If you had your teens in the 80’s and was into synth pop music you’ve bound to have come across Soft Cell or at a minimum you’ve heard their version of the classic hit Tainted Love. Soft Cell was the essence of electronic music meeting the avant-garde, spiced with its own take of new wave, with the massively entertaining Marc Almond in center stage.
More into the shadows on stage we had Dave Ball the hardcore synthesizer engineer and producer of the catchy and sometimes disturbing melodies that made up the sound signature of this iconic band. As you might have guessed this feature is not on the charismatic pop star Marc, but rather on the guy who after had heard Kraftwerk on the radio ditched the guitars in favor of synthesizers – Dave Ball. If we back the tape we know that Dave in 1983, while still in the band, he released a solo album called In Strict Tempo, featuring Gavin Friday, Genesis P-Orridge and Virginia Astley. Soft Cell later split as a band and did not re-unite until 2001 and in the mean time he among other things worked with Pet Shop Boys and David Bowie, as well as formed another duo called The Grid.
For us, it is still, to this day, a mystery why Dave came to make such uninspiring electronic/techno pop music. In any case their debut album ‘Electric Head’ proved to be quite influential, with acts like Rednex and DJ TIGA probably one of the artists who owe a debt to its timeless musical template.
Anyhow if we fast-forward things to the present day Dave will release a new album together with the classically trained piano player Jon Savage out in early October, an album that may be destined to go unnoticed in today´s music market, as a result of the ever growing amount of music available from various global streaming services. Which is a shame since Dave do have some gems up his sleeve worth listening in on. After a preview listening on the album it is quite an interesting and ambient expeirence, not too far off from the journey that YMO´s frontman Sakamoto has done in recent years.
The duo recorded the ambient experimental album at the Orange Girls Studio and when interviewed about the new album called Photosynthesis, he said:
“We started composing some quasi pop/classical pieces that gradually morphed and evolved into one, hour-long piece. The title ‘Photosynthesis’ was re-appropriated from the botanical process. Sitting in the garden surrounded by trees and plants on a sunny day, the idea of organisms using sunlight to synthesise nutrients from CO2 and water became an inspiration to us. This idea, juxtaposed with mankind’s destruction of the planet through pollution and war gave us the inspiration to compose this soundscape.”
And we know that Dave is a real fan of machines, something that is clearly audible on this album. “Photosynthesis” is a massive soundscape album created through digital recording and processing of vintage analogue sound sources, such as mini Moog, Sequential Circuits, Prophet 5 and so forth. The music keeps all the components of being present, sweet and disturbing at the same time. The soundscapes generates a feeling of desperation especially with the screaming voices that excels the tempo and thus a call for action.
You can order this brand new release already now from this website.
In a recent interview Dave was asked about his most memorable moments in his career:
‘Baby Doll’ – SOFT CELL off ‘The Art of Falling Apart’ – it reminds me of a very special time in New York.
‘Floatation’ – THE GRID – I was pleased when it was recognised as an Ibiza chill out classic.
‘Your Loving Arms’ – BILLIE RAY MARTIN– it was our first GRID production to get in the UK Top 10 and in the Billboard 100 in the US.
‘My Hand Over My Heart’ – MARC ALMOND off ‘Tenement Symphony’- I love Trevor Horn’s epic production and Anne Dudley’s arrangement.
‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’ – SOFT CELL – I think it’s become an anthem.
More on Soft Cell
Their self-released ‘Mutant Moments’ EP in 1980 came to the attention of DJ Stevo Pearce, who had been compiling “futurist” charts for the music papers Record Mirror and Sounds.
Stevo gathered a number of fledgling acts like DEPECHE MODE, BLANCMANGE, B-MOVIE and THE THE who appeared alongside SOFT CELL on the independently produced ‘Some Bizzare Album’ compilation in 1981. This eventually led to SOFT CELL signing to Phonogram Records.
After ‘Tainted Love’, a cover of a Northern Soul favourite by Gloria Jones, became a UK No1 in September 1981, Ball and Almond became unlikely pin-ups with poster spreads in ‘Smash Hits’. The follow-up single ‘Bedsitter’ reached No 4 and proved SOFT CELL could have hit singles with their own material. Meanwhile, a further three Top 3 hits came with ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’, ‘Torch’ and ‘What’ during what could be now considered as SOFT CELL’s imperial phase, a period which undoubtedly broke down barriers and paved the way for many of the acts who followed, like PET SHOP BOYS, ERASURE, BRONSKI BEAT and FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD.