“Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard..” Poly Styrene interview printed in tribute to the X-Ray Spex singer. She will be missed.
Poly Styrene was the iconic lead singer of the vibrant punk band. The band was a breath of fresh air in the late seventies in an oversubscribed genre. Poly Styrene songs were about the plastic nature of consumerism with her seemingly untamed voice which she would distort to emit a rather frightening scream, an ability which was difficult to ignore. Her lyrics and attitude instantly came across as anti-establishment but Poly says: “I was just painting a picture of consumerism with words.”
The genuinely bewildering punk song ‘Oh Bondage Up Yours’ was arguably X-Ray Spex’s biggest hit; a song which was so inherently rebellious it must have turned lots of ‘little girls’ into mini-punks. X-Ray Spex also achieved mainstream appeal with the tuneful pop come ska anthem: Germ Free Adolescents.
Poly wore military jackets and sung with an authoritative charm which made her a role model for young women who were empowered to recreate her style and attitude. She was part of the evolution of feminism in music that included Siouxsie Sioux and the Slits’ Viv Albertine. In particular she influenced the ‘Riot Grrrl’ movement of the early 1990’s which featured bands like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile. However it seems that was never Poly’s intention: “I didn’t really see myself as a role model for feminists, although people thought I was really into women’s liberation. It was just liberating to get up and sing my own songs.”
Poly isn’t convinced that gender equality has improved over the last 30 years: “I think that gender equality is down to the individual performer, I mean there are a lot more girls in bikinis looking sexy in videos. I don’t think that’s gender equality myself – but if you write good songs and you’re prepared to get up and sing them then gender equality has improved over the last 30 years.”
Those last thirty years have been eventful for Poly Styrene; in 1980 she released Translucence which saw her move away from the raw and punk-fuelled sound of X-Ray Spex. In 1991 X-Ray Spex reformed to play a sell-out gig at Brixton Academy. Four years later they got back together again to release Conscious Consumer.
2010 saw Poly Styrene release the ska-tinged, Black Christmas which she co-created with her daughter, Celeste Bell. Unsurprisingly the single wasn’t a conventionally sentimental Christmas song; it was about Bruce Pardo, a mass-murderer who went on a killing spree dressed as Santa Claus killing 9 people in Los Angeles. Poly has always offered an alternative look at convention through her lyrics. She told us: “I’m essentially a songwriter and I keep writing because there are so many things that come up in life that just spark a song. I go through creative spells and have never lost the passion for creating music.”
In March this year she will release Generation Indigo which she is working on with Martin Glover, more commonly known as ‘Youth’ from new-wave punk band Killing Joke. The album addresses a wide variety of important modern issues but also explores some of life’s trivialities, she says: “Some of the themes are similar to my X-Ray Spex songs and some of them are more current. No Rockefeller explores poverty and Code Pink is about economic war – then there are fun songs like I Luv Ur Sneakers which talk about girlie issues and cruelty free footwear.”
The album title refers to the idea that there is an ‘Indigo Generation’ of people who were born in the eightes. The concept is that the ‘Indigo Generation’ has special and supernatural abilities. Poly says: “I do believe the Indigos will change the world in a positive and peaceful way.” The album is glittered with a pop-sound which Poly says was an attempt to sound more “current”. Poly’s musical style may have changed over the years but her punk ethos lives on in her lyrics and in the minds of those who have been influenced by her music, she says: “Punk attitude lives on, because of the spirit of its fearlessness to try and change things for the better.”