COVID-19 has affected our industry like nothing ever has before. Clubs are closed, artists aren't touring, and people are entering some tough times. None of this is breaking news, but nonetheless, it's always interesting to learn about how people are handling the current situation. One thing is for certain which is that artists have more time to create than ever before. We reached out to a handful of artists, including our friend and techno powerhouse Perc, to see how they've been handling the current situation. As one of techno's leading labels, Perc Trax is known for its boundary-pushing releases and platform for some of the greatest artists in the scene. But even such a label as Perc Trax still has to adapt to the times, and in this catch-up, we discuss what Perc has been doing with this free time, how the label is managing the lockdown, and some tips to help others currently facing uncertainty.
Hi Ali. Thanks for taking the time to sit with us today for a little catch-up. We are in the midst of some very strange and uncertain times right now. Before the lockdown, what had the past few months looked like for you both personally and professionally?
Hey there, thanks for the invite. Before the lockdown, I was playing about 8 to 10 gigs per month across Europe, North and South America, and Asia. When I had days at home I was running the Perc Trax label and trying to find the time to work on new tracks and remixes of my own. Life in London was ticking along as usual. Busy and chaotic but nothing that different from how it had been in recent years. Some tours outside of Europe were being planned and the festival season was starting to feel a little closer as we got into2020.
Artists are often thinking to themselves about how they wish they had more time at home to make music. With seemingly nothing but time, have you been able to make good use of it?
I've been doing my best to make the most of this unexpected period of time at home. I soon realised that this would be the longest time I've had at home in about 10 years, so I made a point of completing some scheduled studio work, which I finished earlier than expected due to the extra time at home. Now I'm doing a lot of things that were always on my list to do but I never got around to doing them. Learning software and hardware that I can use but never really got that deep into, selling off some studio gear I've been meaning to sell for ages and playing around with some new ideas and styles of production that I've not had time to explore until now. For example, I can use my Elektron Analog Rytm and Native Instruments Kontakt and Massive well enough to get what I want out of them, but now I have the chance to get properly into them. I have no idea how things will be when the virus threat reduces but I might not have a block of time like this again for a while.
I've seen quite a few articles about ways of staying mentally healthy during these times, most notably maintaining a daily routine. How has yours changed? Any new activities or hobbies?
I'm happiest when I'm busy, so running the label and making music are good things for me. Keeping some kind of daily routine is key, but all my days now are pretty much like the days when I was not traveling or gigging. I wake up, do the Perc Trax admin stuff and then move onto studio work and the more creative side of what I do. I'm reading a little bit more than usual but that's about it. I really want to embrace this time and come out of it a better DJ and producer rather than just using it to watch a load of TV or just sit around chilling all day.
Even with the shutdown, it seems Perc Trax is still chugging along. How has it affected you and the label? What adjustments to your business practices have you had to make? Have there been any positive effects?
The Scalameriya release came out just before this crisis really took shape, so that was released as usual. The next Perc Trax release was tentatively scheduled for early May and now that has gone back to the end of May but that is the only delay I want. The label has had other challenges in the past and I've always tried to continue as normally as I can. My distributor suggested packaging new releases in plain sleeves to save money in case vinyl sales dip a little, but the next two releases are already in production so I can't really change them now. Anyway, I would rather stop releasing than to compromise on the sound and look of Perc Trax releases, I could never do that. I am also fortunate that right now the label just has singles scheduled. I've been speaking with some other label owners who have 2×12" and 3×12" artist albums and compilations planned and they are putting those on hold right now. If I had something larger like that planned it would be tough to decide whether to delay it or not but with the run of EPs I have scheduled I think the label will be ok releasing them as planned.
I can't think of any positive effects right now apart from the extra studio time. It's too early to see any real impact from this situation on vinyl or digital sales. I assume they will both drop a little, especially if this situation continues and people's financial situations get tougher but it's too early to say right now. It is worth remembering that a lot of labels are propped up financially by the label owner's gigging income. If a release loses a few hundred pounds then that deficit is made up of money earned on the road. If there is no gigging income then that safety net is gone and some fairly well-established labels could soon grind to a halt or go digital-only.
It seems like everyday governments are pushing the end of the lockdown further and further away. What steps have you taken to keep things going should things continue to be pushed back?
None, to be honest, I've discussed the label in the last question and as a DJ I'm just trying to keep on top of my game and keep up with new music. Just because you are not gigging doesn't mean you should stop looking for new music, but that is a labour of love for me anyway, so I'm never not digging for new music. Beyond music there are some financial steps I've taken and of course cutting expenditure right now makes sense, but then again bars and restaurants and most of the shops are shut so that immediately has reduced what I'm spending.
Do you think there will be any lasting effects on our scene? Or do you think things will be fully back to normal in the next year or two? If so, what sorts of implications do you realistically see happening?
The two big questions for me right now are when will all this be over and what sort of scene will be left when events can begin again and artists can travel to them. I'm sure some businesses will not return after this break and as always others will move into the space these businesses leave. I could see DJ fees going down across the scene as there is less confidence in events from promoters. The top-end established names should be fine even if they take a small cut in their regular fee, the DJs further down the ladder could find it harder as promoters take fewer chances on new or less well-known names or stick to the model of booking just one big safe headlining act and adding local support rather than a mixture of multiple guest DJs and locals.
What tips could you give smaller artists and labels, or even just fans who might be struggling right now? Is there anything you've found to be particularly helpful to you in these trying times?
It's hard. I think the main thing to do is to keep the quality of what you do high. Just because you don't post on social media for a week people won't forget you. If people like what you do they will remember you. I'd rather wait and finish a track properly and have it mastered before anyone hears it, rather than putting a rough clip of it up on Instagram or Soundcloud for a few quick likes. In the same way, I like to see announcements and actual news rather than just a selfie and meaningless sentence, but that's just me. In general, though, writing down what you want to achieve through the day or week and sticking to it is always good as is trying to have some kind of daily routine to your work. You don't have to stick to it to the minute but just something to guide you and keep you on track is always worthwhile. And as always ignore as much as you can what others are doing. Everyone works at their own speed and follows their own path so don't be distracted by what others are doing and announcing.
There has perhaps never been a better time for deep reflection and introspection. Have you been able to work on yourself in any way either personally or artistically?
Not really, just focussing on positives and keeping busy. Like any situation, a lot of things are out of your hands but many other things are under your control as well. So you may as well focus on what you have influence over and change it for the better. I always tried to find the silver lining in any situation.
To bring things to a close, have you found any positive takeaways from all that has been happening?
As I said earlier I want to come out of this a better DJ and producer. Producing with less pressure on me in terms of deadlines means I can devote more time to new ideas than before. Even if these don't lead to anything that I could release they all add up to part of a greater learning curve. In general, being in closer contact with family and friends is good and in the UK right now there is a greater sense of community than I've seen in previous years, though how long this lasts when we are past this is anyone's guess though.
For a more in-depth look at who Perc is and how he came to be one of techno's most in-demand artists, check out our In Conversation interview below.