Last year, Touch celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary. Touch has been one of my favorite labels since its inception; I was an unsuspecting witness at the time of its birth. I’ll go into more of that in a bit. It was fully my intention to pay homage to Touch with a fitting Jukebox Heart podcast, but several things got in the way. First and foremost, right about the time I began to plan it, my father moved into the final stages of his illnesses, and ultimately passed away. Though I’d been taking care of him for the better part of the last 15 years, the final six months of his life were excruciating. It is only now, more than ten months later, that I am beginning to feel as if I have healed from the experience. I still have a garage full of his belongings and a file drawer full of his estate to settle. I haven’t had the wearwithall to handle any of it, however, I did manage an edition of Jukebox Heart in his honor. But enough about that.
Touch has a reputation for releasing the most beautiful of all in the experimental/ambient genre, on the postpunk planet. I’ve always felt a strong kinship with the label, and found it delightfully serendipitous each time one of my favorite artists would wind up somehow involved with Touch. Wire, Biosphere, Locust, Strafe Fur Rebellion…the list goes on. When their first releases for Touch would appear, I’d nod and say to myself, yup, makes perfect sense. Touch has also done an exemplary job of documenting themselves, in thoroughness as well as aesthetics. The website is just a joy to navigate, read, shop and just gawk. Jon Wozencroft’s photgraphy graces nearly every page and each image is stunning. The Touch podcast series is professionally produced and delivered, and is an essential supplement to their audio and video releases.
So my own attempt at documenting Touch seemed meanigless, as did providing some kind of supplemental approach to their music, such as a Jukebox Heart mix. But at the same time, Touch has had such an enormous impact for literally my entire adult life, that I felt like I needed to do something, even if its appearance is a year late for their silver jubilee.
So, 25 years. It’s amazing how the passage of time can feel so insignificantly short when so much has happened in that span of time. The objects we’ve acquired that we choose to hold onto, by the accident of inertia or the obsession of collecting, provide anchor points to moments in time and transform the intangible into the tangible. Each Touch release is the physical evidence of a moment in time through which we have passed and acquired such intangibility. The physical evidence often reinforces the memory, hence its intrinsic value beyond the tangible worth of its constituent materials.
So rather than document the label itself, what I chose to do in Jukebox Heart is to establish a personal timeline, year by year, starting in 1982 with my emancipation from college, with Touch releases serving as the anchor points. By the end of this odyssey on which I am about to launch, you will be able to click the category “Touch Timeline” in Jukebox Heart and reconstruct this timeline in its entirety.
In those days, there was no internet. We relied on our information by word of mouth, advice from store-clerks in-the-know and difficult-to-obtain imported print media. You couldn’t go to the label’s website and download a sample mp3. If your local store didn’t have what you were looking for, you couldn’t log into discogs.com or Gemm.com and order it with your charge card. One strategy was to become a radio disc jockey and write countless letters of devotion to bands and labels and promise to play the fuck out of their records if they would send you copies. More points if you offered to take their records to every station in town. It was all very kiss-ass and grass-roots.
I must admit that already I am cheating with this first release that I am writing about in the Touch Timeline. Feature Mist, the very first Touch release, did not actually come into my possession until a few short years ago. But I do remember being present at the Innersleeve shop in Brighton, owned and operated by Sleep Chamber and XXX Records mastermind John “ZeWizz” Mc Sweeney, when he talked about this cassette and put it into the player. Oh yeah, home cassette players were just becoming affordable for the average Joe around then as well. The sounds were mesmerizing and haunting. But he’d sold that only copy of the cassette, so when I came back to the store the next day with coinage in hand asking for it, it was gone. I’d not encounter it again until the miracle of eBay, but the Death and Beauty Foundation’s track haunted me for decades.
Here is a track from Soliman Gamil, appearing on the original cassette, also available from the
Touch archive along with a wealth of other audio and visual information.
This was a wonderful start by any standard for an independent label. Music contributions from the Simple Minds and New Order, visual help now (and periodically in the future as well) from Neville Brody. The future was looking bright indeed. Additional exclusive tracks by Shostakovich, Tuxedomoon, and Soliman Gamil, with images, graphics and stories from Psychic TV, Neville Brody, Mayakovsky, Robert Wyatt and The Residents’ Rozztox Manifesto.