“Touching Bass is a musical movement,” Errol Anderson tells DJ Mag. “And when I say movement, I’m thinking of forward movement — energy.” Alex Rita nods in agreement. “Yeah, movement is probably the best word — and intention.”
When we catch up with the Touching Bass label heads, the pair are seated in the front room of their home in South London, the space from which they broadcast their regular NTS show, plan parties and releases and even host the occasional event. Artist portraits, posters and other event memorabilia fill the wall above their record collection, evergreen foliage framing the scene. Although our planned in-person meet-up has been forced back into the digital realm, it’s evident from the screen that music is, for them, a way of life.
“I would say our focus is groove-based,” Errol continues. “Anything from jazz all the way up to jungle. We want to be forward-thinking, very much paying respect to what has come before, but also exploring new territories and connections.”
The words Touching Bass evoke a stream of thoughts. From reconnecting with something or someone lost, to returning to a ‘home base’, or simply being moved by the lower frequencies, its range of interpretations suggests an open yet deliberative worldview.
Errol and Alex Rita, London-based and of Caribbean descent, are drawn to all things soulful. This can be heard on their radio show, which calls on all the sounds of Black origin; the rootsy music of the continent, the dub of the Caribbean, the funk flex in the UK, it’s all there. But their label serves a particular role in the TB ecosystem. “A lot of time Black and brown people get very easily boxed,” Alex explains, outlining their ethos. “You can either do rap or R&B, but there’s not so much space in between. We want to be that space.”
The Touching Bass discography is organised in the way a selector might their DJ set, with the early releases showcasing the more introspective side of the label’s sound. The arrival of their new compilation album on 1st July this year, however, is set to pick up the pace. “This is a landmark moment for us,” Errol says. “We’ve put out modern classical, R&B and neo-soul, but now we’re introducing our night-time side.”
‘Soon Come’, a 22-track double-vinyl release, promises contributions from the likes of KeiyaA, Ben Hauke, Ego Ella May, Nala Sinephro and Melo-Zed, representing what Alex calls ‘the sounds of the times’. “You can definitely feel that in the music. The tempo, the reflective lyrics. It’s like a snapshot of what we’re in right now.”
Though its discography may be light, Touching Bass has been at it for a while. It began life in the early ‘10s as an online mix series for Noisey, the music wing of VICE. Errol set up and ran the blog full-time, interviewing the likes of Kaytranada and The Internet, and later found the project a home in radio — first on the now-defunct Radar and later on NTS, where it remains today.
A short stint at a major record label brought him into contact with future partner, Amon, a music lover and kindred spirit who persuaded Errol to bring the project into the physical realm. The first Touching Bass party was held at East London’s NT’s Loft in December 2014, but Amon has since departed.
Meanwhile, Alex Rita, having recently relocated from her home in Denmark to London, was busy pushing sounds on her radio show at Balamii. “I was involved in a DJ collective in Copenhagen, but I was the only girl in the group and guys are not always so good at sharing,” she offers with a diplomatic smile.
With no money and no plans, she moved to Lewisham and found herself at the heart of London’s nascent jazz scene, catching Nubya Garcia and Shabaka performances at the Royal Albert pub on a Sunday. The pair finally met in 2015 at a Boiler Room event Errol was programming and the rest, as they say, is history. “We were friends for a long time and then one day we weren’t friends anymore,” Alex laughs, looking at Errol. “We’re a bit more than that now.”
Touching Bass releases feel equal parts organic and experimental — soulful, leftfield, a little random. The label’s first album release happened almost by chance. It was while on tour in Australia, hanging out with Hiatus Kaiyote drummer Clever Austin, that Austin (real name: Perrin Moss) invited the two to listen to his debut album, ‘Pareidolia’. “He played ‘Mother Ship Strip’ and both Errol and I started crying,” Alex tells us. “I was like, ‘Yo, what are you doing with this music?’ He said he was putting the record out with a label in the States and I thought damn they’re really lucky, this music is incredible.”
But the record deal fell through, so Austin reached out to Errol and Alex. The couple were dumbfounded reading his email, a little shocked that he’d take a chance on them, a label with only a mixtape release under their belt. “He could literally put it out with whoever he wanted to,” Alex remembers. “But that gave us confidence, in terms of our intention. And there was no pressure to go big.”
The pair worked on another Austin release, ‘NUNU’, before collaborating with former Hawk House member Demae, resulting in the critically-acclaimed debut EP ‘Life Works Out... Usually’. The buttery, plaintive tones on this eight-tracker radiate warmth from the inside out, reminding you of an earlier, if slightly more jaded, Jill Scott.
“Demae was this shy starlet, but she always had a glow around her,” Errol tells us. “She would make these incredible covers that gave you just enough, but you were still yearning for full songs. She actually did her first freestyle in the corner of this very room.”
Touching Bass parties have lived, for the most part, a nomadic London life. Barring the inaugural party at NT’s Loft, all other events have taken place south of the river, and in the main at Black-owned venues. Previous locations include Peckham’s Tasty Bakery on Rye Lane and the Senegalese- run Xperience African Restaurant in Loughborough Junction. Having outgrown those spaces, however, Errol and Alex found a home in The Fox & Firkin, a pub with an outdoor area. “On a really hot day it feels like you’re in a different country,” Alex explains, eyes wide. “And a lot of our community lives in Lewisham and Peckham, so it’s easy to get home safe.”
TB parties go heavy on the dub and bounce, but their open music policy means they’re always trying to stretch things, sonically. “There’s this constant conversation with the crowd,” Errol explains. “It’s like a Petri dish — everyone’s always trying different things out, seeing what people are open to.” So far, Carista, Josey Rebelle, Alexander Nut, K15 and Shy One have graced the decks at Touching Bass dances; broken beat heavyweights Dego and Kaidi Tatham have made an appearance too.
But theirs is a night where established artists are billed alongside up-and-coming talent. The combination of new and known names, varied music and SMS-based, word-of- mouth promotion, means events often end up feeling more like an extended gathering, where anyone can rock up and never feel alone.
“Music is a powerful ‘ting,” Errol adds, bringing the conversation to a close. “We just want to make sure that we’re creating the right space to embrace it — and each other.”
Touching Bass' The Sound Of mix has been recorded by one of the movement's OG family members, Sammseed. Speaking about the mix, Errol says: “In the space of two years, it's become pretty evident that our discography is sewn together by a feeling as opposed to genre. It's loose, human, adventurous and groove-drenched; just like the sound of our South London club nights.”
“This mix is a woozy trip through the DNA of Touching Bass past, present and future — from spacy, ambient soothers and syrupy soul, jazz and hip-hop, building up in tempo as it bounces into the sounds of our dancefloor. Happy cruising.”
Listen to The Sound Of Touching Bass, and check out the tracklist, below.
Kuu-50 ‘To Warm The Fragile’
Contour ‘Won’t Reach Mars’
Lex Amor ‘Praises’
Athletic Progression ‘Debra’
Clever Austin ‘Hedgehog’
Project Karnak ‘Equinox’
Clever Austin ‘Speckle’
keiyaA ‘Camille’s Daughter’
Demae ‘Use It’
Molinaro ‘T’s Dream’
Leaux ‘Wabi Sabi’
Melo-Zed ‘Ebo Dance’
Cowrie ‘Define My Freedom’
Arnheim ‘Twosome & The Burning Poet’
Damar Davis ‘2AM In NOHO’
Ashtre Jinkins ‘Sunshine2Point0’
Ben Hauke ‘Turn It On’
CKTRL ‘As You Are’