Perc – Wicker & Steel review

Perc - Wicker & Steel
Artist
Perc
Title
Wicker & Steel
Label
Perc Trax
Format
CD, Digital
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In an era where technology and cheap air travel guarantee that electronic music is tarred with the same homogeneous brush as the rest of globalised popular culture, Ali Wells has decided to make a decidedly British techno album. By invoking two distinct strands of British culture, eccentricity and industry –  the latter at both at a societal and musical level –  Wells has firmly pinned his colours to a mast marked ‘music-making English oddball’. The challenge is whether he can represent these values without in the process looking like a token dissenter from the borderless, incessant march of techno culture?

Certainly, album opener “Choice” is a promising start. Dreamy ambience and found sounds provide the backdrop for a camp, wistful interview subject talking about his mundane childhood and how it in turn affected his artistic output. Is it Perc himself or a disturbed, fictional representation of his character? We will never know. Despite this, there is something almost ghoulish about this track, allowing the listener to eavesdrop on someone who sounds vulnerable, but that’s also a great part of its charm.

“My Head is Slowly Exploding” also elicits a similar reaction; over the kind of hypnotic beat you’d expect from industrialists Throbbing Gristle, Perc throws down bars of slamming metal but softens the blow with layers of wispy ambience. It’s like watching one of the greatest British horror films, “The Wicker Man”, in reverse, and discovering first that the islanders burn intruders before experiencing the touchy-feely side to their paganism. With this part of the concept thoroughly covered – although “You Saw Me” also reveals a menacing undercurrent to his eccentricity with a slow chugging train groove –  Perc then focuses on the industrial side of his album.

Borrowing as much from the former greatness of the north’s steel foundries as the unrelenting linear brutality of Surgeon and Regis, “Gonkle” and “London, We Have You Surrounded” deploy evil sirens and searing metallic riffs over malevolent broken beats and white-knuckle rhythmic fury. If there was ever a soundtrack to document the possibility of the British population north of the Watford Gap turning on their southern counterparts, it’s “London… “ Perc pursues this concept to a logical, merciless conclusion with “Jmurph”, where what sounds like a malfunctioning jackhammer descends into atonal repetition, but by that stage it is patently obvious that this is a unique album, birthed and moulded in Britain.

Richard Brophy


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