Healing Touch - Interview with Martin Boulton from the electronic charity label Touched Music
Wednesday, February 8, 2023
A decade ago electronic music producer Martin Boulton got a shock visit that was to change his life for good. The devastating family news was the catalyst to start something incredibly positive to help raise money to help others through the medium of electronic music. His personal story is a good one and one that has inspired countless producers, music lovers and members of the public. We hear from Martin (AKA music producer Min-Y-lan) about his labels, productions and his endless passion to help raise funds that makes a difference to many people’s lives.
It's been a decade since your first release on the label - ‘Touched - Music For Macmillan Cancer Support’ what was the catalyst for starting this great project?
It all started back in 2013 when I had a knock at my door and my mother had come to tell me the devastating news that she had Breast cancer. After hearing this news and wanting to fill my time off and my mind with good things, I had the idea at work one day to make a compilation with my label mates (I can still remember where I was and what the chair I was sitting in looked like). I thought maybe I’d ask a few bigger artists that I had been chatting to on Facebook for a few years to see if they would help out and so I sent a few messages that afternoon and got to thinking about a name for this Project. The first was Cancer Killers, but that didn’t fit and was a bit too aggressive, so chatting to my mum one night I told her about the project and how so many people have been Touched by cancer, wait a minute hold the front page, yes let’s call it Touched.
That first release had a mammoth 123 tracks from artists including The Future Sound of London, 808 State and Si Begg to name but a few. It’s no small undertaking getting so many tracks together. How did you go about recruiting so much music?
The simple answer is, I’m a massive electronic music fan, so I asked all my favourite artists, via Facebook, Bandcamp, websites or emails and even asking artists to ask other artists from their labels. Most importantly I had to like the music, not just anything was going to make it onto the compilation. I wanted it to be all killer and no filler, and I’ve heard that phrase a few times about the Touched Music Compilations and it always makes me smile.
You followed that up with releases by yourself and other artists before Touched 2 came out with 255 tracks. Whereas Touched 3 included a staggering 417 tracks At that point you must have realised there was a critical mass of support for what you were doing?
Yeah, I found it easier to ask for music on the next few albums as people had heard of it and I could say how much of a success they had been, even a few artists like John Tejada said, oh at last I’ve been waiting for the Touched guy to contact me. So at that point I knew I was onto something good, and I was getting offered albums to release from a few of the artists who had been part of the massive compilations.
Charity compilations are not new but they are usually one off events, at what point did you think ‘I want to keep doing this?’
I knew it had a big following and the artists were getting bigger and bigger with each release so making it a label just for Cancer Support made sense to me.
The charity Mind has connected with the music community to raise funds through people DJing or playing live music; whilst we interviewed Connor Male a couple of years back about his Serenity record label that raises money for mental health charities. Music was so hugely important in the last three years and has incredible powers for our wellbeing, do you feel we make enough of that connection as a society?
After ten years of doing Touched Music and Monthly Mixlr events I find the fans refer to it as the Touched family. I’ve met so many of the fans at Touched Live events, We had one in Pembrokeshire in Wales (where I’m from) and we had one in Hastings which was a lot bigger and lasted a full day with loads of acts and a few locations. Best day ever, and I’ve met a few fans and artists at the London RPM Electronic Music festivals over the years. I’ve made lots of good friends from all over the world and some have even come to stay for the weekend at my home. So, I can safely say my circle of friends has become a lot bigger since touched music started. I do get a lot of emails and messages from fans who are battling cancer and they all say that the music helps and what I’m doing is a good thing.
You have raised nearly £125,000 via your JustGiving Macmillan Cancer Support page, when you set out did you have some total in mind that you would like to raise? If so, when did you realise that you needed to shift the goalposts?
I really wanted to just get to £100,000 and we did that in lockdown, So to celebrate it we made a limited edition poster consisting of all the artwork that has been released up until that point. I have a framed copy of it hanging on the wall in my music room to keep me happy and pushing me forward to the next goal. I would really like to hit the £150,000 mark in year 10, I don’t really have an end goal, It’s when people stop buying music when that’s more likely to happen.
You have put out a few physical releases, with vinyl coming into focus in the last few years. Is this something you’d like to explore more?
I’ve been releasing something every month on Touched since the very start , the first CD came two years after the start in 2015 and has not stopped. The first vinyl came out in 2017 and was from Warp Record Legends B12, so once I had a taste for that it was all go for the vinyl releases. I’ve slowed down with them now though as the costs and wait times really mess with planning 11 releases a year like I do. It’s impossible to run a label pressing vinyl nowadays.
They’re beautifully packaged releases, how important is the esthetics when trying to promote this label and ultimately the cause you are championing?
I think most Electronica fans have an eye for beauty, although it’s all in the music, beautiful music makes beautiful souls. So to see a stunning piece of art can really help with the music. I’m lucky I have so many good designers to call upon, one of them being my old friend David Watson aka Grid Pattern. Strangely enough, years ago I made friends with him via Discogs and we used to send each other mix CD’s with tracks we both liked and so on. After a few Touched releases he reached out to say how much he was enjoying what I was doing and then he told me he was a graphic designer. I needed some help with a cover and he stepped in and now years later he is a big part of the Touched Family. I’ve met up with him (In real Life) a few times and he's designed covers for Autechre, Plaid and The Future Sound of London to name a Few and we run the Dyadik label Together.
My other go to guy is Matt Hampshire, he emailed me out of the blue saying he was a fan of the label and if I was on the lookout for some nice images to use. He was a photographer and said I could use some of them for touched, and now years later has been designing covers for Touched Music and our own label Pulse State
We have had TDR - The Designers Republic lend a helping hand on a few Touched releases too Like Covert 1 and 2 and the Touched By Silence box set, so that was a dream come true as I’m a big fan.
You’ve expanded the label with various sub labels including Touched Revolutions which included an album from FSOL. Are these outputs a result of making more connections within the electronic music scene and wanting to give them a home?
So, I know this will sound crazy, I get sent so much music and I really like most of it so setting up other labels is just a way of putting more stuff out and not releasing something on Touched every week. So I have Touched Revolutions which is a label of just Vinyl Picture Discs. I have a label called L50 which is mostly old IDM releases that were only released on vinyl or only digital and breathing new life into them, so it is the first time on CD and digital for a lot of them.
I run Dyadik with David (Grid Pattern) Watson and I mostly pick the music and David comes up with some stunning bespoke designs for the releases. I run Pulse State with Matt Hampshire, and again that all started from a charity release for the Dog’s Trust. We liked working with each other, he does all the art for that one too. I have a few other projects, but they are top secret for now.
In terms of your own productions as Min-Y-lan, have you found running the labels an inspiration for your music?
I’ve found it hard making my own music after starting Touched as I get to hear some much amazing music day in day out. Mine comes nowhere close compared to the people I work with, the good thing has been making some great contacts and having my all-time favourite artists make some stunning remixes of my tracks. To have the likes of The Future Sound Of London rework some of my tunes has been out of this world, and I’ve always been a massive Plaid fan so to have them remix a few of my tracks over the years has been a dream too, as with so many other artists. One of the main Touched artists I’d say has been exm, he and I have teamed up and become Heogen and I’m really into this, it’s the perfect music for me really, uplifting fast paced melodic electronica that you can lose yourself in. New album coming this year from us On Touched Music
What can we expect from the label going forward?
Much of the same I’d say. I’m always pushing to find new music from new artists but I do always love a new album from one of the Touched team. This coming year we have loads of great things planned, a new mega ambient compilation called Touched By Silence 4. That’s going to be a 4 disc box set which has been a lot of work but I’m sure it’s going to be amazing. One of my favourite things about the Touched Music releases has to be doing the Mind Map series with Brian Dougans from the Future Sound Of London. They have been most excellent and this year part 4 is coming. Brian has been a great help over the years and he has to be one of my biggest influences and I’m so happy I get to call him a friend, we chat daily and I feel very privileged to do so.
Finally, as someone who no doubt gets sent a lot of music these days, how else do you discover new music?
I find a lot of music myself by listening to other people’s Mixlr shows and other online mixes that my friends produce. I have a few people who send me links to stuff they like and share it with me. Most of the artists I like, I follow their Bandcamp pages so I get lots of alerts when something new drops. I like BBC 6 Music when I'm cooking Sunday dinner and it is a great place to find new music too. I wish I had more time to listen to the classics but I’m mostly always listening to new music.
After Ten years of Touched Music a few things have happened. My mum is still cancer free and living her best life (Thank you Macmillan) the label is getting bigger and bigger and we are always finding new fans and family members. The music if anything seems to be getting better and better (if that’s possible) so here’s to the next ten years! Discover new digital dance music with Trackhunter