Touching Bass: How A Movement Of Soul-Led Disciples Became A Community

Words: Jesse Bernard

Before attending my first Touching Bass dance in late 2016, there was an energy in the room that felt unusual. Besides the music, which took me on a journey around the world in one night and back again, it felt like a jam session among friends mixed with free movement. I say ‘free movement’ because, for the most part, many of London’s club nights have their own traditions and rules, which can often be difficult to stray from—particularly when profit is involved.

Touching Bass describe themselves as “a family of soul disciples,” one focused on music that makes you think and feel. It’s a simple enough idea and, since its birth, TB has established itself as a dance movement that places people and a shared spirit for music. Led by Errol Anderson (formerly Andwot) and Alex Rita, the family has extended to its sister companies: arts curation platform Finding Soul and CHILD, a production company led by TB’s Tayo Rapoport and Josh Renaut. Last year, Touching Bass took its journey into music deeper with the release of a compilation mixtape (in the literal sense) called TB Afro Chronicles: Volume One. Limited to only 250, now sold-out cassettes and an accompanying poster made by illustrator Mason London, the project celebrated one year on NTS’ airwaves, which The Vinyl Factory described as “channeling the spirit of Sun Ra, Digable Planets and Dilla across 12 tracks of jazzy beats, spoken word and soul.”

The term ‘community’ isn’t used loosely, either. Without a permanent home and utilising a text messaging service akin to the UK garage era, to be at a Touching Bass event means that you’re likely to be deeply invested in its ethos. Politically, it comes with a lot of baggage, but, at its essence, music fosters community. And with the swathe of venues being closed down and physical space being necessary for it to thrive, Touching Bass’ presence is felt. Since its birth just over two years ago, TB has found a home on online radio with NTS, hosts its own functions, and has seen its dances touch the far corners of the world. It has remained local in spirit but in order to survive, Touching Bass has had to become more than just a dance.

While operating primarily out of London, the group’s open-mindedness to music has allowed them a worldly perspective, which has given them an audience in turn. Earlier this year, Errol Anderson and Alex Rita travelled to Australia and Japan for Touching Bass-related nights and bookings. It’s far from uncommon, but as their focus is just as much outward—in order to get a closer community across borders, establishing networks and roots in other parts of the world with people who gravitate towards soul-led music—travel is a necessity. “It was a blessing to be reminded of the power of music,” Errol tells me. “Going to the other side of the world to share sounds is a beautiful experience. That trip fuelled my desire to see the world and share music, which is ultimately what I’m in this for.”

Over the past few years, Errol has maintained that TB is an environment where the two-steppers, head-boppers, wall-proppers and those who just want to feel some soulful energy come together in harmonious spirit. He explains that “this year has been a preparation year; Touching Bass has been at the front of my mind, and we’re trying to do things at one of the most difficult times in London. Finding a home for the dance has been particularly difficult, because I’m so specific about the space it needs to be. Although I grew up on grime and love my house and techno, the dancefloor should also be a dojo for exploration as well as familiarity. Plus, I’ve always looked for a place that links together the concrete jungle and stark reality of my East London upbringing with the mystical otherworldliness I’m also into. At Plastic People, which was a generation before us, you’d hear jazz being played on the dancefloor at 1am. That’s peak set time, and we’re trying to embody that same energy.”

“Where everything is now consumable, it’s important to have a strong identity and policy, which may not be for everyone.”

Touching Bass may very well be one of the last bastions of a bygone era where community and feeling remain at the centre of everything they offer. If the city becomes heavily focused on brand-backed parties tailoring to current, popular sounds, it only creates a wider gap between that and those who are independent and local. Speaking In Sound, one of Touching Bass’ intimate nights centred around discussions about music, began at Brilliant Corners in Dalston last year. It remains one of their unique events, in the sense that dance isn’t at the forefront—but it’s certainly not discouraged. In fact, the mantra is to feel how you want to feel.

That family spirit you immediately feel when attending a Touching Bass event doesn’t happen by chance. It begins with the circle of friends that came together and created something, then it spreads outward to the wider TB community. “We’ve become more aware of checking on each other and, for me, Touching Bass has helped a lot in that sense because we’re more than events,” Alex explains. “In the past year, we’ve been really good at staying connected with each other, and it’s small efforts like these that can get lost along the way in London’s creative rat race, where having enough at the end of the month can sometimes take precedence over harmony in collaboration.” Survival in London’s nocturnal playground has been difficult in recent years, not just for Touching Bass but for all independent dances. Although Touching Bass’ offering stretches beyond club nights, a dance space that encourages non-alcoholic socialising and conversation can only foster a healthy, and more importantly, safer environment. And combined with offline communications, the TB community is built from within, relying on its regular goers to pass on the good word.

“It’s being able to judge by speaking to someone that they’d be interested in what Touching Bass can offer,” says Alex. “We don’t want to judge like that, but where everything is now consumable, it’s important to have a strong identity and policy, which may not be for everyone. It’s about finding a balance between not being judgmental and pretentious but owning the space we’ve nurtured, and it’s difficult to do that online. If people have to make the effort to consider coming after giving them a card, it says a lot these days. It’s like a nice, natural filter.”

That kind of tastemaking is rarely celebrated in an age where numbers affect the probability of a function, or a radio show, which Touching Bass also hosts. Gatekeeping and the politics of who gets to be a tastemaker has been an issue across major music genres across the world. Tastemaking in music affects multiple infrastructures simultaneously, and can cause a ripple effect—it makes it much easier to find a club willing to host your event, especially if you’re a DJ with a national radio show. So, Errol asks, how do we get a foot in the door while being able to hold the door ajar? He can only continue creating the environment that has seen Touching Bass reach audiences globally, particularly as they keep local music at the heart of everything.

“It’s not about the numbers for us,” Alex explains, “and that’s been the issue for us in London. We’re happy with 50 people coming or 200, but it’s difficult when venues expect a certain amount of bar spend.” In turn, that’s fostered a community of people which should be reason enough for them to have a permanent home. But recent times have shown that with austerity and cuts to the creative arts, particularly post-Brexit, pioneering movements like Touching Bass are finding it increasingly difficult.

Coincidentally, TB has long had a vision to take what they do beyond club environments; they see a future in community-based, grassroots work that isn’t limited to the UK but allows young people entry point into music that circumstance often denies. “I want Touching Bass to be for the ends as well,” says Errol. “Once we get to a place where we’re more established, I want to be able to push my friends but a long-term goal is to educate young people.” Alex believes that begins as simply as being together as friends and sharing moments. Cross-cultural exchanges in music, and the way it permeates everyday lives, couldn’t be more necessary at a time where media and creative funding has regressed into making it increasingly difficult to incubate. Time will tell. Touching Bass exists at a time where there’s a boom in jazz and soul in the UK, but one thing’s for certain: they’re a necessary presence.

In hindsight, Touching Bass was the next step in the evolutionary chain of spaces like Jazz Refreshed and Plastic People. The nomadic spirit may be a symptom of the wider ecosystem of London’s nightlife, but as Errol lets me know, “things are moving in the right direction,” and it’s comforting that wherever in the world TB still feels local and close. “This is an ongoing quest and I’m determined for us to find somewhere. Once we find the right space and environment, I know it’ll do bits.”

Listen to Touching Bass on NTS Radio every other Saturday from 2-4pm. For more about the TB Hotline and general info, hit up

Posted on September 17, 2018