Saturday, April 30, 2011

POLY STYRENE (1957 – 2011)

 Lead singer of the influential and incendiary '70s band X-Ray Spex Poly Styrene succumbed to cancer on April 25.
 Born Marianne Joan Elliott-Said in Bromley, Kent, England, Styrene was raised by her single Caucasian mother. Her father, a Somali aristocrat, was not present in Styrene's life.
 Styrene ran away from home at 15 and lived a nomadic hippie lifestyle. She eventually hooked up with a boyfriend/manager who would take her around to record company offices, attempting to secure studio time. This approach eventually wore thin.

 "I got a bit bored with being a solo artist as I was working with all these session musicians who were a lot older than me and who I had little in common with," Styrene told Penny Black Music in 2005. "I wanted to have a band, and that is really why I formed X-Ray Spex. I was writing and recording, writing and recording, writing and recording, and then I got a bit fed up with it because nothing was really happening, so I thought I’ll put a band together. I put X-Ray Spex together after I saw the Sex Pistols for the first time."

 Poly Styrene was not Elliott-Said's stage name of choice. Her manager suggested the moniker and at first she refused it, using it instead for her small fashion label. Eventually she embraced the plastic pseudonym.

 Before the release of X-Ray Spex's Germ Free Adolescents, their only full length release, the band spent nearly a year as the house band at the Man in the Moon pub, a bar on King's Road. Styrene was generous to other up and coming acts, giving bands like Adam and the Ants and the Tourists stage time.

 One of their most famous tracks, Oh Bondage, Up Yours!, was inspired by the suffragette movement. Bondage was X-Ray Spex's first released recording in 1977. In 1978 Germ Free Adolescents was released receiving moderate success and critical praise. In 2001 Spin ranked the album at #5 on their list of the 50 Most Essential Punk Records.

 "I wrote Identity after I saw this girl Tracey slash her wrists at the Roxy. She was a sales assistant in Vivienne Westwood’s shop, Seditionaries. I didn’t write that song about myself at all. I think the idea that I did came from Jon Savage and England's Dreaming," Styrene said.


I Am A Cliché

I Am A Poseur

 During one of the many tours in support of Adolescents, Styrene claims she saw a UFO and the experience had a traumatic effect on her. At 21 she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital where doctors told her she would never work again. This was effectively the end of X-Ray Spex. Upon her release from hospital Styrene released a solo album, Translucence, in 1980. Her solo work was jazzy and dissimilar from X-Ray Spex's sound. Styrene cited the tranquilizers she was prescribed for the change in her music. Many fans cried foul but most critics embraced the morph. 

 "I got a bit slated for it," Styrene recalled. "It was like 'Look what happened to her. She was this gung-ho punk revolutionary. Where... [has it] all gone?'"


 When Styrene fronted X-Ray Spex there were few lead singers of colour, especially in the punk scene. Her change of tempo on Translucence was seen as an unconventional move; given the success she found with harder music. As if these oddities of her identity weren't enough, her next move would be the most surprising yet. Styrene joined the Hare Krishna movement.

"I have kept the philosophy, but I haven’t stuck with the organisation," Styrene said in 2005. "Philosophy is one thing, but organisations and corruption are other things. I am not saying that the Krishna movement is completely corrupt, but there was some strange stuff happening, and I decided to disassociate myself from it."

 Styrene went on to release Flower Aeroplane in 2005 and Generation Indigo earlier this year. The track Black Christmas (below) was co-written with her daughter, Celeste, who is also featured on the song.

Black Christmas

 In February 2011 Styrene revealed in an interview with The Sunday Times that she had recently been treated for breast cancer but it had spread to her spine and lungs.

"I had a guru who left the mortal world in December," Styrene said in a March interview with The Quietus. "He gave me a meditation on the spirit, it was a female spirit, very beautiful but it made me think about how this body is just a material body, like an outer shell. It will deteriorate and die, but we can leave something behind in our music or art."

Virtual Boyfriend

Thursday, April 21, 2011


 This article on Marion Arthur and Nicolette Lagace of ThOrN originally appeared on

Photo courtesy of ThOrN.
 There are plenty of roses growing in the Ottawa-valley region and with those roses come many thorns. Together Cellist Marion Arthur and pianist Nicolette Lagace comprise ThOrN. The classical grunge music they create, while sharp enough to draw blood, is simply too hip for the conservative community where they reside. Yet that hasn’t stopped these talented girls from branching out and finding audiences in Ottawa and beyond.

 Both Arthur and Lagace are classically trained in the performance of their respective instrument and come from musical families.
 Arthur studied at the University of Toronto where some days she would practice for six hours on top of playing in ensembles, orchestras and attending classes. While thankful for the solid classical background she has from attending U of T, Arthur found that, like many who reside in the Ottawa-valley, the school faculty had conservative attitudes towards music.

I performed some of my own songs in my third year recital, but my jury of two seasoned, classical musicians was not impressed,” Arthur laughs.

 Arthur now utilizes her experiences as a student to teach with Kindermusik; a music and movement program for children aged 0-7 and their parents.

 “Children are exposed to songs, percussion instruments and dances in class. This helps support their brain development by challenging them in many ways and is just plain fun for parents and children alike,” Arthur said. 

 Lagace was snared by all things symphonic at an early age. While attending a Christian school as a child she took a liking to tickling the ivories. She began piano classes at age 9 and eventually enrolled in Royal Conservatory classical piano lessons. 

 “That was my parent’s way of instilling and fertilizing those talents,” Lagace said.

The two met when Lagace was looking for a cellist to appear on her last solo album, Love in a Box. Lagace was impressed by Arthur’s cello lines and they decided to create a new project, giving rise to ThOrN.

ThOrN is a project that started as recognition that Nic and I have a similar emotional vibe,” Arthur said. “Both Nic and I write quite dark music and the piano and cello create an ethos that is compelling. Even though I'm revisiting songs that I played as MEA [Arthur’s solo moniker], Nicolette brings an organic darkness to the project that wasn't there on my album Cocoon to Butterfly. I feel like the emotional landscapes are greater than I've created in the past.”

 Lagace agrees saying that the music she created with her former band was mostly prog rock-based and ThOrN is more low-key. The label of classical grunge came about because the duo feels their music is a combination of classical, rock, pop and progressive rock.

 While innovative and interesting, ThOrN’s music isn’t what most communities in the Ottawa-valley are up for.

 “It’s definitely a challenge here” Lagace said. “In Pembroke and the small surrounding areas there are not a lot of venues that are open-minded to what we offer. Even for my previous band it was always a challenge to try and find a show. People here just weren’t sure because it wasn’t cover tunes or country music. It was something totally off the wall for this area.”

Silent (live)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


 I first heard that the term "420" was coined because in California the police code for marijuana-related offences is numerically 420. This information appears to be false; that's what you get for taking the word of a high school stoner. Other unsubstantiated explanations include "April 20th is the day Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and/or Jimi Hendrix died," "April 20th is the best day to plant your crop," or "The Grateful Dead always stayed in room 420 while on tour."
 The real origin comes from a group of San Rafael High School classmates in California who would meet up at 4:20 p.m. every day to blaze.
 Growing out of that tale, the numbers 420 have now come to signify that 4:20 p.m. is the socially accepted time of day to partake in weed smoking; sparking up before that time would mean you are just an aimless stoner.
 As almost every Canadian knows, April 20th is the day anyone can assemble on Parliament Hill to smoke without fear of persecution or arrest. There are also large demonstrations in the Canadian cities of London, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.
 In addition there are many pop culture and industry references to 420. The clocks in Pulp Fiction are all stuck on 4:20. New York's 420 Tours arranges travel to Jamaica and the Netherlands and Atlanta's Sweetwater Brewing Co. sells a 420 beer and opens its doors to the public at 4:20 p.m.
 Sadly April 20th is also associated with some dark historic facts. Today also happens to be Hilter's birthday and the anniversary of the Columbine shootings.
 Below you'll find some of the best songs that pay homage to an activity many will engage in today. I was going to include Because I Got High but I forgot for some reason.

Bury Me In Smoke by Burnt Ones

Burnt Ones - Bury Me In Smoke from LaundroMatinee on Vimeo.

Weed Card by Garfunkel & Oates

Get It Together by Beastie Boys feat. Q-Tip

Smoke Two Joints by Sublime

Hits From Da Bong by Cypress Hill

Mary Jane by Rick James

Champagne & Reefer by Muddy Waters

Sweet Leaf by Black Sabbath

Hash Pipe by Weezer

One Toke Over The Line by Brewer & Shipley

Blizted by Raveonettes

Strobe by Deadmau5

Pass The Dutchie by Musical Youth

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


 This interview with TyLean originally appeared on Her latest album The Unforgivable, The Unforgettable is available now via her official site. Death Disco presents TyLean at Ottawa's Avant-Garde Bar April 15. She will then bring her operatic sounds to Peterborough April 16 and Toronto April 24.

Apologies for the spacing errors in the text. 

Photo courtesy of TyLean.

 Pianist TyLean's music comes with the disclaimer that it is ‘not for casual listeners.' Her latest offering, The Unforgivable, The Unforgettable, combines elements of the caustic and the celestial; a melding of genres that has amassed TyLean a following on both sides of the Atlantic.

 Originally hailing from small town Pennsylvania, TyLean now resides in London. A self-taught pianist since the age of 14, she began experimenting with the cello at 24.

  "I am not a cellist and have never called my self such. People assume because I'm classically trained" - a phrase she detests - "that I must be by default classically trained on the cello. I don't play cellos. I rape them. It's a phenomenal instrument for exploiting and creating horrific soundscapes."

 The landscape of TyLean's childhood was a lonely one. Living in such an insular place with siblings too old to bother with her, she retreated into the fantasy world of film.
 "Film was my first passion, because watching movies kept me company," she says. "That was what I wanted to do, but since there were no films being made in my part of Pennsylvania and I couldn't convince my family to move, I got into children's theatre as a matter of compromise. From there I got into musicals and eventually came to be very passionate about orchestral music and opera."
 The influence of operatic music can be heard on her debut, the When All Else Fails EP. Although many called When All Else Fails ‘hauntingly beautiful,' TyLean describes the reaction to her debut as confused.
"It was my first release. I had no fans, no supporters and no one who understood who I was and what I was about. I don't even think I understood who I was and what I was about yet. The lyrics were either too dark for them to accept or too intelligent for them to understand. In addition, I was from small town Northeast Pennsylvania. I knew people who had tattoos of the local ‘80s cover band who they would support tooth and nail in a fight. Just the fact that I was recording and releasing original music was well beyond their ability to comprehend."
It was small-mindedness like this that inspired TyLean to seek refuge in another country. For as long as she can remember, she has wanted to flee the US.

 "I don't like America," she says. "I was hell-bent on becoming an ex-patriot since I was 7 years old and was able to understand what countries were and just how far away the other side of the Atlantic was."
 Her move across the pond has given TyLean an insight into the habits of the international music fan. She says American, English and Canadian music lovers all absorb music differently.
 "In the UK, people are more passive about their music than in the States, where people define themselves by the music they listen to. In the States, people tend to be more dedicated to a genre than their own ability to think whether they like a piece of music or not. The UK is also slightly like this, though not nearly to such a degree. Canada, however, is completely the opposite. Music fans are open minded and accepting of anything they happen to like, despite what genre it falls into."

 Once of a member of prolific darkwave band Attrition, TyLean and founding member Martin Bowes had a falling out over his veganism.
 "We parted ways over an incredibly silly difference of diet. Martin Bowes is a vegan. I think we should eat endangered animals before there are no more left to taste; humans too. I'm at odds with the accepted belief that humans are special and important. We are shit-throwing monkeys who if we hadn't evolved to say derogatory things about one another, we would still be flinging poop. One day the usual banter turned into an actual disagreement and that was that for Attrition. We were both probably being too headstrong for our own good."
 However TyLean says she loved the experience of performing with the band, which has been active for three decades, and looks forward to connecting with Bowes again in the future.

 After the upcoming Death Disco dates TyLean is heading back to England to appear at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. Look for a new EP, tentatively titled Formaldehyde, to appear this summer.

Corner of My Eye

Love Always Dies (live)