Label Founder Finding The Important Things In Tulum [INTERVIEW]

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A Touch of Class Records at BPM Festival

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Signal Flow shot by Brian Park (www.brianparkphoto.com)

On a typical day in Brooklyn, one might find Touch Of Class (TOC) Records co-founders Ray Zuniga or Mikey Tello deep in the studio concocting rare and rad sounds for their own project, Signal Flow, or perhaps putting the final production touches on another gem of an artist who resides on their ever growing label.

When they're not conducting musical experiments in their NY headquarters, chances are they can be just about anywhere in the world projecting their hard earned work from the lab to the dance floor. You can say from throwing events, recording music for themselves and for their tribe of forward thinking creators, there’s no rest for those who hustle.

We were lucky enough to catch up with Ray post BPM while on the ancient Mayan grounds of tropicoool Tulum to be exact. He offered a glimpse into the labels roots, experience in Playa Del Carmen for BPM, and future dreams.

Like the music these talented individuals make, there was nothing watered down about the situation we found ourselves immersed in. From diving in cenotes to the struggles of trying to organize a fiesta in a foreign country, here’s the low down on what makes these dapper dudes create.

"I used to cruise around the house with that tape in my Fischer Price boom box..."

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Sup Ray...So, I heard of some symbolic meanings and backstory behind your label's name. Can you elaborate on that and tell us a little about how you and your partner in crime, Mikey, began collaborating in the first place?

Mikey and I met 2008 in LA through our mutual best friend Claudia Munoz when I moved there for music school. Our connection was instant from day one. Not only on a musical level, but a spiritual level as well. He is like the brother I never had - always will be. We bring out the best in each other. The label’s name came about as natural as can be actually. Mikey’s dad, Galo, owned Touch Of Class Mfg. with his mother, Zoila. Mikey grew up and lived in the factory in LA until he was 14. Touch Of Class Mfg custom designed and hand built every piece of furniture using the best materials and quality assurance money could buy at that time. They were the only wholesale manufacturer that sold direct to the neighborhood and eventually exported the product overseas and to South America. Then after years of making music together, being best friends and through our many jobs and journeys, we were on a yacht at The Garden Festival having a homey story time session, along with Jonny Cruz, on the top deck under the Croatia night sky and it came to surface that my father, also Ray, was in a custom car club called “Touch Of Class,” Mikey was like OMG. From that moment, we knew we had the label name. We’re both from Hispanic families, driven people with similar morals and family values. Taking the name of something that represents our father’s was something we wanted to do for our families and to empower ourselves to produce and release timeless quality music worldwide.

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Touch of Class Records artists "Tone of Arc" performing at their BPM showcase.

Timeless is definitely a quality that resonates with me when I listen to your music. When I met you almost 10 years ago in the Bay, you were vibing off hip hop mostly and it’s been really cool to see your influences shift and the music you make progress. Can you tell me your earliest inspirations and what really prompted the transition into the electronic realm?

Damn, 10 yrs?!? We’ve been potent partners for that long now?! So much love!….Anyhow, I still vibe with hip hop, funk, etc. My first cassette tape ever given to me from my dad was Cameo. Their hit “Word Up” was my jam at only two-years-old. I used to cruise around the house with that tape in my Fischer Price boom box saying “sucker DJ.” Those roots will never fade! While living in SF for university and then work, my interest and gradual transition into the electronic realm was mainly due to the Dirtybird crew at the time. I was living in SF of course and I also worked for the Dirtybird label for about a year so that musical taste transition happened organically. Being involved in the day-to-day operations for Dirtybird exposed me to a whole other world. Aside from SF, living in Southern Cali growing up and for music school exposed me to Marques Wyatt's DEEP LA parties, and also rolling out to Doc Martin’s Subelevel warehouse parties with my girl Claudia had a strong influence on my electronic upbringing as well. These combined diverse experiences eventually guided me onto my own musical path, developing my own ear & sound, which helped me progress to where I am today.

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Very cool to witness that kind of progression. Your set at BPM was completely unique and had soo much soul. Culture seems to be a backbone and common theme to your whole creative concept. How has traveling affected your sound and what specifically in Tulum inspires you?

The whole travel aspect definitely plays a roll in the musical output and also direction of DJ sets. Some artists do not prefer to work on the road while traveling. Myself, I’m neutral. If there is an idea or emotion I want to get out, I will. If not, I do not force it either. Being exposed to different cultures and climates on a consistent basis brings about different thoughts, emotions, vibes, etc… Those eventually come to life in the creation process based on my surroundings & motivation at the time being. Specifically with Tulum, the beach & jungle surroundings is what inspires me. I was actually planning on moving to Tulum with a fellow TOC member and just zone out there in the jungle to create as much music as we can for at least a month then get back to our normal schedules. I think something special can come out of that, stay tuned :)

"I was planning on moving to Tulum [...] and zone out there in the jungle"

How did this year's festival compare to previous BPM’s and what did you notice in particular from the audience compared to your previous experience? Anything you brought this round that was a step up from last time?

This year we actually joined the BPM Festival for our first official BPM sponsored label showcase event at Fusion Beach Club which progressed over the day to be something really special. The two years prior, we introduced the label in 2013 with our very own branded "Midnight in Tulum" - a 24hr beach experience event - and followed that up in 2014 again. Both MIT events in 2013 and 2014 were hosted at Bar Adelita’s over a 24-hour period on the beach right in the beautiful sands of Tulum. Something we always take pride on bringing to our events is the live element, along with the eclectic and unique sound that each of our artists possess. You know what I mean if you’ve been to one of our showcases by now. We prefer to lean toward the live spectrum of performance with our artists. In festival’s like these you can get a bit fatigued of the expected DJ set, so with our shows, we tend to focus more on the live performances and also our DJ selectors who we know hold it down on that end to give a well-rounded presentation of music performance curated properly with our Touch of Class vision.

Can you leave us with a memorable tale that occurred in Mexico, or highlight that made the trip?

Highlight of this trip, and I think I can speak on behalf on our whole TOC family, is seeing my best friend, brother, and business partner propose to his girlfriend, Liana De la Rosa at the end of our Signal Flow live show, which then lead into the closing performance by our beloved duo Tone of Arc. It was a special moment for all involved and couldn’t be happier to see two special people in my life make a lifelong commitment to each other.

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That was definitely a teary eyed joyful moment and we can imagine it must have been really special for you to witness. Thanks for dropping some genuine and heartfelt knowledge on us!

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