The Cut Off

Away from the ratrace, still bringing plenty of doof, Perc's latest mangles past, present, and future into a joyous soup, finds Luke Turner

In The Quietus’ interview celebrating 20 years of London’s queer rave KAOS last autumn, founder Lee Adams made an interesting point about the current state of techno as a genre. Since Covid, he said, “there has been a move towards a kind of deathdrive techno, ultra-fast BPM, the sound of the void”. This push to an extreme is perhaps a natural reaction to years stuck indoors, but to my ears there’s been something lost from the techno of ten years ago which, as I wrote in this edition of tQ’s Organic Intelligence newsletter, was mangling the form with EBM, electroclash, acid and noise with a sense of wit and playfulness.

Perc, known to the tax man as Ali Wells, is a DJ and producer who straddles these two tendencies. Indeed, a few years back I had started to find his sets and some of his 12” releases suited for this new shift as he has gone on to play ever-bigger crowds across the globe too puglistically heavy, the canary in the mine of my rave stamina’s demise. Now Perc unites his past, present and nods to the future as he returns with The Cut Off, his first album since 2017’s Bitter Music.

Fragments of arcane bits of British culture have always illuminated Perc’s work, via samples and track titles, and that’s the case here too. A weird, askance take on our culture is hinted at in ‘Milk Snatchers Return’, ‘Full Goblin’, ‘Can You Imagine?’, ‘UK Style’ and ‘Imperial Leather’, that sharp-cornered soap beloved of nans in the 1980s. In a time when electronic music culture can be tiresomely didactic or is justified by press releases that require an MA in cultural theory to untangle but actually say SFA, I like these nods and nudges. When married to this always frenetic, inventive music they create an intoxicating, lunatic atmosphere – this is a heavy but extremely enjoyable album.

It starts like this from the off, ‘Can You Imagine?’ beginning with “oohs” and “ahs” and a pretty circling melody and you half expect to hear a telly voiceover breathlessly intoning “Today in The Best Of Britain’s Tasty Morsels” before using words like “iconic” over drone footage of a farmers market, but happily here pairs of mammoth beats stomp in, bounding up and down with the enthusiasm of a cadmium Tigger. The Cut Off moves on with the gallop of ‘Milk Snatchers Return’, like a caffeine-addled gone-in-dry Liz Truss coming to take your roof tiles in lieu of the mortgage she forced you to default on, before the first real club belter, ‘Static’, in which Swedish artist Sissel Wincent intones “light the fuse! Light it now!” as high tones fizz around. It’s simple and direct, but never crude. Perc has a fine track record of working with vocalists, from Wincent here to Nik Void, Gazelle Twin and Dan Chandler of Sex Swing, all of which suggests that at some point a more ‘song’-based album could be quite the thing to hear.

‘Cold Snap’ is like being hassled by a particularly irate antique clock before dissolving into glorious acid squelch, but when it comes to the thumpers, ‘Imperial Leather’ is the best of the bunch. It’s a preposterous pile-driver of a tune, the trademark clickety-clack of Perc’s rhythms pushing the whole thing forward, punctuated with barks or yells as a motivational trainer has just realised his evil and is sprinting through the city centre, naked, beating his overly-taut chest with a sausage roll, finally free.

Human voices fractured amidst metallic textures are a constant presence on The Cut Off. There’s something in the water at the moment that means ecclesiastical-sounding choral music is being used as a sonic hue all over the shop, including here on the anxious and prangy ‘Heartbeat Popper’, fractured voices in the midst of eddying rumbles and hums, as if a space army choir were rehearsing on a mission to the farthest realms of the cosmos.

‘UK Style’ sounds like a fashion branding bellend being chewed up by a sweat shop sewing machine. Yet Perc’s skill with tone and depth in the sounds he’s making mean this doesn’t just come across as mere “Makes U Think Yeah” critique of capitalism’s impact on the human blah blah, the sort of thing you might find in the more unimaginative realms of legacy industrial. Instead, there’s a real joy to how this music works.

Take ‘Full Goblin’, for instance, another stone-cold club banger, where a human voice babbles within the rhythm, rushing, full of beans. I don’t get to go out much these days, unable to manage neither the 8am finishes nor the condiments required to make it to them (and after all, nobody wants to see a 45-year-old dad bod squished into a harness at KAOS). The Cut Off is a record that isn’t just about nostalgia for a going out out out past now lost. ‘Imperial Leather’ and so on might easily be deployed straight-up or retooled for the dancefloor, but also suit anyone deskbound with a load of admin to do, perhaps joggers, or those who find their walk to a night on the pints enlivened by a blast of Nitzer Ebb’s That Total Age. This is as far from the techno BPM arms race as you could imagine, heavy and hectic but entirely joyous and humane.

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