According to a statement on her website, Poly Styrene, front woman for the archetypal punk band X-Ray Spex, passed away on the evening of 25th April, after battling cancer. A post to Styrene’s Twitter account stated: “We can confirm that the beautiful Poly Styrene, who has been a true fighter, won her battle on Monday evening to go to higher places.” She was 53 years old.
Poly Styrene had the perfect combination of anti-establishment, rebellious energy and quirky, off-the-cuff charm. As the front woman of X-Ray Spex, Styrene – born Marianne Elliot-Said – helped to carve out a niche for a whole generation of neo-feminists in the typically male-dominated world of punk rock in its infancy. She tackled issues of gender, consumerism and modern complacency head on; and what’s more, she made it sound fun.
X-Ray Spex released their first single, the landmark Oh Bondage Up Yours!, in 1977. It started with a battle cry that began unassuming enough, but became intensely sneering, Styrene saying, “Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard, but I think, Oh bondage, up yours!” Listening to that first tune 34 years later, it’s clear enough that more modern singers like Karen O and maybe even PJ Harvey owe a great debt to Styrene’s wailing style of attack.
The band’s first album, 1978’s Germ Free Adolescents is certainly one of the milestones of first-wave punk rock, and it’s quirky, often riotously enjoyable brand of snark and angsty punk aggression helped lay the groundwork for punk to come. Poly Styrene was a punk who fit right into her time and place. Her influence is immeasurable, and she will be missed.
Poly Styrene’s triumphant latest solo album, Generation Indigo, is available now though Future Noise Music.