She lived the punk ethos every day of her life and in doing so changed the face of music.
Poly Styrene, aka Marianne Elliot Said, the British punk rock icon whose dissonant rebellious yelp as the lead singer of '70s outfit X-Ray Spex cut through an era of conformity and influenced countless musicians, has died. She was 53.
According to a statement on the Spex website, Styrene passed away peacefully in her sleep after a battle with breast cancer on Monday evening.
Born on July 3, 1957, in the London borough of Bromley to a British legal secretary and a Somali-born aristocrat, this biracial girl ran away from home at age 15 and hitchhiked around various music festivals.
After stumbling upon an early gig by the Sex Pistols, she formed the punk band X-Ray Spex, which released its first album, Germ Free Adolescents, in November 1978 to critical acclaim. Fans hailed Poly for her brash, distinctive voice, trademark braces and Day-Glo clothes, which rejected any attempt to mold her into a sex symbol and instead fashioned her as a feminist punk pioneer.
With anthems like "Oh Bondage Up Yours!" the Spex tackled anticonsumer and anticapitalist themes as well as the subject of racism, all with a wit that won them many admirers. They also helped spark the underground feminist movement in the U.S. known as Riot Grrrl, which gave the world such bands as Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill. But after a three-year run that included numerous festival performances and a residency at New York's CBGB's, the group split up after a fight over money and Poly went solo.
Her 1980 debut, Translucence, traded loud guitars for a more nu jazz/electro-infused sound that is credited with inspiring the Britpop movement of the 1990s, including such bands as Everything But the Girl. She followed up in 1986 with the EP Gods & Goddesses, which drew from Eastern spirituality.
After briefly reforming in the 1990s and releasing their final work Conscious Consumer, in 2008, she and X-Ray Spex reunited for a sold-out show at London's Camden Roundhouse. Her final record, Generation Indigo, came out this March and included the song "Black Christmas," which she wrote with her daughter, Celeste.