Erica Synths Pērkons HD-01

In some ways, Erica Synths’ Pērkons HD-01 feels like a post-eurorack drum machine. It’s a hulking beast of a device, its metal chassis and wood end cheeks making most other drum machines, let alone eurorack modules (and even SOMA’s Pulsar-23) look diminutive by comparison. It feels almost luxurious (if a tank can be said to feel “luxurious”) in terms of its creature comforts—particularly the big, grippy knobs for every parameter, along with dedicated clicky switches for each step on its 64-note grid. It’s a drum machine to let your fingers spread out and run wild on, unleashing an unyielding waterfall of thrashing, grimy beats. 

At its core, Erica Synths Pērkons HD-01 is a four-voice digital drum machine with multiple sound engines and algorithms, paired with analog multimode filters and drive for each track. It uses four 16-step sequencer tracks, with modern niceties like a ratchet, probability settings and clock mults/divisions on each. There’s a fantastic-sounding onboard bucket brigade (BBD) delay, a compressor and a single LFO that can be sent to multiple destinations, as well as master send and return effect jacks, individual outputs for each voice, and separate sends and returns (plus trigger inputs) for each voice as well. All jacks are full size ¼” jacks, because that’s the Pērkons character. 

While there’s plenty of digital action going on under the hood, the interface feels decidedly analog. There’s no screen or menu-diving. Instead, the 64-step buttons essentially all have extra functions, so when you want to, say, add shuffle to a track or apply a ratchet to a step, you’ll use combos of these grid buttons and modifier keys in order to do so. In addition to shuffle and probability, you can change the length of individual tracks to create polymetric rhythms, multiply or divide the tempo of a given track, and move between four different playback modes (forward, backward, ping-pong, random). There are per-step accents and per-track groove settings as well. All of these functions are right at your fingertips, making the Pērkons feel very much like an instrument that encourages and rewards hands-on play.

And then, of course, there’s the sound. Erica Synths Pērkons HD-01 doesn’t obscure the fact that it was designed for wild, filthy drum sounds; within five minutes of playing with it, you’ll very much get the memo. The sounds are vaguely addressable as kick, snare, clap and hi-hat, but there’s a ton of processing going on to wavefold and mangle these general tones that they can almost immediately become unrecognizable as such. Each algorithm brings its own unique modifiers—folding transients, pitch envelopes, wavetables, distortion, and the like—that you’ll quickly find yourself in a world of beastly percussion sounds that resist being tamed. Combined with the per-track drive and the master compressor, the Perkons’ capacity for dirt is nearly unrivaled.

Given the machine’s mechanical interface and analog character, it’s capable of an impressively wide range of percussive sounds, thanks in part to its digital waveform generation. From zapped toms and fleshy kicks to ironclad bass tones, there’s a solid amount of flexibility in its sound palette. Still, at the risk of being prescriptive, it’s a machine that’s not particularly at home when you’re trying to coax minimal, delicate sounds out of it. If you want to explore the sounds traditionally associated with industrial / gabber / terrorcore / speedcore / hardstyle, you’ve come to the right machine. If you want to make minimal techno or deep house—well, it’s not impossible, but you might want to look elsewhere. 

The up-frontness of its sound, combined with the decidedly large format of everything on its panel, add up to a certain immediacy with Pērkons that many other modern electronic instruments lack. This is a drum machine that feels designed primarily to be played live, not endlessly fussed over on a desk. It’s an instant room shaker, a deliberate maker of messes, a machine gun gut punch. For better or worse, its four drum channels thrash so hard that together they can easily occupy the entirety of a mix. With some practice and an audience that’s willing to take some punishment, this is one of few drum machines that you’d be able to play an entire show with on its own. (That said, individual sends/returns, as well as MIDI and clock I/O make it easy to sync to other gear.)

As far as compositional features, there are multiple ways to animate your patterns. For one, you can simply press record and start turning knobs to record automation over time. For more precise control, Elektron-style parameter locks mean you just hold the step button you want to modify, and turn knobs until you’re happy with the sound settings on that step, and you’re able to effectively shape each active step into its own sound. You can even swap between the different voice modes and algorithms on a per-step basis, letting the sound on each track vary wildly over the course of a single 16-step sequence. All of this sound design can then be saved as kits, which are saved and loaded separately from the patterns – up to 64 of each on an SD card. These sequences can then be chained together to extend past the 16-step limit.

There are some quirks. The single LFO, while plenty powerful with its host of waveshapes and phase control, feels slightly limiting; another LFO would have been nice to have for those who prefer modulation-style animation to recording or parameter locking. Mapping the LFO to parameters can also be a bit cumbersome, at least at first; you target parameters to apply it to and dial in its depth using the trigger buttons, which takes some getting used to. Finally, at €1700 the Pērkons certainly isn’t accessible for every budget.

But this somehow feels like the point; the Pērkons is an instance of the folks at Erica Synths sparing no expense. Its roomy, mechanical control panel almost makes it feel like a machine from the last century, retrofitted with all manner of modern features. It’s named after the Baltic god of thunder, and this could not be any more appropriate: Pērkons effortlessly produces barrages of blistering, pummeling sounds, and begs you to push those sounds to their logical, overdriven extremes. A device out of time, Erica Synths Pērkons HD-01 is a drum machine built to survive a nuclear winter, and keep the survivors dancing right on through it.

*More reviews for Erica Synths: Erica Synths Graphic VCO, Black Hole DSP 2 & Drum Sequencer