A New Brutality

Much has been made of Ali ‘Perc’ Wells’ status as descendant of the likes of Throbbing Gristle’s Chris Carter or Einsturzende Neubauten – a techno practitioner as animator of the body industrial. But there’s another, far less vogueish, reference point that crops up again and again throughout his work: near-sickeningly intense, grime-ridden, squat party acid techno. You know the sort – the kind of pummeling, high-bpm tracks that inspire dancers to play the Stay Up Forever game, or compete over who can ingest the largest quantity of machine strength face-loosener in the shortest amount of time.

Look over there! On the dancefloor, a skinny girl with dreads as thick as cable car wires is flailing around with sufficient gusto to transform her into a human cat o’ nine tails. In the corner, a bloodshot-eyed bloke in a slogan t-shirt is mumbling about smashing the system while simultaneously rolling a joint and asking a friend to hold a card up to his nose. And the soundsystem front centre, peaking as someone pushes for a little more volume, is blasting out Perc’s ‘A New Brutality’, its interweaving layers of metal-plated percussion and infernal sub-bass rumble sending a few dancers – barely in control of their own faculties by now – into spasms as they try to keep up. The whole scene is something straight out of a parent’s nightmare, or an anti-drug propaganda campaign, but in fact the mood is disarmingly benign given the music’s savage combination of speed and abrasion. It sets nervous systems ablaze, but in pushing beyond the body’s capacity to keep time with its constant, high-pressure assault, it hits the body as a curiously immersive blur of noise. Dancers are kneaded into soft and malleable shapes, becoming playful elements ping-ponging from place to place and person to person, all night long.

As resident of the Home Counties, Wells’ music taps into that legacy – of outdoor raves and free parties in abandoned buildings – that haunts the regions immediately orbiting the M25. His debut album Wicker & Steel, with its muffled kicks and suffocating background ambience, was frequently reminiscent of hearing a rave from the outside, its thick pulse rumbling through the ground in a kilometre-wide radius around the epicentre. Rather than being directly a dancefloor-aimed album – though certainly there was no shortage of body-battering material on display – its overall mood was coloured by that feeling of remove. The presence of Sleeper’s Louise Wener delivering a monologue at the album’s opening, as well as the sparse, sprawling environment mapped by tracks like ‘My Head Is Slowly Exploding’, spoke as much of a general sense of suburban dislocation and frustration.

This EP follow-up, aptly titled A New Brutality, however, legs it straight out of its battered old Ford Estate into the heart of the warehouse, making explicit Wells’ connection to a techno subculture that runs at a slight remove from both the industrial lineage (Regis, Surgeon et al) and the Berghain’s sexualised house-tempo throb. It’s these concerns which make Wells’ music unique, in a world where TG-loving techno boffins are ten-a-penny. Techno is always concerned with matters of the body – with music so intensely focused on physical engagement and domination, how could it not be? – but where Surgeon expressed TG’s heightened sexuality through an interest in balance and pleasure/pain thresholds (his label is tellingly named Dynamic Tension), and where Sandwell District’s ostensibly stern tracks are near pillow-soft, caressing dancers even as they’re forced into submission, Perc’s tracks aren’t necessarily as explicit in their sensuality.

Instead, there’s a druggy, depersonalising free party mentality to A New Brutality‘s title track, easily the most violent thing Wells has released to date. All burnished surfaces and bass like bomb blasts to the solar plexus, it toys with the mind and body in equal measure. Dropped in the right place at the right time – God help anyone who tried to play this at the wrong time – the effect would be to turn the dancefloor into an instant war zone, scattering bodies like ragdolls. On the flip, ‘Boy’ is the closest to Wicker & Steel‘s caustic four-to-the-floor crunch, but that album’s spaces are packed with Radiophonic interference and the wrench of machine mandibles. The EP’s other two tracks are, in some ways, its most intriguing, suggesting a future for Perc’s music well beyond the confines of techno (something his recent music for Stroboscopic Artefacts’ Stellate Series also touched on). ‘Cash 4 Gold’ is a wracked, slow grind of a track that recalls Chris Carter and Coil – halfway through its length long, lustrous melodies begin to wind their way through its superstructure. That softer edge is indulged further by the piano-softened, dark ambient of ‘Before I Go’, where percussion is loosened into a light spray of clicks that trickle through the mix.

What’s so enjoyable and worthwhile about A New Brutality, then, is that it finds Wells pushing his music to unashamed extremes in all directions. Rather than remain locked within a single narrow band and sharpening it to razor precision, it seeks to push outward and explore new territory. That it’s roundly successful in doing so – even while still remaining tightly linked to its history and predecessors – suggests we ought to be expecting still greater things from Mr. Perc in future.

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