There was another significant death in this immediate period that came through as I was already writing the last PPM obituary. I can’t pretend that I have a lot of Bronski Beat in the Record Cell; my esteem is for their less-popular second album, but Steve Bronski’s death at 61 is particularly early, and his standing in the LGBT musical community will always be profound.
When Bronski Beat debuted with the powerful “Smalltown Boy,” it was a wake up call for queer pop. While there had been no shortage of queer artists before then, at best fans had to make do with larger than life queer kabuki that had little to do with the day-today lives of any fans [Bowie] or else coded messages and subtexts. With many gay performers avoiding the elephant in the room entirely. In that context, the debut album “Age Of Consent” was a powerful and up-front statement; even if I can never embrace it due to my issues with Jimmy Sommerville’s singing style. That falsetto was like nails on a chalkboard to me, no matter how much I liked the songs.
At the time I wrestled with the disconnect between artists saying important things in styles that I enjoyed and the voice of the singer. In the early 80s, I was a pushover for the hi-NRG style. I one made myself a mix tape of it, drawing from the acts in my Record Cell because that relentless energy was infectious. Fortunately, by that time I was able to include Bronski Beat since, as my luck would have it, Jimmy Sommerville departed the band for greener pastures fairly quickly, giving me a chance to have a Bronski Beat album with a very different vocalist in John Jøn, so I immediately bought the “Truthdare Doubledare” album when it came out and it’s been in the Record Cell ever since.
I was immediately won over by the storming, last gasp of hi-NRG that was “Hit That Perfect Beat” just as House Music would sweep hi-NRG off the stage in the same way that it did with other dance genres. But following that album, Bronski Beat seemed to just disappear. There was no internet than and I only just found out that John Jøn left the band after that album in 1987. I remember that Brosnki Beat resurfaced in 1995 on the German ZYX label; a logical place if a bit downscale for a band that had their impact. But I’ve never heard that album, or anything with the Bronski Beat name since then. I only just saw that Steve Steinbachek had died in 2016 from cancer, leaving only the various vocalists from the band still walking the earth. So today let’s listen to “Smalltown Boy” in whatever version we have [I’m partial to the B.E.F. cover on “Dark.”] and imagine what a galvanizing experience it must have been for any LGBT music fan to hear that song going to the top of the charts in 1984.