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Non Stop Ecstatic Dancing

Non Stop Ecstatic Dancing album cover

Marc Almond: vocals
Dave Ball: instruments
Cindy Ecstasy: rap
Dave Tofani: tenor saxophone
John Gatchell: trumpet

Marc Almond: vocals
Dave Ball: instruments
Cindy Ecstasy: rap
Dave Tofani: tenor saxophone
John Gatchell: trumpet

1 Memorabilia
2 Where Did Our Love Go
3 What
4 A Man Could Get Lost
5 Chips On My Shoulder
6 Sex Dwarf

Recorded by Don Wershba at Mediasound, New York
Mixed by Harvey Goldberg at Mediasound, New York
Produced by Mike Thorne

……look, it’s so huge…..

By late 1981, Soft Cell had scored three consecutive top-five singles in the UK, and Tainted Love was so in demand and so over-used that some New York club Djs would be playing the UK 45rpm single at 33 1/3 in a desperate attempt to find a new angle.  (US extended 12” singles were generally cut at 33, UK at 45, so this probably first happened as an enlightened mistake late some addled night.)  The decision was made to record a dance LP, which would be among the first of its kind.  Time to pull out the stops.

The dance floor of the eighties became an arena where you were encouraged to push things out, to search for novel sounds and sonic gestures.  The strict DJ genre stylism of the nineties and beyond couldn’t suffocate as it does now, since new sound-mangling possibilities seemed to be delivered monthly with the reliability of the gas bill.  And the dance floor loved the ear candy.  The live DJ manipulations were limited at the time to spinning, scratching and a few simple effects like delays (not that they weren’t sufficient for a great time in 1981).  But the studio was the place where you could do anything with a little care and time.  In contrast with the more live-based creation now, the music could be refined and intensified.  You could find a style instead of simply follow the path to a known land.  (That’s enough from this old curmudgeon.)

Nowhere in the Soft Cell canon is there more sense of brats at play.  The willful, just-for-the-hell-of-it sheer infectiousness of the still-current sound transmits the fun we had making it.  Just for the hell of it, a bass drum might suddenly disappear from where you were most expecting it.  Disruptive personal undercurrents flowed, but they weren’t yet sufficient to break up the party.  As when mixing Tainted Love, we might as well have danced through the whole thing.  And, again, it’s not immodest to say that we invented a few things along the way, facilitated by the new sound tools that were showering down on us.  This portion of the eighties was an expansively creative time.

Everywhere I go
I take little piece of you

I’ve got to have a memory
Or I have never been there
I have never had you

I collect
I reject

The standout tracks are the bookends: Memorabilia and Sex Dwarf.  I’ve never been a fan of the remix routine where the music becomes separated from the creators of the original music, and around this time I routinely turned down requests to remix others’ productions (with a few lapses like the unissued Maneater of Hall and Oates).  It’s easier for the original creators to develop new material, assuming that they can get a suitable perspective distance from the old.  That’s another reason to record an extended version and cut out the radio (7”) single.  If you stretch time and define new blank acreages of empty bars in and around the core of the song, your desire to keep the music interesting will magically generate new ideas and developments which would never fit in a short version.  But, unlike in Tainted Love, here I was producing a remix of another producer’s (Daniel Millar’s) good work.  Thankfully, the group were still there.  So it became a connected pleasure to work on it, with new ideas coming from consistent participants rather than being a dissociated exercise in style.

For Memorabilia, it was remix business as usual.  We copied the original 24-track tape in segments, kept the excellent original rhythm parts that we wanted to work with, then built on the superstructure starting with a fresh, new lead vocal.  Daniel’s sounds were especially strong (he was already established as a creative synthesizer maestro with his single  Warm Leatherette of four years earlier).  At my end, the Synclavier and the Serge modular synthesizer (not a keyboard, but a collection of electronic modules which you can connect in a wide variety of ways) worked overtime.  Other extras are the punctuated trumpet of John Gatchell and, making her first appearance, Cindy Ecstasy.  On her mid-track rap, written by Marc, she finally introduces herself after laying down a few strict rules of amorous engagement.  (It’s a great touch, but her best is yet to come, in Torch.)

Sex Dwarf appears in a second incarnation en route to its final, controversial featuring in the group’s unreleased video (which I still haven’t seen).  The original, on Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, was five minutes of cheerful raucousness.  To me the original now sounds slightly undeveloped, which is maybe a reflection of the new effort and distinctive sounds that we ploughed into the new version.  There are so many odd noises that I can’t remember how we did many of them.

The making of Soft Cell's Non Stop Ecstatic DancingHowever, I do know that there was no scratching on this record, the scratch-like sounds on A Man Could Get Lost (an instrumental version of the B-side of Memorabilia) being generated convincingly but artificially using the Serge and played on the Synclavier keyboard.  I’ve gone back to the synthesizer patch and remade similar sounds, but never as convincingly as here.  Maybe being on the spot and under a critical deadline was helpful.  The final track we remixed, Where Did Our Love Go, was accomplished in a session starting at 8am and finishing nicely in time for lunch, thanks to the unavailability of the studio at other times.  I felt like death, clearly remembered, but we completed it ten minutes early.

A party was held at Danceteria, once of the best New York clubs of the period, to celebrate the album’s completion and offer opportunity for yet more promotion to keep the juggernaut rolling.  The music worked and the dance floor duly went crazy.  The DJ, reinforcing my prejudices of the time, threw in a few delays and effects on a couple of tracks before giving up and joining the party.

Unknown to me at the time, the rift with the group was beginning to open up.  Later, they would grumble that there were so many interesting Djs in the city, and that they had wanted to pull in some of them.  I still disagree strongly, since I feel that the coherence of the final result would never have had its unique character if we (or they) had pulled in style specialists.  The rant is the same as earlier in this essay.  As would happen later on Marc’s solo Fantastic Star, the last commercial production I did before retiring from that increasingly unrewarding fray, it seemed to me that the artist should have full confidence in the music driving the style without the security of a widely-used idiom.  There’s no point in regretting, doing a post mortem or passing judgment.  People are just built in different ways. 

However, listening to these tracks in an age of utility dance music 22 years later, I’m encouraged by their timelessness while disappointed that such density and intensity in dance music is now much more rare.  And I especially regret that the creative team that enjoyed such a creative laugh in New York all that time ago was to effectively disintegrate within a matter of months.

Let’s end positively, though.  I nearly forgot.  We did record a new piece, What!, which became Soft Cell’s fourth consecutive top five UK single for the group.

– MT March 2004