Sunday, 9 March 2008

Siouxsie Sioux

For this post my subject is Susan Ballion, or Siouxsie Sioux of Banshees fame to you and me. She has always been an icon as far as I’m concerned and as Amazon is still trying hard to sell me her new solo album, ‘Mantaray’, I thought the time is right for a bit of a re-appraisal. But not of her 30 year musical legacy as that is a given, but more to do with that infinitely more intangible attribute – style.

Traditionally, Siouxsie has been put in a box with a huge tag around her neck which reads ‘Gothic, handle with care’. I suppose it’s the general blackness and the connection with punk, but the more I think about it the more I feel this is wrong. Siouxsie and the Banshees were never really Punks in the true sense. Admittedly, they started on the road to fame with the no-need-to-learn-to-play attitude that embodied early punk, and hung around the Sex Pistols-to-be, but it wasn’t long before they had outgrown all that and become an extremely accomplished band with a more measured musical style to the prevalent thrash, in direct opposition to the punk doctrine of the late 1970s.

The stage persona of Siouxsie herself was more a product of the androgynous glam era of the mid 1970s rather than the more overtly sexual fetishist dress of the punk movement. Bowie and Bolan were her antecedents and it seems that it was mere coincidence that the Banshees appeared on the scene during the punk uprising. Having ridden that bandwagon for a bit they developed beyond their peers and forged a long and successful career.

It occurs to me that Siouxsie’s later style inspiration is actually drawn from the Roaring Twenties, the age of silent film and Art Deco. With her black bobbed hair and strikingly black-shadowed eyes, she could be one of those silent heroines, tied to the railway track, legs kicking and mournful eyes pleading whilst the hero struggles with the points in the face of the on-rushing 10.37 to Pennsylvania. A bit like Railtrack now, in fact.

As a further nod towards the 1920s, her dress is very often Deco in style, using Egyptian, Greek or Aztec lines and motifs and well as the geometric patterns and the design modernism culture of that school. She could easily pass for a modern day Cleopatra. The Art Deco movement seems to describe her much more accurately than the ripped T-shirts and bondage trousers of the real punks.

It just occurs to me how frighteningly easy it is to pigeonhole people.

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