Incredible vocal prowess is not a necessity as a singer in a punk band. Attitude, inflexion, and aggressiveness go a long way to communicate ideas of anarchy and rebellion, while a pristine larynx capable of producing notes with perfect pitch might actually be a hindrance. Could you imagine how insufferable the Sex Pistols would have been if John Lydon had prioritised intonation over snide venom-spitting sarcasm and dry wit?
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t singers from the punk landscape that didn’t have the vocal chops to make it as melody makers. Joey Ramone had an uncanny ability to produce bubblegum earworms, while bands like Husker Du and Bad Religion thrived off of their indelible harmony work. However, if there’s one singer who quickly outpaced her initial idiom, it was Siouxsie Sioux.
Siouxsie and the Banshees originally lived up to their name by producing howlingly ferocious live performances, but by their own admission, they felt stifled by the basic framework of punk’s barebones style. The Banshees quickly became one of the first post-punk outfits, integrating elements of pop, jazz, electronica, dance, and psychedelic rock. Paired with a gothic image, Sioux proved that there was a far greater world to explore beyond the Bromley Contingent.
In a surprisingly thorough examination of Sioux’s vocal highs and lows on record, YouTuber SAINT E.R. created a tribute to the Ice Queen herself by collecting all of the highest and lowest notes that Sioux ever put to tape. As the video shows, Sioux’s voice can oscillate from a frantic bleat to an operatic glass-shattering instrument from song to song, sometimes within the same song.
According to the collection, which consists of no less than 75 examples from across Sioux’s extensive career, Sioux had a reliable four-octave range that occasionally broke beyond those barriers and into notes that were nearly impossible to replicate. When the video gets into the major highs and lows, the claims start to become slightly dubious: the highest claimed note is an almost-impossible Eb7 in ‘We Fall’ that clearly has synthetic manipulation, while the lowest claimed note is an A1 in ‘Imagoro’ that would put Sioux in contention for the lowest note ever hit by a woman.
Even if these notes probably aren’t naturally sung, the ones clearly hit by Sioux are still astounding: a guttural G2 in a 1998 live performance of ‘The Vamp/Witchcraft/Standing There’ and a piercing G#6 in a 1988 live version of ‘Hong Kong Garden’ is evidence enough of a singer with remarkable range. Sioux’s voice was elastic and dynamic, and without any formal training, she was able to hit notes that even the most professional of singers could only dream of.