Touch: Isolation

Touch: Isolation. Photograph by Jon Wozencroft.

As things like self-isolation and social distancing became phrases and concepts the majority of the world has quickly become accustomed to, it’s been the art of the hasty pivot that has characterised lockdown: businesses that relied on face-to-face interactions suddenly thrust themselves into the hitherto unknown territory of digital engagement, restaurants suddenly offered take-out where they previously relied on seated diners, wholesale retailers suddenly became direct-to-customer operations; we have moved from the need to see, touch and meet people to drinking espresso and gin over video conference, walking in the middle of the road to bypass another pedestrian walking toward you, and following authoritarian one-way systems around supermarkets. None of this we could have conceived of a few months ago, yet we are now all – mostly – suddenly expert.

The way we consume and enjoy music was almost immediately disrupted by the measures governments put in place. Gigs and festivals were cancelled; release dates got put back; pressing plants shut down; critical calendar entries like Record Store Day were postponed; venues were almost immediately shuttered. These are existential events for artists, bands, labels, designers and the countless individuals and businesses that support the music industry.

In response, all manner of COVID-19 projects quickly sprang up: compilation releases to support frontline essential workers; isolation playlists were hastily assembled, often comprising lots of soothing ambient music; live-streamed solo bedroom gigs delivered your favourite artist into your front room; noodling Soundcloud tracks appeared with high velocity, the product of idle fingers, a need for expression, boredom and the advantage of a broadband connection.

One very special and highly distinctive project to emerge from this is Touch: Isolation, announced last week by Touch. “The pack of COVID-19 cards came down quite quickly, and we wanted to respond to some immediate problems many of our artists were experiencing,” says Jon Wozencroft, who founded the label 38 years ago, later bringing in Mike Harding to work with him.

Available through Bandcamp for a minimum £20 subscription, all of which is divided up among its contributors, Touch: Isolation consists of at least twenty tracks from Touch artists, each one mastered by Denis Blackham – that, in itself, an example of the label’s dependable obsession with quality presentation despite the speed with which the project was conceived and realised. At the time of writing, releases have already come through from Jana Winderen, Chris Watson, Bana Haffar, Mark Van Hoen and Richard Chartier with tracks incoming from Howlround, Claire M Singer, Fennesz, Oren Ambarchi, Philip Jeck, Carl Michael von Hausswolff and others who have issued released material through Touch.

chriswatson_gobabeb
Touch: Isolation – Chris Watson ‘Gobabeb’. Photograph by Jon Wozencroft.

“By the nature of what we do, it’s quite hand-to-mouth,” Wozencroft continues. “For Mike and I, the project is also a declaration of intent in a personal sense because we’ve both been experiencing some highs and lows in recent months.” Those lows are self-evident and are common to most of us, yet uniquely personalised to our own lives; the Touch highs include recent releases like Eleh’s brilliant Living Space, nurturing new artists on the label and Hildur Gudnadottir‘s success at the Oscars. Wozencroft justifiably calls it the “culmination of years of collaboration and shared ambition”. The idea of Touch going on hiatus just because normal life has been paused would thus have been a terrible, terrible notion.

“Between Mike and I it was kind of a Eureka decision to step ahead and do this,” he continues. “In effect, we pressed the switch in the third week of March and in no time we had a strong response from almost everyone we asked.”

A critical signifier of Touch has always been Wozencroft’s photographic accompaniment to the imprint’s releases, which presented a challenge for Touch: Isolation. “I had to think hard about how the Isolation series could be given a visual counterpoint, given the lockdown restriction,” he says. The result is a series of photographs of trees, leaves, pools, each one of something strangely quotidian yet now, thanks to the lockdown, mostly off limits; each one was taken on March 25 on Hampstead Heath’s West Heath and Golder’s Hill areas, just as the lockdown began.

“I’d been going to Hampstead Heath since being a teenager growing up in North London,” Wozencroft continues. “It was always a special trip, and so it was a challenge to make this familiar space reflect a certain unreality; the suspended state of beauty in the full gleam of the recent sunshine. But also its rarity and rawness as an urban environment in the current conditions. I was also remembering the damage of the Great Storm of 1987 – seeing the evidence of regeneration and a landscape transformed, and that sense of faith in the future.

“For me,” he concludes, “it’s about hope and detail, the hidden and its brilliance.”

Support Touch: Isolation at touchisolation.bandcamp.com

Thanks to Jon, Mike and Philip.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

News: Jonteknik – Tectonics

Jonteknik will release Tectonics through The People’s Electric on 13 September 2019.

Listen to lead track ‘Mount Etna’ here.

Tectonics is the ninth album by UK electronic musician Jon Russell. After releases concerning themselves with architecture and the vibrant topographies of global cities, with Tectonics we find Russell turning his attention to geographical matters. “I’m fascinated by the connection between humans and nature,” he explains. “The subject of these songs is the foundation of the planet which we happen to inhabit. It constantly moves, just as society constantly moves.”

The ten tracks on Tectonics use intricate, mesmerising electronics and Russell’s questioning vocals to simulate the fundamental, restless, uncontrollable movements of the earth. From violent plate movements (‘Seismic Waves’ and ‘Continental Drift’) to the towering ruptures in the earth’s surface wrought in slow motion over millennia (lead track ‘Mount Etna’ and the thrilling ‘Mount Fuji’), to the waltz-like pop eulogy to California’s Yellowstone National Park, these pieces are among Russell’s most evocative soundscapes. Melding meditative rhythms and layers of finely-crafted synths, these tracks use forty years of electronic music technology as a sonic metaphor for billions of years of geographical drama.

Jon Russell has been making music for nearly thirty years, from his humble bedroom beginnings with a Commodore Amiga, via his studio work with OMD’s Paul Humphreys and Propaganda’s Claudia Brücken, and onward through his recent investigations of Eurorack modules and analogue equipment. His last album, Alternative Arrangements (2018), saw Russell paying homage to his favourite songs with a collection of covers. Far from drawing a line under his career, the sleek, considered electronic arrangements of Tectonics show an imagination in overdrive.

“I was once advised to always make the music that I would want to listen to myself,” he reflects. “As long as I am happy with what I’ve created, and so long as I carry on enjoying the creative process, then there will always be new music from me.”

Tectonics will be available on LP, CD and through digital / streaming services. The album will also be released as a highly limited cassette edition. Physical formats of the album will be available from The People’s Electric. The album will be released worldwide on 13 September 2019.

Track listing:

1. Tectonics
2. Mount Fuji
3. A Fatal Attraction
4. We Are Volcanic
5. Yellowstone
6. Seismic Waves
7. Silfra
8. Mount Etna
9. Continental Drift
10. For The Silent

All production / programming / mixing / vocals by Jonteknik.

About Jonteknik

Jon Russell is a programmer / writer / producer / remixer who has been making electronic music since 1988. His credits include co-producing and writing with Paul Humphreys (Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark) and Claudia Brücken (Propaganda), remixing artists such as Le Cliché, Nature Of Wires, Metroland, iEuropean (feat. Wolfgang Flür) and OMD.

About The People’s Electric

The People’s Electric is an electronic music community where everyone is welcome. Our artists like to release music on physical formats, but our little community will just as readily embrace those who love to download too. We exist to bring great electronic music to your discerning ears, whatever your listening preferences. The People’s Electric was founded in 2016 by Jon ‘Jonteknik’ Russell in Shoreham-by-Sea, England.

Press release (c) 2019 Mat Smith for The People’s Electric