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X-Ray Spex

Entry updated 5 April 2024. Tagged: Music.

UK punk act, founded 1976 and led by vocalist and songwriter Poly Styrene (Marianne Joan Elliott-Said) (1957-2011); the other members were guitarist Jak Airport (Jack Stafford) (circa 1955-2004), bassist Paul Dean, drummer Paul "B. P." Hurding and saxophonist Lora Logic (Susan Whitby) (1960-    ), the last leaving after the first single, to be replaced by Steve "Rudi" Thompson.

That first single was "Oh Bondage! Up Yours!" (1977), opening demurely with "some people think little girls should be seen and not heard, but I think ... [yelled] OH BONDAGE UP YOURS!" (see Feminism), whereupon the band's punk noise and Lora Logic's raspy sax kick in underneath Poly Styrene's equally raw but gleeful vocals. This was followed by two more excellent singles in the same vein – "The Day the World Turned Dayglo" (1978) and "Identity" (1978) – which both made the UK Top 30, as did an accompanying album, Germfree Adolescents (1978), whose more melodic, electronic title track became their biggest hit, nudging into the Top 20. However the next single, "Highly Inflammable" (1979) only just made the Top 50, the band breaking up shortly after.

The lyrics voiced Poly Styrene's Dystopian concerns regarding consumerism and its imposition of roles on men and, in particular, women; creating crises of Identity and mental health – "her phobia is infection, she needs one to survive; it's her built in protection, without fear she'd give up and die." ("Germfree Adolescents") Metaphors sometimes cross into sf territory: "My mind is like a switchboard with crossed and tangled lines, contented with confusion that is plugged into my head, I don't know what's going on, it's the operator's job not mine, I said." ("Plastic Bag" [1978]) "The Day the World Turned Dayglo" is more overtly genre, with its transformed world: "the X-rays were penetrating through the latex breeze, synthetic fibre see-through leaves fell from the rayon trees." "Genetic Engineering" (1978) envisions enslaved Cloned workers, references Bionics and doubts whether the human race in its current form has a future (see Disaster; Genetic Engineering).

The band would occasionally reform, eventually producing a further studio album, the pop-punk Conscious Consumer (1995); Poly Styrene recorded three solo albums, the third, Generation Indigo (2011) being well received; Stafford and Hurding had some success with the New Romantic band Classix Nouveaux, some of whose songs had sf content (e.g. the "Nasty Little Green Men" [1980] single). Lora Logic formed Essential Logic, releasing an album – Beat Rhythm News – Waddle Ya Play ? (1979) – and several singles, then a solo album, Pedigree Charm (1982). Hers are the most interesting of the X-Ray Spex alumni releases; again, a couple of songs had sf elements, for example "Martian Man" in Pedigree Charm. [SP]


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