Siouxsie, Poly and the Punk Voice

Avoid using the extremes of your vocal range, such as screaming or whispering. Talking too loudly and too softly can both stress your voice.

Advice for preventing vocal nodules American Institute of Health

The top female singers of 2018 include Halsey, Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift. There’s a lot more successful women singers, but right now they sing in a different way, in a style that’s been labelled ‘whisper pop’. I blame Marilyn Monroe.

If you do proper vocal training, you learn how to use your muscles to push air through different parts of your pharynx to make a ‘chest voice’, ‘middle voice’ ‘head voice’ or ‘falsetto’. The current female singing style is almost a form of falsetto – and there are studio tweaks to make it sound even more breathy, vulnerable and intimate.

But the heroines of punk singing used less conventional shouts, screams and bellowing to get the lyrics across. The words themselves were challenging but the way in which punk girls like Siouxsie Sioux and Poly Styrene used their voices showed that they were proud and provocative, and in no way vulnerable. That was what we loved so much about their records.

However,  that style of singing can take a toll; Siouxsie has suffered from vocal nodules, nasal problems and having legions of men on the internet now debating about why her voice isn’t the same after all these years, all those cigarettes and all that shouting:

“Wrapped in white leather, Siouxsie returned to the concert stage for the first time in five years tonight in London…….. According to the printed setlist, she was supposed to end the concert with “Spellbound,” but, according to fans at the show, she dropped that last song for reasons unknown.” Review of 2013 concert

Poly Styrene was trained as an opera singer, so was able to draw on those skills in creating a different, more belligerent sound without damaging her throat. Nitsuh Abebe sums it up succinctly:

“It’s a sound that answered an important question: How can a woman get onstage and be commanding without having to imitate masculine versions of “tough”? What’s another way for a woman’s voice to sound fierce — but also find audible, inspiring joy in the fact of speaking up? Her answer is very nearly contagious: There’s such freedom and pleasure there that it’s no surprise singers keep coming back to it.”

‘Oh Bondage Up Yours’ showcases several different kinds of yelling but all very tuneful and attractive to those of us who previously tried to sing like Karen Carpenter.

So punkgirl singers, we salute your big impudent voices and hope that things cycle round again to give us more chesty, shouty urgent female singers in the punk style.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in Siouxsie’s voice, here’s a vid demonstrating the different notes and sliding tricks she’s done over the years:

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