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MusicSummer of Blacker Love

x-ray spex: black girls used to rule the punk scene

June 14, 2019
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Poly Styrene was a braces-wearing, singer/songwriter, and frontwoman of X-Ray Spex. Styrene was born in 1957 in the UK to Irish and Somali parents. By the time she turned 16, Styrene had run away from home and was already (unofficially) on the road, following bands and hitchhiking from one music festival to the next. By 18, she began recording what would be her first demo, a mixture of punk and ska influences. It wasn’t until a year later when Styrene went to a very early Sex Pistols show where she fell in love with the idea of band camaraderie and decided to start her own band —X-Ray Spex — a punk-rock, jazz-inspired band.

X-Ray Spex’s only album Germgree Adolescents produced a string of singles, including the feminist anthem “Oh Bondage Up Yours!,” a rebellious play on the notion that “little girls should be seen and not heard,” went on to be one of the most iconic songs of the 70s punk era. Just one year after releasing “Oh Bondage Up Yours!,” Styrene began to suffer from hallucinations which would later be recognized as symptoms of bipolar disorder; this caused her to take a brief hiatus which ultimately became the break-up of X-Ray Spex.

UNITED STATES – JANUARY 01: Photo of POLY STYRENE and X RAY SPEX; Poly Styrene (Photo by Roberta Bayley/Redferns)

In 1980, Styrene got to working on her solo album Translucence, music with a quieter, jazzier sound. For the next three decades, Styrene released two more solo albums and appeared at several concerts and festivals along the way. In 2011, she released her final album, the critically-acclaimed Generation Indigo. Styrene died from breast and spinal cancer on April 25, 2011.