This month, Perc Trax turned ten and to mark the occasion the label is releasing a compilation of both new and old releases. Its title, Slowly Exploding, is in many ways an apt description of the label's progression over the past decade. Perc Trax has established itself as one of the UK's essential dance music label's gradually, coming to prominence not in a fireball of hype but in an explosion captured in slow-motion. Although, the same statement could not be applied to the label's music: there's nothing measured about the techno and industrial sounds which Perc Trax has become know for.
For Ali Wells, who founded the label initially as a platform for his productions as Perc, the success came as a surprise. As he told Resident Advisor in 2011, "I was really thinking that the label would only do one release, lose a load of money, and I would stop and be left with five or six hundred records in my garage." Partly, the label's unexpected longevity has been down to Wells's commitment to developing the artists on his roster, with now central figures like Sawf and Forward Strategy Group having made their debut on the label. Wells's aversion to familiarity has also ensured a degree of unpredictability, as with last year's surprise collaboration with industrial legends Einstürzende Neubauten.
Although the label is most often associated with blistering techno, its releases frequently draw on influence from outside of the genre: taking in EBM, noise and industrial, and drum and bass. Equally, the label's often uncompromising and stark sound is tempered by the light-hearted approach to its releases: whether drawing inappropriate comparisons to 90s pop band Hear'Say on Perc's "Pure & Simple", Jean Ramesse's inexplicably named "Violence Delays Cous Cous Time" or the gallows humour of Perc's "David & George", with its cackling pitched-up voices bringing to mind the terrible twosome from Bullingdon.
Over the last three years, Perc Trax has crystallised an aesthetic of its own, though it remains difficult to anticipate the direction in which the label is headed. There rests a certain tension between Wells's ambitions for the label and his desire to defy expectations, the latter often taking president. As Wells himself told the Quietus, "I don't want every record to be a solid club hit… it has to be a bit jarring, and I might be in my late 30s now, but I want some of it to annoy my parents, that kind of thing."
To celebrate ten years of Perc Trax, we asked some of the label's artists to tell us about their favourite release, discounting, of course, their own. Contributions come from a mixture of stalwarts like Truss, Forward Strategy and Sawf, and newer additions to the label like Mondkopf and Martyn Hare. We've also chipped in with a couple of our own underrated choices.
Mondkopf's Pick: Perc - "London, We Have You Surrounded"
My favourite Perc Trax release is probably the first album from Perc, Wicker & Steel. I think it saved me from the boredom I was feeling toward techno and electronic music, which felt like it was stagnating at the time. Perc always had a singular approach to techno – brutal, heavy and urban – informed by his own experiences of London and England. The album is sweat and metal, knocking concrete, rusty blood pouring out. It's a really personal vision that moves me.
THUMP's Pick: Pete Swanson - "Pleasure Averse" from Feral Grind
Given the affinity between techno and noise scenes of late, with many of Perc Trax's releases often shifting between the two, it's fitting that Wells chose to explore this intersection with a compliation entitled Feral Grind.
Released last year, Feral Grind, is a collection of eleven tracks, compiled by Wells and journalist Justin Farrar, from some familiar noise artists such as Prostitutes, Hive Mind and Pete Swanson and others less so. It's not, as you might expect, a selection of tracks that lean towards the dancefloor side of noise but a representation of the whole spectrum. One of Feral Grind's standout tracks is Pete Swanson's "Pleasure Averse", which bears some comparison to techno with its oscillating frequencies almost akin to a locked groove. Although, the noodling synth that carries the track's melody sounds like psychedelia with a high-voltage current run through it.
In some ways the compilation offers one of the best insights into the Perc Trax aesthetic. All the label's releases have felt in some way, whether in sensibility or sound, as much connected to 90s industrial techno as to the pioneers of industrial music in the 70s and 80s like Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle and Coil. In that sense, Feral Grind feels like an affirmation of the influences that have shaped so much of the label's music.
Patrick Walker of Forward Strategy Group's Pick: Sawf - "Goves"
"One of the stand out tracks on the new Perc Trax compilation is, for me, Sawf's "Goves". It's a bit more accessible than a lot of the music he produces and unusually linear for his style but the whole thing reminds me of some of the music Ade Fenton or Chris McCormack used to put out. The stabs are wonderful, it's almost got an uplifting feel - which is again fairly unusual for Sawf who often goes for balls-to-the-wall intensity. I'll be playing that badboy for a long time - it's off the hook!"
Truss and Donor's Pick: Forward Strategy Group - "We're Looking For Manpower"
Truss: "I could have chosen any number of FSG tracks from the Perc Trax back catalogue, in particular "Ident" which, incidentally, is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I've heard. However, "We're Looking For Manpower" tops my list. Trance-inducing organ chord progression over thunderous percussion results in a powerful and hugely emotionally driven piece of dance floor techno. Truly outstanding.
Perc Trax is one of those rare labels that has managed to successfully move with the times while never making sharp turns according to what is in vogue. It's steadily formed a solid reputation and following built around a distinct yet constantly evolving aesthetic. This can all be attributed to Ali's foresight and keen ear in his A&R-ing skills."
Donor: "I've been a big fan of Forward Strategy Group's output on Perc Trax since their Combat Code EP back in 2010, so it was a great privilege to be asked to remix one of their tracks on the release. As Perc Trax has evolved over the years into the more industrial sounding techno that it is known for today, FSG has no doubt been a key player in its development. "We're Looking For Manpower" off of the New Formal EP blends harder edged industrial sounds with organ like pads, creating the perfect contrast. It's both beautiful and brutal and always appropriate which is why it's unlikely to leave my playlist anytime soon."
Yuji Kondo's Pick: Perc - "My Head Is Slowly Exploding"
"Ali's music is always awe-inspiring, especially Wicker & Steel which for me is one of the best techno albums ever. My favourite track, "My Head Is Slowly Exploding", evokes the most intense mental state. It has this tense forboding atmosphere together with raw and physical percussion – it's perfect.
I am extremely grateful to Ali. Perc Trax's aesthetic influenced my latest EP Radiate The Ocean From My Back, which is more emotive and has a more explicit narrative to it than my previous releases. I first got in contact with Ali after his first album, Wicker & Steel, was released. The following year, I met him in person at a club in Osaka where he was DJing. We have been good friends ever since then. I hope he will come back to Japan soon."
THUMP's Pick: Monokopf's "Ruins"
Faced with a constant barrage of industrial techno, its difficult to not eventually succumb to exhaustion. There's occasionally something off-putting too about the bare-chested machismo present in most loathsome imitations of this recent trend. It's just as well then that Perc Traxs has been open to ambient and beatless experimentation as much as bludgeoning relentless percussion. Such tracks, coming as a welcome temporary respite, are interspersed throughout the discography of the label: Perc's "Horse Gum" , Forward Strategy Group's "Fading Centres" and Monokopf's "Ruins" from his Perc Trax debut The Nicest Way. The latter is evidence that the two extremes can coexist in a single production: after several minutes of ear-splitting noise, the browbeating intensity finally gives way to rising strings and choral harmonies. An oddly uplifting, almost spiritual close to a scourging track.
Martyn Hare's Pick: "Truss - "Brockweir"
"My favourite Perc Trax track is "Brockweir" by Truss from the Slowly Exploding compilation. This is not just my favourite track on Perc Trax, it's quickly become one of my all time favourites on any label. It just kicks ass, plain and simple. For me it epitomises what techno is about, a no nonsense kick drum heavy club banger; something that sounds simple but is anything but. I love tracks that have you dancing before the kick even comes into the equation. And on top of that, it's a gem to mix in and out of. Oooph."