With ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’, their hugely influential 1981 debut album, Soft Cell brought sleazy lyrics and shady but infectious synth anthems to the mainstream. Marc Almond and Dave Ball reflect on art-school aesthetics, punk electronics, and the controversies that fuelled their speedy rise

Thursday night, 13 August 1981, and a set of bangles are blowing my nine-year-old mind. The bangles adorn the wrists of one Marc Almond, who is half of a new pop band I’ve never seen before called Soft Cell. And the song he’s singing, in a voice so lit up with soul and passion you can barely believe it’s coming out of his skinny frame, is ‘Tainted Love’. 

I didn’t know it at that time, but ‘Tainted Love’ had first been recorded by Gloria Jones, Marc Bolan’s partner, as a northern soul-style stomper. This is not a retrograde version, though. It’s a dark, glowering mini-masterpiece of grit and glitter, instantaneously one of the major moments in which a whole generation got their consciousness shifted, tilted and bent out of shape by ‘Top Of The Pops’, the essential BBC chart show that was our weekly half-hour window into the visual wonder of popular music. 

Every time the “knock-knock” synth stabs happen in this pop record Almond is miming to, he clashes his wrists together. And every time he did that, a generation felt stirrings. A dim awareness that life wouldn’t, couldn’t, be the same again. 

I’d never seen a pop star – everyone who got on ‘TOTP’ seemed like a pop star – look even remotely like Marc Almond did that night. His face, voice and manner all snagged me. Right from the off, it was clear that he was someone different, a geek or a freak or the kind of kid who’d be picked on, but who could fight back with words, perhaps with fists, and with total attitude. The vulnerability that the song suggested seemed matched by a granite-hard toughness in the performance. 

“Marc had a really rough time afterwards because he was so androgynous,” recalls co-conspirator Dave Ball. “I could see it in the audience – there were certain girls who wanted him, certain girls questioning whether he was queer or not, and it was the same with the boys. I’m just speaking as a bystander, in a way, but there was definitely this hostility and fascination. There was still so much homophobia around. Obviously, with the AIDS epidemic, the song took on a whole new meaning, which is totally represented in the 1985 version by Coil, particularly the video that Marc also appeared in. 

“Before we did ‘Top Of The Pops’, Marc had said to me that he wanted to shock people as much as we had been shocked by Bowie doing ‘Starman’ in the 1970s – and he did it. He totally achieved that objective. It was a wake-up call for lots of people. I’d never seen anything like that reaction, it shook people up a lot. The BBC switchboards were jammed – you don’t often get that. Real, proper disgusted reactions. Callers saying it was disgraceful ‘when our children were still watching this children’s programme’… extremely right-wing people who hated us from that moment.” 

In the buzz of the playground chatter the next day, the lines were clearly drawn between those of us who were enraptured by this band and determined to see and hear as much as we possibly could, and those who simply couldn’t cope with Almond’s appearance and what exactly had titillated the rest of us. 

Soon, on a mission of reconnaissance, I found Gloria Jones’ original song – a strong and amazing record – but listening to it, I never felt like she was ever out of control. By contrast, on the Soft Cell version, Almond seemed wracked by obsessive love – the “taint” was right at the heart of it – and as the weeks went by, every new and increasingly outrageous ‘TOTP’ performance that accompanied its swift rise up the charts became burned into my memory. 

For the second and third ‘TOTP’ appearances, Almond was advised by his record company to tone down the look and get rid of the bangles, so of course he (c)amped it up. The way that the bangles were far too big for his skinny wrists, the handclaps, and the miracle of seeing someone clearly not invited to the mainstream pop party just starting one of their own instead… 

I tried to imagine anyone else from that era of synthpop singers covering ‘Tainted Love’ and realised, even at the age of nine, that they’d probably smooth it out, tastefully cool it down and pay it “correct” homage. I wasn’t even aware then that before Soft Cell were a known band, they’d covered Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’. No other synth band of the period would have dreamed of such a conceit, such an alliance with the dark, the doom-laden, the desperate. 

On ‘TOTP’, Almond accentuated the emotions of ‘Tainted Love’, not just in his vocal but also the head-snaps, the thrown arms, the way he really pushed his voice on the “Don’t touch me, please” line. Ever since, whenever you hear this record, you sing that bit the loudest because it’s an instant chance to inhabit the drama of being tormented, that Grand Guignol of love the song creates. 

Behind Almond, the music Dave Ball was making seemed like nothing else, even though I was probably watching via a shonky old TV set or listening to a tinny radio. Much of electronic pop back then posited an aspirational, upwardly mobile vision of a future in which man and machine would symbiotically find bliss. But ‘Tainted Love’ didn’t sound like the future, it sounded like a frightmare-ish distortion of the present. 

This was technology that you heard literally crank into action, an intro of machine-gun, electro-snare hits that didn’t glide or glisten but rattled and hissed like the machinery was malfunctioning or might be potentially hazardous. It was an electronic sound that was not macho like Gary Numan, polite like Depeche Mode or pristine like The Human League. 

Dave Ball was so important to Soft Cell’s unique presence on screen. If nothing else, his moustache added to the thrilling, seething seediness that seemed to emanate from the duo. That whole ‘TOTP’ appearance split my mind open and changed my life. For a lot of us, it was the David Bowie ‘Starman’ moment of the 1980s. 

I can’t help but ask Soft Cell how they felt that night, and the morning after? Like punks, or pop stars? 

“That night – on ‘Top Of The Pops’ for the first time – and then the day afterwards, mark out our lives,” says Almond. “Certainly mine, perhaps more than Dave’s, because I was the frontman. It’s a timeline that dissects who I was and then who I became – before fame and after it. The day after, everything changed. One day I wanted to be famous, the next I desperately wanted to live a life of obscurity. I now know that true freedom is being completely unknown, and fame is a mask that can never be taken off. It corrodes the face.” 

“We were quite naive,” admits Ball. “Marc, less so, as up to that point, he’d always been a performance artist. I had only been involved in making the soundtracks for performances. We thought that doing ‘Top Of The Pops’ was almost like an extension of our performance art. It was this situationist kind of thing – ‘How ridiculous can we make this?’. 

“Marc looked cute, but I looked a bit like his security guard. We were two art students and suddenly we’re doing this Number One song on a national TV programme. There was a weird irony there. It was the night where our art-school pretences got kicked out of the way. As students, hiding in our little studio and just messing about all day was a safe space. Suddenly we were in the middle of the harsh reality of the 80s music business. That was a very fast learning curve.” 

This month sees the reissue of ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’, one of the most important debut albums of all time in British music, on double LP and a super deluxe six-CD boxset, replete with extras – contemporaneous and recent live tracks, radio sessions, demos, rarities and outtakes – that deepen the mythos around this most pivotal of early 1980s electronic albums. 

I chat to Soft Cell separately. Almond and Ball’s relationship is clearly quite a close one, but there’s no false camaraderie or a pretence that they’re in each other’s pockets on a regular basis. They’ve never felt the need to participate in predictable or cliched rock ’n’ roll fictions, including those of tightness or family. The pair belong with one another because they’re both dissidents to the whole idea of “belonging” anywhere. Soft Cell is what first brought them together nearly 50 years ago, and the sporadic nature of that connection is precisely what animates all that is great about Soft Cell when they convene. 

In a sense, the band has always been a sort of art project. Almond and Ball met at Leeds Polytechnic in 1977. Almond was 20, a glam rock obsessive who had travelled from Southport to study performance art and ceramics, while Ball, aged 18 and from Blackpool, was a big fan of northern soul and krautrock. He started providing soundtracks for Almond’s performance art – minimalist electronic pieces constructed in old-school tape-splice studios at Leeds Poly. 

Photo: Laurens van Houten

With Almond as flamboyant frontman and Ball as sound provider, Soft Cell came into being at a time when electronic music from Yorkshire’s industrial heartlands was on the rise. The Human League, Cabaret Voltaire and Clock DVA were contemporaries, but Soft Cell were a duo whose personas seemed to clash and dovetail simultaneously, and who used their individual alienation to create something uniquely and strangely right together. 

“There has always been this sixth sense with me and Marc,” says Ball. “Even to this day, we don’t really spend any time together socially. The only time we do spend together is when we’re onstage. And it was always like that, even when we were first writing stuff. We lived in the same building but I had one flat, and next door was Marc’s. 

“I’d have my basic equipment – my mum’s old stereo, gadgets and a drum machine. I’d do demos on cassette and just pass them straight to him. Then he’d add to them, and when he had something to say, we’d use the art-school studio to do very crude versions of those early tracks. We wouldn’t actually write together, we wouldn’t sit in the same room. 

“In lockdown, we made a whole album separately, but that’s just the way we naturally work. I have my own creative process and Marc works differently to me. This way of doing things has the benefit of both of us working in the way we want to. I think a lot of electronic bands find that easier than getting into a studio and thrashing it out.” 

And perhaps their idiosyncratic way of going about things is what made those entrancing and unforgettable early TV appearances really stand out. 

“We didn’t look like an ideal couple,” admits Ball. “We were from a background of punk electronics. We were both at Leeds Polytechnic – art school, basically – from 1976. I never saw the Pistols, but I saw The Clash, and for me that was the high point of punk. We could have tried to form a guitar band but we wanted to do something different. My guitar-playing was too average. I wasn’t bad enough to be a punk guitarist or good enough to be a rock guitarist!” 

Punk apart, what else influenced early Soft Cell? 

“I suppose it isn’t where you take your influences from but where you take them to,” suggests Almond. “Everything is derivative, but I think with Soft Cell there was always an element of shock, a finger up at the establishment, which was and always is important for creative people.”

“We wanted to keep the punk ethos but with an eye to the future,” adds Ball. “Obviously we were very much influenced by things like Kraftwerk and other German bands like Neu! and Can. Crucially, it wasn’t about making music that was based on the history of American rock. It was about finding new definitions, absolutely European and English music. We didn’t want to do standard love songs or anything that was trying to be normal. 

“I think what we were aiming for is revealed in ‘Tainted Love’ – an old, black soul song. Our version doesn’t sound at all black, or even remotely American. We took all our influences and sort of converted them into something completely different.” 

The first Soft Cell recordings were made on a two-track tape machine and a synth bought with money borrowed from Dave Ball’s mum, and released in October 1980 on the duo’s own A Big Frock Rekord label. The ‘Mutant Moments’ EP featured four tracks, including ‘Frustration’, which was later reworked on ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’, and ‘L.O.V.E. Feelings’, the first music Almond and Ball had co-written. 

Picked up by John Peel soon after, when Ball thrust a test pressing into his hands at the Futurama 2 festival in Leeds, the duo quickly gained the attention of teenage label boss Stephen “Stevo” Pearce. Stevo included the track ‘The Girl With The Patent Leather Face’ on a sampler album – soon licensed to PolyGram – for his nascent independent imprint Some Bizzare, which had already recruited Depeche Mode and Blancmange into its growing roster. 

Fans of Daniel Miller’s early productions on the Mute label, the duo headed to London to demo tracks. A one-off single that emerged from those sessions – a seven-inch with ‘A Man Can Get Lost’ on the A-side and ‘Memorabilia’ on the flip – proved less effective than its 12-inch incarnation. With ‘Memorabilia’ moved to the A-side and ‘Persuasion’ on the flip, the single started to pick up attention in the clubs, including Danceteria and Paradise Garage in New York, so beginning a long-standing relationship with club culture which has always characterised Soft Cell’s appeal, far beyond the rockist confines of more traditional venues.

“‘Memorabilia’ attracted a lot of attention in New York,” remembers Ball. “That’s probably the reason we got another chance to do a second single with Phonogram.” 

Listening back to Soft Cell’s early demos, as featured in the new boxset, you discover just how the limitations and constrictions of the technology they were using fed into their sound, enabling a sense of difference and character which the infinite malleability of modern production could never emulate. 

“You had to really commit with that technology,” says Ball, nodding. “It’s on or off, and your only choice with the sound is whether it’s hard or soft, distant or close. Now, you can dilly-dally for hours, cross-fade and blur all the edits and never commit. Back then, it was more binary even though it was an analogue technology. 

“Nowadays, everyone has maybe too many choices – there’s a sense in which nobody truly knows when a track is done. It’s never done, like doing a painting. I have quite a lot of modular synths which I don’t use because you just end up slightly changing everything bit by bit, moving plug-ins… you never finish a piece because it’s self-generative. You’ve got various oscillators just fighting against each other. It could almost be a soundtrack that runs 24/7.”

Whereas you were determined to make pop songs…

“Yeah, but we were coming from punk – we wanted to sound more punk than pop, and that came directly from the limited technology we were using. I used an old bass synth, an SB-100 – two octaves and that’s it, monophonic. The only other people to use that synth to great effect at the time were the B-52’s.”

What other influences were feeding into the Soft Cell sound? 

“Film soundtracks of the time – especially horror and kitchen-sink dramas,” says Almond.

“Thematically, it was the extremes of mundanity and violence, the banality of existence, and the contempt for class and privilege.”

“John Barry was a big favourite for both of us,” says Ball. “Morricone as well – slightly dangerous-sounding. We adored pop, but we liked 60s film soundtracks too, and Marc bought that northern soul influence – we loved the way those songs were so brief and simple musically, but the lyrics were so heartbreaking. Of course we were into early glam like Roxy, but by the late 70s, we loved punk and disco – anything to do with Giorgio Moroder or Donna Summer. 

“Marc was working at warehouses, first as a cloakroom attendant then as a DJ, so we were hearing new American DJs that would come over to play. I was clued up on the electronic stuff coming out of the UK, Germany and Europe, and Marc was clued up on disco. At New York’s Danceteria and the Paradise Garage, we’d see no wave stuff like James Chance, as well as checking out places in Berlin like Metropol.”

At this point, Soft Cell had given Phonogram the ‘Tainted Love’ single, on the back of the success of ‘Memorabilia’. Played entirely on the Korg Synthe-Bass 100 and a Roland CR-78 drum machine, it was a minimalist pop classic that hit Number One in the UK and 16 other countries, and reached the Top 10 in the US. 

“We had already started doing a lot of gigs – local gigs around the North, mostly,” says Ball. “It was another thing that proved we really could have done with a ‘proper’ manager because we were still going about it like art students. We’d committed to these gigs in paid places – country clubs, working men’s clubs – even after ‘Tainted Love’ had come out. We could have filled massive venues. 

“In London, we were doing places like Hammersmith Apollo and we filled out two nights easily. But up North, we were still doing these tiny little clubs for 200 people. Every single show was rammed. If you’re told that a Number One chart band is playing your local disco and it’s a quid to get in… we fairly soon realised what we’d got ourselves involved in. It was crazy.” 

Decamping to New York to work on ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’, the album came together in that fusion of sounds Soft Cell were exposing themselves to while they were there, as well as the material the duo had been working on for the previous two years. Did they feel pressure? 

“Dave sent me these amazing tunes and I fitted lyrics around them,” says Almond, matter-of-factly. “In terms of deadlines – we just ignored them.”

After the flash of those ‘Tainted Love’ appearances, the pair’s punk-ish sense of resistance became abundantly clear. The outright hostility that Almond and Ball encountered almost immediately from the tabloid press, mainstream comedians and “concerned parents” found glorious, mordant reflection in the songs that followed. 

“No one is prepared for hostility from the media, and I certainly wasn’t,” admits Almond now.

“The early 80s were deeply homophobic and aggressive, and then the AIDS crisis added high-octane moralistic fuel to the fire of hate. It just all became toxic.”

There was a political edge to Soft Cell’s own songs that extended the ferocious realism at the emotional heart of ‘Tainted Love’. Taking it beyond relationships and out into the world, they spoke for the dispossessed, those alienated from both the horrors of work and the banality of play during Margaret Thatcher’s grim first years in power. 

‘Bedsitter’ was the single that emerged two weeks before the album, and it was perhaps even more of a revelation than the Number One hit that preceded it. With a video that provided perfect visual accompaniment to this spike-laden hymn of numb hedonism and empty days, it was a song that seemed to speak for and about people left out of pop’s normal narratives. 

photo: peter ashworth

Crucially, where rock and mainstream pop always seemed to either glamourise or condescend to the marginalised, Soft Cell were the marginalised, and their lyrics spoke with clear truth about that feeling of being left out of life’s party, of being shoved to the edge and forgotten. It’s no accident that the place I file my Soft Cell records is next to my grime records, Saxon Sound tapes and Linton Kwesi Johnson collection. There’s a similar bass-heaviness, and that unmistakable sound of an outsider telling it straight. 

“With ‘Bedsitter’, we lived it – we lived in a slum clearance area of Leeds,” says Ball. 

“We’d go out dancing and partying and then the rest of the week, it’s just you in a little flat by some wasteland in the inner city. I was living on the dole – pretty grim, but we tried to make the best of it. We always wrote about things we knew – reality, our reality, through the lens of Marc and myself.”

A couple of weeks after ‘Bedsitter’ was released, my big sister brought ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ home and the plot thickened. From that day, the album has stood markedly apart in my consciousness, in splendid remove from its contemporaries and its descendants. The sleeve is one of the most perfect in all of pop, its hugely suggestive background photo providing a tantalising glimpse of nightlife seediness, the grain and luridness like the smeared neon captured between the wipers on some Soho windscreen. 

On the front cover, in an image I’d say is as iconic as that first New York Dolls album, Almond and Ball are bathed in pink and blue neon light. Unlike, say, Depeche, Duran or Spandau, Soft Cell weren’t traditionally handsome boys. They were weird-looking, and in the faint smiles, oddly convivial and welcoming. It was as if, by buying the album, you had found a home, even if your new relatives – the first UK synth duo – were as strange and wrong and out of kilter with reality as you were. 

In 1970s pop, duos meant cheese, easy listening, tragic schmaltz, holiday camps, chicken in a basket… how did Soft Cell change that idea around so that in their wake the likes of Yazoo, Pet Shop Boys and Erasure took their template on to huge success? By actually accentuating the sinister seaside Bontempi creepiness of the duos they’d both seen in their coastal birth-towns, by rendering the template they inherited so dark that it almost breaks apart. 

The tradition of the pop duo before and after Soft Cell is that many of the acts wanted marketability and likeableness. Almond and Ball really didn’t seem to care about either. They seemed hard-boiled in their bond, brought together by difference and a sense of Leeds gloom, as well as that gallows humour at the end of the pier – the dim presentiment of a future as variety entertainment in ‘Entertain Me’, and that acerbic, noir-ish sense of fate and doom that suffused all the shadowy Soho corners and dimly lit Manhattan doorways that Soft Cell’s music took you to. 

Later, that darkness exerted a direct influence on EBM acts like Nitzer Ebb, The Wolfgang Press, Renegade Soundwave, Ministry, and all the way through to Nine Inch Nails. Beyond the sheer structural innovation of proving a synth duo could be a fully cohesive outfit (previous pop duos like Sparks always had a full band backing them), it was ultimately the weirdness of Soft Cell’s sound that proved most influential, and later conversations with bass music creators like Dizzee Rascal and The Bug, as well as techno acts like Underworld and Orbital, have borne out just what a colossal impact they had. 

Soft Cell’s whole-hearted embrace of synths in the early 80s was distinct in pop at the time, in that it used technology not to suggest a glimmering future of man and machine in harmony, shining a light towards progress, but to unleash the uncanny, the subconscious, the primal, and the dank, dark corners of the human psyche and soul. It’s the use of synths for realism rather than escapism, describing a present torment rather than a future dream.

Like much post-punk, Soft Cell’s music looked back to the avant-garde, the Velvets, krautrock and Suicide. But it also seemed well-informed by 60s pop, chanson, dub and lovers’ rock. Its vision of the present was brutally authentic, less forced dystopianism than a realist look at where the hell we were in 1981. 

Again, the contrast with their contemporaries was stark. In the music of Gary Numan, you could hear rock music played on synths – anthemic, and not hostile to traditional rock audiences. The Human League, Simple Minds and Ultravox harnessed synth sounds to conjure a dream of old Europa, an art-rock idea via Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and David Bowie. In the music of Soft Cell, you heard no idealism and nothing traditional bar the spooked vibe of funfairs or freakshows, the tragedy of forlorn strip clubs and empty dancehalls, the anguish of a desire driven by despair, numbing itself through repetition and endless hollow satiety. 

This was a sound and vision that could only have come from England, and seemed almost guaranteed to antagonise the traditional music press (reviews of ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ were startlingly harsh). It was a vision that, unlike its aspirational peers, simply couldn’t afford to look far beyond the blight of its immediate surroundings to some blissful European idyll of man-machine synthesis. If and when this candid music glistened, it was with dubious substances and a sense of nagging, Suicide-like hues. 

When you dropped the needle on ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ and ‘Frustration’ came at you from a series of frozen screams, it was clear, even on first contact, that no one in the early 80s produced music quite like Dave Ball. His beats were heavy, his textures smeared, sensual and dirty. The gorgeous ‘Seedy Films’ showed how his ear was informed by a wider palette than many of his contemporaries, with a dark, funky love of the low-end. 

And there’s a feel of sheer frenzy at times on the remarkable ‘Sex Dwarf’, with its sudden eruptions of freakshow cacophony and spurting, squirting tactility that wouldn’t be heard again until Frankie Goes To Hollywood set out to sexually shock the nation. It’s a track so damn filthy (“I would like you on a long black leash”), you could have easily found it in a hedge or under your parents’ bed.

‘Entertain Me’ and ‘Chips On My Shoulder’ were relentless, hook-laden, obliterative documents of human anguish and need. Next to theirs, so much early 80s electropop sounded thin and weedy, while Soft Cell themselves were confidently bizarre, street-level and believably committed. 

The album’s closing track, the gorgeous, Walker Brothers-esque ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’, made your hairs stand on end and is perhaps the straightest Soft Cell ever got. Lyrically, though, it was fully aware of its non-inclusion in the traditional roles of loved and lover (“A nice little housewife / Who’ll give me a steady life / And won’t keep going off the rails”) and that it speaks for those who love too much, too hard, too often.

In the hands of compilation makers and rock historians, Soft Cell still get bunched together with every other 80s electropop act. But what ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ proved – and this definitive reissue confirms again and again – is that they were on their own tangent at that time, suggesting a future built from the past that was entirely their own creation and confection.

It helped, of course, that Marc Almond possesses one of the greatest British pop voices, able to slip from apocalyptic hysteria to sleazy documentation of Soho’s sordid corners and gruff, alienated snarl in the space of a line, conjuring both extrovert hostility and paralysed fury in a way that hits you so plangently and powerfully when you’re young. 

This was a record about despair, lust, anger, heartbreak, hopelessness – the grim determination of a life lived as revenge. An artistic vision far too smart to believe in either golden ages or bright futures, it was a singularly sullen counterpoint to the aspirational careerism around it. 

From a fertile era peppered with skilful reimaginings of how music could be made electronically, if I had to salvage only one synth record from back then, it would always be ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’. Because it’s glorious underdog music, and the nascent sound of a duo realising that their isolation, from the humdrum and everyday but also from each other, just might be their strength.

“On the landscape of early 80s pop, we felt incredibly isolated,” says Almond. “I suppose Dave and I were ‘together alone’. That realisation only came into focus with success.” 

The abiding miracle of ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ is that although it still feels like 

an uncompromising transmission from the edges of society, it’s one that ensured its creators could find a life in music. It also gave salve to anyone who wants music to celebrate their own difference, isolation or uniqueness, and the new reissue fleshes that story out to completion. 

Were Soft Cell ready for the success the album brought them, or did it become something of a millstone?

“For quite a while, yes – and in particular ‘Tainted Love’, of course,” admits Almond. “Why wouldn’t the record company want more of the same when it became the biggest record of the year? But it’s impossible to recreate. Its success has as much to do with timing, good luck, the stars aligning, the political landscape and the mood of the moment as it has to do with that one song.”

“As a new band, you have your whole life to write all the tracks for your first album,” reasons Ball. “By the second one, you have the pressure on. You need a next album within two years. You’ve got to be in the studio. We were having a lot of fun in the clubs at that particular time. [Remix follow-up album] ‘Non-Stop Ecstatic Dancing’ came out of that period and was obviously inspired by a certain drug, which I hasten to add was legal [in the US] then. Nothing criminal about it!

“I remember Marc wanted some of the club DJs to do the remixes, but I think the reality was that these guys might be great at mixing tracks together on a dancefloor, but weren’t necessarily going to know what they were doing in making a finished track themselves. 

“We did great quality control on that project and it lifted the pressure a bit, but we knew we had tracks that weren’t right for that first album, especially ones that would end up on ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’, like the title track and ‘Martin’. These were tracks that we had from our time at college – kind of Soft Cell dabbling with goth. Goth was one of our other main areas of interest, I suppose. Leeds was always very goth, so we explored that as well.”

Soft Cell were never businessmen. Decisions taken after the blow-up success of ‘Non-Stop…’ seem almost like sabotage and demonstrate a commitment to getting darker, deeper and edgier than before. 1983’s ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’ and 1984’s ‘This Last Night… In Sodom’ are incredible records that can now be seen almost as a reaction to the dangerous exposure ‘Non-Stop…’ had given them. It’s as if fame and success had spooked them into a determination to get nastier, more despairing and more extreme before their time was up. 

“We were always kicking ourselves in the arse,” agrees Ball. “But our lack of business acumen was happening even during the ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ period. We should have put ‘Torch’, which was a Number Two single, on that album! It would have made complete sense in terms of marketing, but we didn’t really think about things like that. 

“On the second album, we had no pop hits – the songs were too dark. The subjects we were touching on – illness, AIDS – were not regular listeners’ cup of tea. Stevo at Some Bizzare was not a good businessman for us, either. Our relationship with the label started falling apart, because of our unconventionality – and Stevo’s – and the fact we had no good advice and a real loyalty to people who were rebels like us. Rebels without a cause? Perhaps. Kicking ourselves in the arse? Always.” 

Forty-plus years on, do Soft Cell still listen to ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’?

“My manager gave me a lovely pristine copy of the boxset yesterday, which I can’t listen to, unfortunately,” admits Ball. “I’ve got about a 50 per cent area of tinnitus, which I’ve been to see an audiologist about. I’m looking forward to the day when I can put it on – once I’ve got this ear sorted out – and I can actually listen to it in full surround sound!”

“I don’t, but I still hear it everywhere,” adds Almond. “And I have come to love it again. It opened so many doors for me, saved me, ruined me, and saved me again. But it represents so much more to so many people, not just me.”

Did you ever think you’d both be at this vantage point, looking back?

“I don’t think we ever envisaged being in this business for 40 years,” muses Ball. “We maybe hoped we’d still be doing something to do with music, or the music industry. Marc had the greatest of aspirations as an artist and in performance. I think he maybe wanted to concentrate more on getting involved in films – he could have. Ultimately, even now, we’re a couple of punks making mash-up music.”

“The album was in every way huge and spoke to a generation, not unlike ourselves, that felt they had no real voice,” says Almond. “We evolved out of the late 70s punk generation, a slap in the face to the corporate world we found ourselves thrust into. To quote [author and philosopher] Criss Jami, ‘When you’re socially awkward, you’re isolated more than usual, and when you’re isolated more than usual, your creativity is less compromised by what has already been said and done’.”

The expanded double LP and super deluxe CD boxset of ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ are both out on Mercury-EMI/UMR

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Four years on from the acclaimed ‘English Electric’, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark are preparing to release their difficult 13th album. It’s called ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’ and it’s full of surprises. Are you ready for a bit of bending?
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Richard Fearless: Fear And Raving

Leaving behind the big name remixes and opulent studio productions of Death In Vegas, Richard Fearless is going it alone under his own name. His debut solo album, ‘Deep Rave Memory’, paints a picture every bit as vivid as the spectacular views afforded by his River Thames studio
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In The Beginning There Was Industrial…

Industrial Music. The genre that swept around the world from Hull (Throbbing Gristle) and Düsseldorf (DAF) to Chicago (WAX TRAX!) and Brussels (Play It Again Sam), and then span out into EBM and New Beat and a whole lot more besides. We pick out the main protagonists for your listening pleasure…