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We Spoke to Techno Auteur Perc About His New Album, 'The Power & The Glory'

"Come on, you should be liking something more confrontational!"
February 6, 2014, 6:45pm

In 2011 everyone lost their shit to Perc's debut album Wicker & Steel. After years of entertaining serious men in cold warehouses with kick drums hewn from rusted spite, Perc was thrust into the limelight. The Guardian loved him. The Quietus loved him. Had Zane Lowe possessed a heart in the dark cavity located behind his leathery bat lungs, he would have loved him. Perc was hot. Now he's back with his difficult second album, The Power & The Glory.

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This isn't a lazy journalistic cliché; The Power & the Glory is a difficult second album, it's just that the difficulty is all yours. The first song is called 'Rotting Sound', and opens with a sample of Faith No More front man Mike Patton telling a nervy journalist that "You fall in love with this rotting sound that doesn't belong there." Then these vicious hits kick, and the primal screaming starts. It's not very much like Disclosure.

The album is ten tracks long. Quite a few of them are what you might call ambient, although their ambience is less Music for Airports and more Saw VIII: Jigsaw does Berghain. The tracks that aren't 'ambient' are trephining, violent techno; the offspring of flinty Sheffield rave, shattered hardcore rhythms and drum n' bass dynamics. There are guest vocals from Nik Colk Void of Factory Floor, and a guy from a band called Dethscalator who gibbers convincingly. The Power & The Glory is an intense, harsh listen, shot through with hidden lockets of sweet melody. Between its clatter and calm, it generates stark moments of genuine euphoria. Perc is still hot, whether he cares or not.

When I spoke to the producer, he was in a studio in Hammersmith mastering the remixes for the album. Tessela has completed one, but Perc's remaining tight lipped on who's doing the others till the album has been digested. We talked about the album. Here's what he said.

You can exclusively stream 'Bleeding Colours', taken from The Power & The Glory, below.

THUMP: With the last album, Wicker & Steel, you talked about thinking of the title first, and that having a shaping effect on the music– was that process repeated with The Power & the Glory?

Perc: Yeah, the album was in my head before I attempted writing anything. I wanted something powerful, a bigger sound than Wicker & Steel. I guess "expansive" would be the right word; it pushes out in different directions. The album title was always in the back of my mind, and the last track particularly ties in with it; not so much that its epic, but it's got a lot of emotion to it.

Are we meant to read the title in a slightly ironic, sinister way?             

Perc: Yeah, there's a few references to politics on the album – especially the track 'David & George', which obviously refers to our Conservative leaders at the moment. It's a little bit sarcastic; dealing with the dark side of power and influence, the idea that power, people being in power over other people, is not always a positive experience, and not very glorious. There's also a slight religious angle in the title. As well as my frustration with some of the issues going on in the UK at the moment, I've also got a general dissatisfaction with some of the moves being made by organised religion.

Can you be more specific? Like was there anything that happened that particularly drove you to write something?

Perc: I can't think, "Oh this happened, and that inspired this track", but the general stuff the government are getting away with at the moment: changes to the NHS, changes to the welfare state, cuts in arts funding. I mean I don't have kids or anyone directly going through hospital treatment, so I'm not directly affected by quite a lot of this, but still it seems like a couple of guys are dismantling whatever they can, always with an eye on profit, bringing private enterprise into previously public owned services. It just gets at me and winds me up. And I think the British public are maybe a little passive – I mean I'm the same though. I can't remember the last time I marched on the streets over an issue.

So are you making stuff that's trying to shake people out of complacency? The music seems aggressively at odds with what the mainstream of dance is championing right now. 

Perc: Yeah, I think it is that. It's that thing of short sharp shock, trying to get a reaction from people. It's a balance of getting a reaction without alienating, and purposely going out of your way to piss people off. It's still a dance album. It still has club tracks that'll appeal to DJs and clubbers. I don't want to leave that side behind - the club and the DJ is the primary environment for what I do - but dance music at the moment is a little bit cosy, especially the generic cookie­cutter deep house stuff that's at the top of the charts. I've known this stuff for a long time and if you look at the original Chicago house blueprint, it's being rehashed again and again. It's not appealing to me at all.

90s dance had such an obsession with being fresh, and moving forward, and a lot of the stuff coming out now seems to be slavishly recreating a 90s aesthetic whilst totally disregarding the forward looking mentality.

Perc: Yeah, it's strange a lot of what I hear now is such a throwback. Personally I'm trying to move forward. It's a development though. I don't want to take 180 degree turns with every release just to confuse people. I think people who do that and switch around style all the time are probably just bandwagon-jumping.

One thing that has really jumped out at me recently was that­ when I was younger, I was looking for quite noisy music that your parents wouldn't be able to get their heads around. Like, if you look at early rave like The Prodigy, or drum 'n' bass, or even the gnarly dubstep stuff that was knocking around a while ago, all those things separated a younger generation from their parents. And now, this deep house thing is huge. You could put on a deep house compilation while you had Sunday dinner with your parents, and no one would bat an eyelid.

It's really strange. I never expected to see it happen. I've been playing clubs, in the techno room, and in the other room there'll be some house DJ playing the current deep house sound and the crowd is like, super young, barely old enough to get into the club, and they're all really loving it, cheering and getting down, and I feel a bit like, "Come on, you should be liking something more confrontational!"

Do you think that ties in with the political apathy you were talking about?

Perc: Yeah I think apathy was the word I was looking for earlier. It's just passive. As long as people can get by with as little stress as possible and go out and get wrecked on the weekend then that's enough for them. People are very much focused on themselves, and in some ways that's understandable – but the only people protesting against hospital closures are people who are directly affected by them, and everyone else is like, oh let them get on with it, but in 5 years time when something bad happens, you'll regret not making more of a stand.

You seem to feel fairly strongly about this, but someone could quite easily listen to your album and not get any of it at all.  ­

It shouldn't be overt. I'm not Billy Bragg, I don't stand on stage with an acoustic guitar and preach through the medium of music. I avoided getting too political on the sleeve notes. The number one thing has to be the music, and it has to represent me. If I can get some sort of message across, and make someone a bit more aware of what's going on then that's a bonus – it's not the primary function of the album, but it is something I hope comes across.

There is precedent I guess, the Prodigy's second album has that artwork with the crusty hippy sticking his finger up to the man, but people don't necessarily think of it as a political album.

Perc: Yeah, there's also the argument that the very act of staying up all night and dancing and escaping is political act in itself – obviously it's not challenging the current situation, but detaching yourself from reality is making a statement of some sorts. It's a balance though, if I hear dance music itself that's overtly political, and especially if the musical content isn't particularly strong, it all falls apart. Some people get it right – quite rarely. Someone like Planningtorock, I find her stuff hit and miss, but at least she's making a statement and trying to say something, so more power to her. But if it's just noisy dubstep with someone yelling about the government over the top it's not really working for me. 

The balance on this album is weighed in favour of the more experimental side of things – does that mean there's a growing cleavage between your live shows and your DJ sets?

Perc: No, not really, I mean if what I'm doing is billed as an experimental set then I'll play more ambient stuff, but if it's a live set in a club then I'll rework the experimental tracks on the album to make them more dance floor-friendly, even if it's only adding a kick to them to keep the place moving. But it's all about environment. I'm not going to follow a banging techno set at some festival with an hour of visceral noise. Although it'd probably be quite fun...  I'd rather play techno to keep people involved and keep them dancing and interested, then introduce more experimental elements quite subtly. It's a subversive thing, rather than forcing yourself onto people with more experimental stuff.

So can people expect the album launch at the Corsica to be about the clubbier side of the album?

Perc: Yeah, Demdike Stare and Shackleton are playing in the main room in the middle of the evening, so it's going to be much more than just 5 or 6 techno DJs playing one after another. Hopefully it'll introduce the techno fans to something slightly different, and vice versa. The classifications seem so flimsy now, it seems hard to draw that much distinction between what you're doing and what, say, Shackleton is doing I think the only reason I get called techno these days is cos when I play out it's generally at techno clubs. Plus the club tracks on the album, like Take Your Body Off, I mean they're definitely techno tracks. But someone like Shackleton, you'd argue he came out of dubstep I guess, but whatever he's morphed into over the last couple of years is a very different thing. 

So now you've finished the album, what next?

Perc: The album's out on the 17th of February, and then the remix EP should be coming the end of March. Then I'm off on the album tour, which is expanding all the time. After that the focus is going to shift to my on­going collaboration with Truss, so there's an EP coming from us and a bunch of gigs together, including Awakening, the huge Dutch techno thing. My schedules looking ridiculous, but I love travelling. I'm not moaning!

And you don't have to deal with thinking England being shit…

Perc: Well, I get asked all the time why I haven't moved to Berlin, but I wouldn't­ I love London so much, the place, the culture, the people – the situations going to have to get way worse before I leave.

Maybe loving London makes you feel you need to do something about it?

Perc: Of course! You're passionate about it, you care about it. In theory I'm here for life….

Perc - The Power & The Glory is out on 17th February via Perc Trax. 

Perc DJs at The Power & The Glory album launch at Corsica Studios, Sat 8th February, alongside Shackleton, Truss, Clouds, Demdike Stare and more, Tickets are available here.

You can follow Ian McQuaid on twitter here: @IanMcQuaid