Poly Styrene: First Woman Of Color To Front A Successful Punk Band And The Documentary On Her Life
“Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard…” - Poly Styrene
“The death of punk icon and X-Ray Spex frontwoman Poly Styrene sends her daughter on a journey across the world and through her mother’s archives to reconcile their fraught relationship in this new documentary feature.”
X-Ray Spex were an English punk band that formed in London in 1976.
The band featured singer Marion Joan Elliott-Said famously known as Poly Styrene on vocals, Jak Airport (Jack Stafford) on guitars, Paul Dean on bass, Paul 'B. P.' Hurding on drums, and Lora Logic (Susan Whitby) on saxophone, instrument that became one of the group's most distinctive features.
X-Ray Spex's other distinctive musical element was Poly Styrene's voice, which has been described as "effervescently discordant" and "powerful enough to drill holes through sheet metal".
The Anglo-Somali musician was the key inspiration and the initiator of what we now know as the the riot grrrl and Afropunk movements.
Her lyrics represented a new sound of rebellion and the main subjects were identity, consumerism, postmodernism, and everything she saw unfolding in late 1970s Britain.
In 1977, the band recorded their most notorious artifact to date and proto-grrrl catchphrase called "Oh Bondage Up Yours!" that was released as a single.
In 1978 they released their debut album Germfree Adolescents, which included tracks such as “Identity” and “I Am a Poseur” .
The album had good recognition from the punk rock live scene of London, even if it was the band only original run, but let’s not forget that Sex Pistols also dropped just one solo album and still managed to be the subject of cultural conversation for decades. You cannot spell punk without mentioning Sex Pistols and that’s the same case with X-Ray Spex.
The band dissolved after this project, and Poly Styrene jumped on a solo album but didn’t make it to the charts and soon disappeared from the public eye.
At the beginning of his wave, punk was a genre dominated by both black and whites, thanks to the explosion of Ska music which had its foundations in Roots Reggae from Jamaica.
Bands such as The Selecter, (fronted by Pauline Black who chose this surname in reaction to how her adopted family had always referred to her as “coloured” rather than black), Steel Pulse, The Specials, Madness, The Skatalites represented the image of a multicultural alternative scene.
It then became increasingly white and suburban towards the late 70’s and it isn’t hard to wonder if this factor minimized the impact of a band led by a woman of color over the years.
The documentary Poly Styrene:I Am A Cliché, will cover these struggles of racial identity that Styrene endured since a very early age.
In fact, she always felt like an outsider from both the white and Black communities and wrote poems on this matter, such as “Half-Caste” and “I Wanna Go Back To Africa” .
Poly Styrene died of spinal and breast cancer on 25 April 2011 in East Sussex, England at the age of 53.
She was survived by her daughter, Celeste Bell, who became the unwitting guardian of her mother’s legacy and demons.
Covering misogyny, racism, and mental illness that plagued Poly’s life and caused lasting traumas to Celeste’s childhood and the pair’s relationship, this documentary will be a full immersion to her world. The documentary also includes interviews from Thurston Moore, Vivienne Westwood, Glen Matlock, Kathleen Hanna, Paul Dean, and various extracts from Poly Styrene’s diary narrated by actress Ruth Negga.
“Many of the issues she was writing about in the late seventies such as consumer culture, identity, gender politics, post-modern romance, etc., are issues that are more relevant today than they ever were. I also think that people are only just starting to appreciate the barriers my mother was breaking at the time, as one of the first women of colour to lead a rock band." — Celeste Bell