“Ever Get The Feeling You’ve Been Cheated?” On Perc’s “Unelected”
As a producer of mostly lyricless techno, Perc (Ali Wells) is often asked how he communicates his very outspoken political views in his music. In a 2018 interview with Festicket, he explained
I’m definitely politically aware and try to bring this into my music…with techno being generally instrumental music, it’s harder to get a direct message across. But even in a title or artwork, if you can maybe encourage someone to look a little further into politics, whether on a global or local level, I think that’s a good thing…In terms of, like, left or right wing politics, if it’s instrumental music…you can talk about a mood. If someone knows the artist’s beliefs, maybe coming through interviews the artist has done, even if it’s an instrumental track, maybe they can connect what the artist has been saying in interviews with the feeling of the track and see if that shows some sort of anger or dissatisfaction with the current political situation.”
So, for Perc, verbal components of an artist’s extramusical output, such as song titles, interviews, or social media posts, help listeners connect the feel of the song to a specific orientation toward a political situation defined by austerity, patriarchal racial capitalism, imperialism, and climate crisis. For example, as Angus Finlayson writes in Resident Advisor, “the title of “Unelected” will resonate with followers of current British politics…its cold, spartan stomp…might be the sound of us marching towards this grim fate, unable to turn away.” The austere, unsettled feel of the track expresses or represents dissatisfaction with then-contemporary UK politics, which were (and still are) centered around Brexit and the intensifying austerity that it already produces just as a prospect on the horizon.
A white cis queer artist, Perc–and others on his PercTrax label such as Manni Dee–have released songs with titles expressing left-wing critiques of Tory politics and politicians, such as “Unelected” and “Cameron on A Guillotene.” In both songs, the titles direct listeners to the subject of the track’s “mood” or “feeling.” In the latter Manni Dee track, the title points to former British PM David Cameron, who led the push for Brexit, and Morrisey’s 1988 song “Margaret On A Guillotine,” referencing another infamous Tory PM. Combining itchy, tense, stomach-churning percussive ostinatos with slicing treble synths recalling the squeals of the pig which Cameron purportedly raped in a hazing ritual, the track evokes both gnashing anxiety and mocking contempt. With the title anchoring these feelings to a cause, Dee’s political claim comes into focus: David Cameron is worthy of our contempt for the actual and potential harms his leadership has caused to non-elite Britons. This song uses musical mood and feeling to communicate a political orientation.
How does “Unelected” communicate a political orientation regarding Boris Johnson’s leadership? Beneath the foreground-level sounds such as the “vindictive…cracking scream of metal and noise” in it main treble motive, numbingly repetitive percussion ostinato, sparse development, and a break that evokes metric breakdown, the song’s formal structure’s repeated refusal to deliver on expectations that the song itself sets up evokes ideas of false promises and improper accounting. The song is mainly built out of 8-bar modules, and these modules are grouped in 3 chunks, the first two of which contain 8 modules. However, just as the first two sections break expectations about module length, the last section breaks with the established norm for number of modules. In the first section, after the first three 8-bar introductory phrase, the final phrase in the introduction is only 7 bars long. The aforementioned metallic scream hits on the downbeat of what the song leads listeners to expect to be the final measure in that fourth 8-bar module; however, the silence on beat 4 of the 7th bar in that phrase indicates that the phrase is over and a new one begins on the next downbeat. The second section continues to play around with module length: it begins with an 8-bar modules, then adds in a loose measure before a 4-bar module followed by 2 more 8-bar modules. There’s another 4-bar module followed by 3 8-bar modules. The first section shortchanges us 2 measures, and despite throwing in a loose measure, the second section actually shortchanges us 7 more measures by subbing in 2 4-bar modules for 2 8-bar modules. So, though some aspects of the song set up listeners to expect 8-bar phrases or modules, the first two sections always come up short. Consisting in seven 8-bar modules, the third section similarly shortchanges established expectations. “Unelected”’s form promises way more than it actually delivers.
So, when Perc directly cites “Unelected” in his critique of Boris Johnson, we can connect the feeling of being cheated by the song to the feeling of being cheated by Johnson in particular and Tory politicians in general. In 2016, then Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s pro-Brexit campaign tour drove around the UK in a bus painted with the words “We send the EU £350 million a week/Let’s fund our NHS [National Health Service] instead/Vote Leave.” At the time, the chief of the UK Statistics Authority called Johnson’s claim “a clear misuse of official statistics.” On one level “Unelected”’s sloppy accounting reflects what The Guardian calls Johnson’s “weasel sums.” However, in 2019 it was revealed that now Prime Minister Johnson is willing to axe/privatize the NHS entirely as part of Brexit-related trade talks with the US. From this perspective it’s clear that Johnson’s promises were never sincere and that he was selling Brexit with false expectations he never actually intended on fulfilling. When offered as a take on Johnson’s leadership on Brexit, “Unelected” expresses this feeling of being deceived and shortchanged. (Or, as Johnny Rotten put it, “ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”)
0:00-0:47 8 + 8 + 8 boom-chick of quarter hit accompanied by a higher pitched percussion sound on the offbeats.
0:47-0:59 First 7 measures the same up until the last beat of the last measure, which is silent. There’s no eighth bar in this grouping
1:00-1:30 Treble synth wobble enters on the downbeat; it’s almost like the eighth bar was cut off from the preceding phrase in order for this downbeat to land exactly at the one minute mark. The trebble synth continues throughout the first measure of the first repetition of that same introductory 8 bar percussion phrase, followed by a second 8 bars of that introductory percussion; on the fourth beat of the last measure of that second phrase the treble synth enters softly, building up a bit to a repetition of the motive it played at the one minute mark. There’s a very faint, almost scratching sound in the background that you can barely hear and won’t come to the foreground until the 3 minute mark.
1:30-1:45 One iteration of the 8 bar phrase, similar treble synth build up to downbeat of next phrase
1:45-1:58 7 bar phrase, with last bar missing as before. Downbeats of first three measures marked by iterations of the treble synth motive; treble synth returns last 2 beats of eighth measure; another stolen last measure
1:58-2:13 8 bar phrase, but the first bar of the phrase emphasizes 2/3/4 rather than the downbeat–it sounds like it’s supposed to be the eighth bar of the previous phrase leading into the downbeat of this one, especially because the downbeat of the second measure in this phrase comes at the two minute mark, but the rest of the groupings are off if you account for it that way, so it’s a fake out. There’s a bit of a hit on the downbeat of measure five in this phrase to mark its halfway point, so that’s another clue as to the actual grouping.
2:13-2:15 One of the extra measures returns; its supplementary character is clear both from it not fitting mathematically in with any of the groupings but also because it’s fairly significantly sidechained so it SOUNDS different, muffled, distinct.
2:15-2:22 4 bars of the percussion motive–this is actually giving us 3 EXTRA measures–after the previous measure we were only in the hole one more measure.
2:22-2:36 8 bar phrase, downbeats of 1st, 3rd, and 4th measures emphasized; last few beats of 8th measure with slight buildup to downbeat of next phrase
2:37-2:52 8 bar phrase
2:52-3:00 4 bar phrase, no emphasis on downbeat of first measure but it’s present on 3rd and 4th as in the 2:22-2:36 prhase
3:00-3:14 8 bar phrase–this is totally different. The scratchy, rapid rhythmic motives that sound like a thirty-sixth note pickup and four sixteenths but doesn’t quite quantize that way have been slowly coming up in the mix over the last 2 minutes are finally in the foreground. glassy, itchy dotted rhythms, under which the accompaniment slowly fades until returning the last measure of the phrase to lead into the downbeat of the next phrase
3:15-3:29 8 bar phrase, piano motive comes into conversation with the scratchy glassy synths, quarter-note percussion eventually fades out so that by the second half of the phrase it’s hard to figure out the meter
3:30-3:45 another 8 bar phrase that picks up directly where hte previous one left off and then builds from that low with a timbral (but not metric!) woosh up to the downbeat of the next phrase, where regular meter thankfully returns
3:45-4:00 Return ot the 8 bar phrase we first heard at 1:00
4:00-4:15 another 8 bar phrase, this one with the downbeat of bar 5 marked
4:15-4:30 another 8 bar phrase, different beats marked variously
4:30-4:45 another 8 bar phrase
4:45-5:00 8 bar phrase, marked on the downbeat of first measure, and downbeats of measures 2 and 3
5:00-5:15 8 bar phrase, downbeat unmarked, more like downbeats are setup but themselves unmarked
“5:15-5:30 a stinger on the end and then a fade-out