Friday, February 16, 2024

Poly Styrene


Born in England in 1957, Poly Styrene was a woman who hitchhiked her way into the punk rock scene. As a teen runaway, Poly spent her time traveling, going to see as many shows as she could. However, it wasn't until she saw the Sex Pistols on her 18th birthday when her desire to start her own band was sparked.

X-Ray Spex was formed in 1976, releasing 5 singles plus an album throughout their 3-year span. Their song "Oh Bondage Up Yours" is widely regarded as a punk classic. The group initially featured Poly Styrene on vocals, Jack Airport on guitar, Paul Dean on bass, Paul "B.P." Harding on drums, and Lara Logic on saxophone. This unique addition became a distinctive feature for the band. Poly's voice also became a unique instrument, being described as "effervescently discordant" and "powerful enough to drill holes through sheet metal."

Aside from unique choice of instrument, Poly herself was a unique choice for a frontman, since she was a mixed-race woman in a predominantly male scene. Her work in punk during the 70's later inspired a movement in the 90s; Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill started her own band after listening to X-Ray Spex, thus marking the start of the Riot Grrrl movement. Hanna states she was "really blown away by the lyrics and how much there was a critique of capitalism." She says, "Poly is obviously a poet. It was such a perfect marriage of emotion and technique. I was like, how have I never heard of this band before? It seemed better than the Sex Pistols." Many people see this line from the song "Bondage Up Yours" as a precurser to the movement:

Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard

But I think "oh bondage up yours!"

Poly once mentioned "I said that I wasn

t a sex symbol and that if anybody tried to make me one I'd shave my head tomorrow," (She actually went through with this at Johnny Rotten's flat prior to a concert at Victoria Park). Born Marianne Joan Elliot-Said, she explains that she picked her stage name because it was "plastic and disposable... That's what pop stars are meant to mean, therefore I thought I might as well send it up."

Poly had been struggling with bipolar disorder since 1991, and passed away of breast cancer after being diagnosed in 2011. Poly's overt feminism and mixed-race heritage made her stand out among her punk contemporaries. "Punk attitude lives on," she said, "because of the spirit of its fearlessness to try to change thins for the better."


Poly Styrene - X-Ray Spex

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