Electro against cancer, music against disease. Bass Agenda Recordings has teamed up with Touched Music to bring you on May 27th, 2016 a special compilation featuring some of the finest Electronic producers. Their mission: support Macmillan Cancer Support, as well as expose amazing artists to the masses. 137 tracks from legends, current scene favourites and newcomers alike including Maelstrom, G-Man (LFO), The Hacker, Radical G, The Exaltics, Steve Stoll, Franck Kartell, w1b0, Carl Finlow, Dez Williams, Lectromagnetique, Marco Bernardi, Mark Archer (Altern8) and many more. Let's talk about this massive charity outing with Andy Barton, the man who made this happen along with Martin Boulton !
Chris Nexus 6: What is the Touched Bass compilation all about? What were the plans behind this? Could you please tell us more about this project?
Andy Barton: This project is about creating a release event where everyone involved wins. Macmillan Cancer Support receive much needed donations, people who buy the compilation receive a massive and high quality release of 137 tracks, the artists get some exposure in the Press, and by reaching new listeners the two labels cross fertilize their audiences (Touched Music for Macmillan Cancer Support & Bass Agenda Recordings.)
How did it come to life? How did you decide to work with Touched Music? How did you share the work with Martin from Touched Music?
As a fairly heavy Facebook user, I had seen Martin Boulton who founded Touched, promoting his releases for a while. It was during the promotion of his Covert release that I thought "This guy is working really hard for this thing, I wonder if Bass Agenda could help by exposing a different group of music fans to Touched?" So, I asked if he’d be up for a Touched special on Bass Agenda. Martin said yes and we set up a date to do the interview. At this stage I wasn’t thinking beyond that, but when we did the interview and he told me his story I was blown away. He started Touched when his Mum had been cleared of Cancer; Macmillan had been a huge support in the hard times and he wanted to give something back and help others in the same situation. During the interview I asked how he felt about the idea of collaborating and it all began to grow from there. Within a couple of weeks of asking people and spreading the word we had about 100 artists on board – only 2 people said no to me and we had an instant monster! I always want Bass Agenda to be more than just a podcast or label and to explore ways of getting Electro in its various guises in the ears of more and more people. By that I mean reaching new people, not just putting more Electro in the ears of people who are already die-hard fans; that’s what the BLOC promo project was for, that’s what 80% of the label’s output has been about, it’s what things like the Neon Electronics/Ne remixes were about, and of course the Dave Clarke White Noise 500 release with The Public Stand was focused on Cancer, and this has that same ethos.
How did you guys hook up with Macmillan Cancer Support? Could you tell us more about their work?
I have had no direct involvement with Macmillan. They have a strong "brand" in the UK and do great work, particularly supporting families of Cancer patients. They are 100% funded by charitable donations and receive no financial support from the UK government. They offer everything from advice and help with practical matters-like dealing with an employer after diagnosis, to nursing support, counselling and information provision. Like a lot of countries, our government in the UK doesn’t give a fuck about ordinary people anymore; they butcher our NHS whilst big businesses are making massive profits and giving very little back to society. Macmillan do important work that fills some of the gaps.
Without being too curious, what are your personal concerns with Cancer and other diseases? Why did you choose to help Macmillan Cancer Support in particular?
I was first exposed to the reality of Cancer when a friend of mine died from Leukemia at age 21. The impact that it had on his family and friends was profound – it changed lives, friendships and the fact it happened so young just made me think how fucking unjust it was. It’s still affecting us today. So on that level I was sympathetic to Martin’s story straight away. The fact that Martin is so inspirational in his dedication and so humble about what Touched has achieved so far, made it a no brainer for me to get involved.
So would you say that this compilation is a way to clear or fight the injustice you felt with the death of your friend? A kind of revenge almost?
I don’t think so, not as such. It’s a way of contributing to the ongoing drive to find a cure and support people who are suffering whilst that search is going on.
How did you manage to contact all the artists involved into the project? How did you choose them? Has it been difficult to contact all of them?
On my part I am in pretty regular contact with a good number of artists due to the show and label, so a large chunk of the people on here came through those relationships, such as they are. I spent two days messaging on Facebook and emailing people. When we hit 100 people (Martin asked his contacts who make music that would fit the vibe of the release too of course) I stopped. A few people came forwards when we first announced the thing was happening in early 2016 and word had spread. I could never have done this without the show and what it has done to help me network with people. There are so many more I could have asked too, but it was a case of balancing everything else with this – it’s been like having an additional full time job for 5 months!
How long did it take to gather all these tracks?
Tracks were coming right up to deadline day on 22nd April. We wanted to give people plenty of notice. I have heard artists say: "Oh, X approached me for a compilation, I just sent him some old demo I had lying around." I hate that idea, that a release goes out with any old shit on it – stuff that was probably destined for the trash folder on someone’s computer because they didn’t think it worthy of sending out. Now in 137 tracks that we have here there are perhaps a few like that, I don’t know really – but what I do know is that because of the cause and the time we have, the massive majority of artists worked damn hard at making music from scratch or putting some of their best ideas into the music. That’s what it should be like every time – and especially for a release that is designed to help a charity. Plus my attitude is if your music is going to get out to a large number of people who maybe haven’t heard your stuff before, don’t you want to make a good impression? People were apologizing for submitting at the last minute and I was thinking: "It’s good that you are, it shows you care about this thing and want to do it right."
I think it's great. But besides the idea that the compilation is designed to help a charity, we shouldn’t neglect the fact that appearing on Bass Agenda and Touched Music is something you can’t refuse. Both labels are at the forefront of the Electro and Techno genres. Do you agree with that?
That’s nice of you to say Chris. I can’t speak for Martin at Touched, though I think he would say that up until now the focus has been more on ambient, IDM and Electronica. Certainly you can’t argue that Touched has attracted some massive talent to the cause, e.g. FSOL and Autechre. Techno wise I don’t think either of us can claim any glory – there are many more labels out there pushing Techno far more, though I do like to explore the stuff that sits in the overlap between Techno and Electro. From my point of view I am hard to please, I never rest thinking that Bass Agenda has gone as far as it can. I think people have their favourite labels and they have their loyalties. It’s up to the people that spend their money on the music to decide who they think is doing it right.
On the artistic side, this compilation reminds me of the premium “Electro Compendium” digital release published by Jean Paul Bondy in 2012. When it came out, it was a perfect way to show the mutation of Electro, embracing modern production techniques and digital sound design. Would you say the “Touched Bass” compilation had similar intensions? How would you describe the artistic line of "Touched Bass"?
That’s a hard one to answer – I don’t think there was ever an intentional artistic line per se. There is a lot of diversity in this both in terms of sounds and artists. You’ve got Scotland’s Wavefunction with his first ever release sitting on there with USA’s Larry McCormick – new and legendary ends of the spectrum. You’ve got insanely heavy and energetic EBM/Techno from Belgium’s Radical G sitting with a beat less melancholy piece from Inhuman Designed in the US and it all makes sense to me. It’s like Bass Agenda I guess, it’s for people with diverse tastes that can see the merit in all these styles of music and don’t find the variety confusing. Over the years Bass Agenda – ‘an Electro show’ – has played The Sex Pistols, Elton John and Slayer, alongside UR, Kraftwerk and 2Live Crew. Bass Agenda listeners nod along with it and enjoy it and think like I do, that it all has its place.
What are you the most proud of with the “Touched Bass” compilation?
Like anything I’ve done since starting Bass Agenda I am proud that it came from my head, into reality and people believed in it – to have only 2 people say no to the idea and reach 100 artists in a couple of days of starting the process was rewarding and of course seeing the thing come to life is great. I’ll reserve any more pride for when we see how it benefits Macmillan as like so many things in these genres it’s easy to get fired up only to find people don’t put their money where their mouth is – I hope people look at it and can’t resist – they should do.
How would you describe the final result?
The final result is epic. Its diverse. It’s a snapshot of today’s Electronic Music talent across the world – Japan’s represented, Detroit, Miami, London, France, Eastern Europe and just about everywhere else is represented. It’s a collection of tracks made by people who have gone the extra mile because as much as we talk about being robots we have hearts and are a caring people. It’s £14 for 137 tracks: 13 hours or so of music – it’s the best value release you’re going to see this year in this niche. It’s made with love for a good cause and it is essential.
Great way of putting it! But what’s your opinion if I tell you that I see two causes with the Touched Bass compilation? The one for Macmillan Cancer Support and the other one for Electronic Music. I think these kind of releases, ranging from Electro to Techno, passing through ambient…are a good way to support authentic Electronic Music. Were you thinking about that when creating this compilation?
I’m not sure it was a conscious thing as such. I think most intelligent Electro listeners know that there are other genres in the same orbit that fit together. There is a common thread running through the tracks in that they’re underground, made with machines and offer more to the mind than the average crap that gets mainstream attention.
Very true. So if the compilation sells well, could we imagine a Vol. 2? Perhaps with even more artists?
I can see that happening. I will need a break and wouldn’t want to draw on the good will of the artists too soon after this one – but yes, if it works and people want it, Vol. 2 will probably happen, and sure we could have more people involved.
"Touched Bass" follows the release a few weeks ago of another massive charity compilation called "Earthlings", to which all funds go to an Animal Charity. Do you think Electro and music in general are the best medias to help causes and spread messages?
It’s a tricky one. Its funny because ADJ and I had no idea we were both doing these things at the same time until way down the line. I think times are hard for charities and for us as normal people – money is tight. I think a lot of people are fed up with charity pleas coming through their letterbox or having a collection box rattled at them as they walk up their street – not because people are not caring, but they feel kind of overwhelmed with choices: "what’s the best cause to support?", that kind of dilemma. These releases reach people on two levels instead of one – good causes, plus having their contribution rewarded with something they love with a passion – music. I guess if you look at things like Band Aid and those kind of things it’s that same concept in a way – you might not see where the money goes directly, but you do get something tangible as a thanks for helping out. I think people who are into music, especially authentic underground stuff, are generally emotionally intelligent and in touch with their deeper being, and see the link between music and the spirit, and the Touched Bass concept as a mass collaboration release has all that in spades.
What will you keep in mind from this incredible Touched Bass adventure?
On a personal level becoming friends with Martin has been a special product of this project for me. Even in our small scene and industry you meet some ridiculous egos and to meet and work closely with someone so dedicated and humble has been great. Its been a hell of a lot of work but I know that’ll fade into memory like most of these things – I get to the end of doing a Bass Agenda show sometimes and think: "fuck I need a break from this", and then a day or so later I am fired by my next guest’s music. The lasting impression I think is my friendship with Martin and the amazing response so many people gave to the idea – really gives you faith in humanity doing something like this.
Lots of new Electro artists are emerging. How do you judge the current Electro sound and the current Electro scene?
I think doing Bass Agenda for 4 years has taught me one main thing – you cannot sum up the Electro scene. It means too many different things to different people and there is quality in all sections – the latest Jackal and Hyde blows me away and so does the work of people like Franck Kartell – two totally different animals but both somehow have that special something that makes it worthy of the Electro tag. The sounds out there are so diverse and I try and embrace all of it. I hate purism and snobbery and just look at the whole thing as a massive adventure for the ears. Scene wise there are encouraging things going on, Dave Clarke’s Whip It event in Amsterdam was special, brave in some ways and perhaps a sign that the world is a little more ready for exploring this stuff. He is playing more Electro on his shows than ever. You’ve got new radio shows coming on stream like Penryn Space Agency and Tardigrada, and I know the latter is born out of someone getting into the music recently and having a real passion for it. BA039 (Lectromagnetique and Dmitry Distant split vinyl) being album of the month in Mixmag was a massive surprise and pleasure for us. So I think the climate is good as far as awareness goes. All we need now is people to buy the music they like and get to gigs when they are made available…
What’s the secret to creating a much anticipated Electro–Techno compilation?
I wish I knew man haha. I think it’s about letting artists know you are serious and that you care as much about what they get out of it as what you get out of it. Some compilations in any genre can come across as being kind of self-serving – "give me your music and I’ll take the glory" kind of thing. I think if you invest time in people and be as open as you can they’ll get behind the project. This in turn means they’ll want to promote it as much as you do and that creates a buzz around the release and the people involved and extends out to the people around them too.
Did the internet play a key role in the creation of the compilation? How did it change your way of working?
The internet has been essential. Without it the contacts Martin and I had, it would not be as accessible. It would have taken way way longer to do everything and far fewer people would know about it. It hasn’t replaced the human side of things, it’s a tool not a replacement for being compassionate, grateful or respectful, but yeah – without it me and Martin would probably still be putting a list of people to ask together!
What are the forthcoming musical projects on Bass Agenda?
Well in theory I am going to be taking a break from the label for a while, but I have some commitments to see through before I do that – Noamm’s CD album has just come out which is a great dark Electro experience, I have CD releases in the pipeline with T//error and Lectromagnetique and Krypton81, vinyl with Carl Finlow and Dez Williams, new stuff from Mike Ash and a couple more vinyl projects in the queue too. After that lot I am going to keep the show going and take a break. I’ll have done around 50 releases nonstop over 3 years by that stage and don’t want to get the point where I burn out or start to hate doing it.
I understand. Never repeating yourself, never falling into a routine… I can easily figure out how tough it might be to release around 50 outings in over 3 years. How much time do you spend a week managing the label? Do you have a daily job in parallel?
I have a day job and a family, so I am constantly juggling. I am lucky with my job because so long as the work gets done, the people I work for are happy, so I have some flexibility there. The two things literally do run parallel as you say. Well, three things if you include the show too. In an average hour I can be doing 9 to 5 stuff, pausing to interview someone for the show via Skype, doing more 9 to 5 then doing the artwork for a release, etc. Let’s face it though, things like Soundcloud and Facebook make this thing a hell of a lot easier than it ever used to be. I have so much respect for people who did this thing back in the day and I think people recognize hard work when they see it. Those people who say men can’t multitask should get 'round my house for a couple of hours!
A word to all the artists involved in the project and all people who bought and will buy the compilation?
Thank you. You are all part of something truly special.
Thank you Andy for your time and dedication, please give our thanks and appreciation to Martin as well! Btw everyone, do not miss ADJ's charity compilation called "Earthlings". All funds go to an Animal charity!
Interviewed by: Chris Nexus 6