London is a sweatbox as I meet Alex Rita and Errol in Deptford on a sweltering June day. As we walk through the relatively busy streets, we remark on how much things in Deptford have changed over the past few years due to gentrification. Buildings that used to be food banks have become trendy coffee shops that most of the locals may not be able to afford, the high street is lined with establishments that lack history and feel completely detached from the communities residing there. As we sit down in one of the few café’s that’s been around for a long while, the high street outside feels starkly different from the work that Alex Rita and Errol do with community-focused club night, record label and curatorial studio Touching Bass. And after the pandemic has rendered many self-sustaining and free-thinking platforms impossible to upkeep, their work has become increasingly vital.
‘Soon Come’, a 22-track compilation from Touching Bass that dropped this summer, breathes life into these spaces once again, bringing together musical veterans and those celebrating their first label releases to create one of the most cathartic and bittersweet records of the year. The compilation came together over the course of the pandemic, as Rita and Errol reached out to friends and collaborators for music. The result is a richly varied project that celebrates the spirit of collaboration, community and most importantly, sharing a dance over the course of its Day and Night themed sides.
“It started off as us just wanting to celebrate some of our friends,” Errol says. “Over time it developed into this thing that was a fully-fledged project.”
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When the pair launched Touching Bass around six years ago, they began with an understanding of music as existing on a spectrum, creating a space where DJs and artists alike can play what they want to play, free of judgement or the gloomy, capitalistic tenets of many modern-day labels — who long for filling rooms to the brim and racking up as many streams as possible. Instead, Touching Bass focus in on the music, but also the minds of those behind its creation, fostering a community that transcends any musical boundary placed before them.
“Touching Bass is trying to be a place for Black artists who maybe don’t fit into the boxes they’re put in a lot of the time,” Alex says, responding to the frustrations that Black artists often have surrounding the ways that their music is understood.
Melo-Zed’s ‘Ebodance’ is a fantastic example of the eclecticism that ‘Soon Come’ has to offer. After taking a step back from his solo career after 2019’s ‘Zachary’ to focus on scoring and soundtracking films for the likes of Ronan Mckenzie and featuring at Sundance, ‘Ebodance’ is a welcome return to the dancefloor for the South East London producer.
“It’s been sick to see how that approach of togetherness has been built brick-by brick [at Touching Bass],” he tells me over a video call from his studio as he rests a ruptured achilles. “At the heart of it all is a common love for the music and the culture around it, and that can’t really fail.”
It’s refreshing to contrast the low-ceiling, night-time grooves of ‘Ebodance’ with ‘Goole’, a laid-back, jazzy offering from Wu-Lu. Recently signed to Warp Records, and coming off the back of his debut for Warp, ‘LOGGERHEAD’, he’s incredibly hard to place: smashing together genres into a flurry of high-energy punk while bending the edges of electronic music to his will.
He describes his process as creating a “musical sandwich” — “I like cheese, I like peanut butter - maybe they’ll work together… or maybe I should use a little bit less peanut butter and a little bit more brown bread.” It may sound like a scary sandwich in prospect, but Touching Bass serves as a space to try these things out, allowing room for artists to release music that may be entirely out of their comfort zone, with experimentation at the fore.
At Touching Bass, Alex tells me that “you can do what you want”, a mantra which aptly describes ‘Soon Come’ - which brings together 21 different artists over the course of its 22-track runtime. The sprawling mix of jazz, R&B, techno and all that lay in between avoids a cut-and-paste, formulaic compilation format in favour of a well-sequenced collection of music that feels comprehensive, each track feeling somewhat connected to the next. Given that the rather isolating days of the pandemic are behind many of us, the project is built to be shared and enjoyed by a number of people. After visiting the listening party for the project in Below Stone Nest - a quaint, dimly-lit venue near Leicester Square - and seeing a small crowd of supporters bobbing their heads and even getting up for a dance after hearing the rave-inflected offerings of the Night themed side of the compilation, it’s clear that the intentions of Errol and Rita came through in the music.
“There are plus points to celebrating music in isolation, but there’s something special and truly unique about being in the same space as people and really enjoying the music together,” Errol says. There’s clearly an awareness of the pandemic’s impact on our listening patterns, but getting together is something that continually stands out for them.
“I don’t think we’re reinventing the wheel in terms of getting people together but I think that at a time where we’re increasingly living an individualistic lifestyle - it’s quite nice to go to a place where you see the same faces, or if not, you’re meeting people who are in it for a similar reason.”
This shared intention, among both Touching Bass and its collaborators as well as the audiences that fill its rooms, makes it a space that’s akin to some of the best nights in London’s history - namely, Plastic People. The birth of some of the most intriguing, versatile artists of the past decade (think James Blake, Vegyn, and many others), happened within the cramped walls of the shuttered Shoreditch club. Due to the financial consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, spaces like these are being lost, but Touching Bass is an emblem of their reinvigoration. ‘Soon Come’ is a celebration of survival, in this way — a testament to what can be done by a team devoted to sharing the music that touches them rather than chasing profits.
Touching Bass' ‘Soon Come’ compilation is out now, get it here
Tope Olufemi is a freelance writer, follow them on Twitter