potential for warmth. Leaving the metallic, acrid taste of fear at the back of the throat, ‘Bitter Music’ somehow keeps the listener enthralled and wanting more.

8/10

Words: Ammar Kalia

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