Over the past half decade, London’s musical microclimate has been magnified and broadcasted around the globe. A new wave of homegrown artists (including the likes of Nubya Garcia, Yussef Dayes, Ezra Collective) captured the imagination of worldwide music fans and media, with their new movements in jazz, soul, electronic music, and beyond. With this new wave consistently proving to be a hotbed of quality music, the media spotlight shone brightly on South London and the rich sonic ecosystem that calls it home. While this influx of attention helped to launch the careers of many talented artists, within popular culture as a whole, it’s a sad truth that both ego and monetary pursuit can often take precedence over artistry. Surveying the landscape, it’s easy to feel adrift in a sea of style over substance, and it can be a challenge to pinpoint authentic movements that encapsulate a purer essence, a message which truly resonates with all those in orbit with it.
Errol Anderson, Alex Rita, and the Touching Bass musical movement have managed to do exactly this, building a steadfast community of music lovers, dancers, and artists from the ground up in a substantive way. From their club night and intimate event series, biweekly NTS radio show, and string of expertly curated releases on their label, they have tapped into the zeitgeist. They have created something unique and special—utilizing the textures and sounds of South London to create a culture of their own.
Growing up in Bow (East London) with Jamaican and Grenadian parents, Touching Bass founder Errol Anderson found that music was always a big part of his early life; however, his initial job aspirations lay not with records but on the pitch. “I was focusing on football, and had a brief career at academy level,” says Errol. “I didn’t actually make the move to focus on music in a professional sense until I got injured and was forced to think about other life options. In hindsight, that was a really crucial moment for a young me—a fork in the road. I’d always been a pretty focused person, but here I was also learning about decision-making, purpose, and asking myself what I really wanted.”
After weighing his options following his footballing dream being cut short, Errol combined an interest in words and music—eventually seeing him heading to Bournemouth University to study multimedia journalism. “I distinctly remember the tutor saying to me, ‘You guys should wait until the third year of university to reach out and get work experience or internships,’” Errol recalls. “And I was like, ‘Fuck that. I’m reaching out now—first year.’ I cold-called a lot of publications, and Clash magazine picked up and said come in for a month. So that was my entrance into the music world.”
First cutting his teeth as an editorial assistant at Clash, Errol eventually moved over to Vice (specifically Noisey), where the initial iteration of Touching Bass was conceived. At this stage, it existed as a weekly interview and mix series, which featured early guests like Kaytranada, Knxwldge, Hiatus Kaiyote, Funkineven, and Butterz. During a brief, miserable stint at Virgin EMI, Errol bonded with a charismatic, fellow music-lover called Amon. “We just had a mutual distaste for the place, and he’d also caught wind about Touching Bass,” says Errol. “We both had thoughts about turning it into a night, so we did.”
Around the same time, the Touching Bass series grabbed the attention of Stones Throw’s Sofie, who also worked for renowned online cultural platform Boiler Room. She reached out and asked Errol to get involved with their short-lived editorial section and programming/hosting events.
December 2014 saw the first installment of Touching Bass’s dance—so called in homage to the Caribbean “big people dances” Errol was privy to as a kid, and also to literally encourage body movement. This saw Errol joined by TB family members Wulu, Maxwell Owin, and Born Cheating, playing at a Dalston rooftop space.
“It just felt like a house party,” says Errol. “During the night, I remember being at the back of the room and looking around thinking, ‘Oh yeah, this just feels nice.’ I think the house-party feeling was just intrinsically a part of all of it, because my earliest memories of being on a dance floor were at family parties or at a community hall.”
Following this theme, Touching Bass has never found a home in traditional venues, instead opting to use a Jamaican bakery, a Senegalese restaurant, and assorted other unorthodox spaces for its functions.
Errol explains, “London, being like what it was between 2015 and 2020, definitely forced our hands. I mean, for all of our existence, our crowd has never really been the biggest drinkers, so we always got the same sentence from the venue. ‘Oh, you got a lovely crowd, but we’re not really making enough money on the bar.’ Everyone was just drinking water, or having two-two [a couple] drinks. But there is something special about being in a space which isn’t necessarily a venue. I don’t know what it is. When the balance is right, somehow it creates a nice flow of dancing and resting, making people feel comfortable and also allowing them to soak in the music in different ways.”
The careful thought and eye for detail invested into each Touching Bass dance is evident, ensuring that the music is the center of attention and that only good vibes are present throughout. An open-music policy is adopted: everything from free jazz, hip-hop, highlife, ’90s dancehall to MPB, broken beat, techno, and 160 bpm goodness. The one underlying factor being that it’s music with soul. In the name of finding sanctuary within sound, a no-phone policy has been implemented within their dances.
“I mean, we’re on our phones 24/7, right?” Errol says. “How about you just have six of them where you’re just turning your phone off—you can step outside if you want to have a smoke and check your IG or whatever. But in the space, in the dance, leave your phone away. Let’s just be in the moment and just be with the music itself. I think things like that have become really important to us over time. Whenever possible, we also try to make sure that the dance floor is on the same level as the DJ booth—because I think that the level of egocentric selectors that exist in 2020 is just abysmal—as well as more obvious things like making sure the sound and lighting is right for our thing.”
The topic of ego within the music industry is a difficult one to navigate. Self-promotion along with cultivating a solid following on social media is an important factor when building a successful career or brand, but it can be an extremely difficult task to balance promoting your art form and keeping your audience engaged, without succumbing to the well-documented pressures of Instagram and life in the public eye. Errol was keen to explore alternatives to help secure a more solid foundation for Touching Bass’s community to interact with the team and be kept informed.
According to Errol, “It’s been a constant balancing act, but I do feel that from very early on, we understood the importance of making connections in other ways. What happens if Instagram and Facebook disappear tomorrow? Then what? I think about that often, and how much our generation has become dependent on this thing. So I started the texting service—it’s like a hark back to the old-school days of rave and jungle or whatever, where people would get a text and it’d say, ‘The rave is happening in Sheffield in four hours. We’ve got to get on the motorway and get to the thing.’ It has worked really well, because it creates a level of personality. If someone has a query, they can just text me and I text them back, in an instant. So I think that it is very important to have that. That feedback loop between ourselves and the people dem. Of course, I think you can’t overlook Instagram, Facebook, and social media. I think it’s important to have a presence there, because that’s how a lot of people consume things. I just think that it’s also important to challenge how much we lean on social media on a day-to-day basis, on a minute-to-minute basis. They’re built to replicate the feeling of being on a slot machine; it’s dangerous for the mind.”
From its inception, and from the friendly, inclusive atmosphere and genre-roaming music policy held by Touching Bass, it was clear that they had tapped into an energetic spirit previously encapsulated by previous stalwarts of London’s nightlife heritage (including parties such as CoOp, FWD>>, and legendary venues such as Plastic People). A legacy that Errol & Co. were keen to continue to represent, paying respect to those that came before.
“Touching Bass doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” says Errol. “It’s not like we’ve just come out of nowhere. We have very strong influences, and one of the things that roots and anchors what we’re trying to do is an understanding of the intergenerational discussion, and I guess—passing on the baton as well. For me personally, we look at what’s happened before, the energy that has built those kinds of things. And I’m speaking specifically of places like CoOp, for instance, like what Plastic People would do and even looking at, say, what Brainfeeder, Sound Signature, Eglo have done. We look at these as examples of ways of doing it.”
This enthusiasm to champion innovators within the scene has seen Touching Bass in turn receive respect from established names, allowing a dialogue to be opened, and priceless advice and information to be shared.
“Black people have a very strong history of storytelling and passing down information generationally,” says Errol. “Before any other forms of communication, people sitting around and telling stories, giving personal warnings, personal advice—[that] has been such a key part of our culture, and that hasn’t disappeared. So I think when we speak of people like Dego and Theo Parrish in particular, I think that maybe they’ve just kind of seen themselves in what we’re trying to do and they want us to learn from the learnings and the mistakes that they may have made. So they’re passing it on, in the same way that I think is of great importance to pass that shit on to the people that are coming after us.”
With this sharing of information in mind, Touching Bass copilot Alex Rita created their Speaking in Sound event.
“Speaking in Sound was Alex’s idea as a means of creating an intimate space for us to explore discussion and live music,” explains Errol. “At the beginning, we were doing a residency at Brilliant Corners. Alex suggested the Speaking in Sound concept to them, and they said, ‘Yeah, that sounds amazing.’ It was no bigger than, say, sixty or seventy people gathered into that small space. The first section would be myself having a discussion with an artist, who would then go on to play live. And we have had some very special moments. The reason we did it is to contextualize and connect some of the thoughts that might get missed in the press release. You know, I learned so much from binge-watching RBMA chats on the sofa, I feel like there are so many musicians that didn’t get the opportunity to do that. And, you know, I want to hear people’s stories. As much as I like talking about the music, yes, but talking about everything around it, because the music doesn’t exist in a vacuum. So many influences from everyday life will go into making a record. So it’s important to chat about that stuff too. There have been really magic moments, from Andrew Ashong to Sampa the Great, Silent Jay, and Steve Spacek in Melbourne. Nubya Garcia [and] Yussef Dayes doing some live instrumentation in a really small space just means that the energy reverberates off the wall in some mad way, because everyone’s so close and so tight. We’re rekindling that series next year. I’m really excited to bring it back. It’s going to stay intimate. And we’ve specifically made it so that people can feel involved, not just me interviewing this one person; it’s like everyone having a conversation with this person as the lead.”
Their ongoing deconstruction of music industry norms is just one of the aspects that makes Touching Bass such an intriguing outfit, constantly shifting and reshaping even the most basic of notions. As such, the Speaking in Sound series is completely alcohol-free.
“There are multiple reasons for that, namely because Alex doesn’t drink at all,” says Errol. “I mean, I have a drink every now and then, but I’m not a massive drinker. So there’s that element. But it’s also us trying to interrogate the relationship between clubbing or musical experiences and alcohol. Like, why is it that when you go into a space, it’s like, ‘Let me get my drink and let me go to the front to listen to the music.’ Like what? Why is that? You know, and of course, I’m sure that is business driven, because we realize that alcohol sells when coupled with music, or is part of the whole feeling of being free on a dance floor. It just so turns out that it coincides with a generation that tends to be drinking less or [is] more aware of self-care and the relationships with their body.”
The feeling of belonging is something people can spend a lifetime searching for; with the first iteration of Touching Bass, Errol was sending up a flare for other like-minded people to step forward.
“It’s weird, because before the first dance in 2014, I felt like I’d been searching for my tribe forever,” confesses Errol. “I spent a lot of my teens feeling like an alien, because when I discovered people like Dilla, Georgia Anne Muldrow, and Spacek, my friends at the time weren’t on that same shit. Coming to South London was like finding home. I’ll never forget surprising Wu-Lu with Unknown Mortal Orchestra and some wiggly psych-rock not long after we’d met and seeing his face light up. That reaction felt like home, if that makes sense. I felt like I had that same feeling with a lot of people—whether talking about music or just life—as time went on, and folks just gravitated towards each other. I also realized that I was constantly surrounded by power rangers; incredibly talented makers.”
With the amount of musical talent surrounding them, of course it wouldn’t be long before Touching Bass made the leap to releasing records on their own imprint.
“The idea of the label has been there for a long time,” says Errol. “We’ve had a couple of false starts, but the way the records have come, they’ve just kind of happened, really. The first Afro Chronicles release happened because we’d been on NTS Radio for a year or so. We just approached twelve of our friends, one for each month, and were like, ‘Yo, we’re putting this together. Would you like to be involved?’ And did it that way.”
This homegrown approach to curation was soon broadened to incorporate some of the movement’s growth across the globe.
“The record with Clever Austin happened because he invited us to go to Australia, which is even mad for me to say now,” says Errol. “We then got like Silent Jay and a couple of others to play a gig in Melbourne. And then after that, we just ended up at Clever Austin’s studio playing music. We were playing stuff from London, and he was playing stuff from local heads as well. And it was just like, ‘Yo, you guys are sick,’ and vice versa. It just kind of happened. Demae has been a friend for ages, since Hawk House was called A Yellow Man. So, initially, when I was thinking of what I wanted the label to be, it was going to be all that people-from-inside-my-inner-circle kind of thing. But over time, that’s kind of expanded to have more of an intercontinental outlook, because we’ve got friends that are in different corners of the world who share our same thoughts and feelings about music. So why would we exclude those people? But ultimately, I do want people to know that it comes from London, because London is important to me. It’s a really big part of it. And then also the connections with whoever it be, the Caribbean and Africa, in whatever way that that kind of manifests sonically. But, yeah, it’s something that I think about a lot as well. I’m also really excited to showcase the more dance-floor-orientated side of the label. Everyone knows that dance music is a pivotal part of what we do, and the music and people we’re working with are special. It’s just a pity that right now we can’t drop the demos in the dance to test the reaction. Soon come.”
Whether it’s teaming up with their friends at Love Lockdown or providing gift cards for their community; supporting Black-owned businesses impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic, or sharing creative ideas from their HQ within the Room Studios (run by Wuluand Kwake Bass), it’s unquestionable that community is at the heart of all that Touching Bass do.