Steve Bronski of pioneer gay group Bronski Beat dies at 61

Steve Bronski, member of the 1980s British synth-pop trio Bronski Beat, whose members were openly gay at a time when this was rare and whose early songs unabashedly addressed homophobia and other gay issues, has died following a fire on December 7 in his apartment. building in the Soho section of London. He was 61 years old.

West London Coroner’s Court has confirmed his death. London firefighters reported earlier that they responded to a fire on Berwick Street and took an unidentified man to hospital, where he later died.

Mr Bronski had a stroke several years ago, and Josephine Samuel, who helped take care of him, told the Guardian that may have made it difficult for him to escape the building .

Mr. Bronski formed Bronski Beat in 1983 with Jimmy Somerville and Larry Steinbachek, and their first single, “Smalltown Boy”, was released the following year. It was the harsh story of the escape of a young homosexual from a provincial town where he had suffered homophobic assault; a haunting chorus repeats: “Flee, turn away. The official video for the song, which illustrates the events the lyrics allude to, has been viewed more than 68 million times on YouTube.

The song went on to become a Top Five hit in Britain and also topped the charts in other countries, including the United States. A follow-up, “Why?”, Another hit on the charts, was equally straightforward, the lyrics evoking the ostracism and social disapproval experienced by gay people.

“You in your false securities are tearing my life apart, condemning me,” said a lyric. “Call me sickness, call me sin. Never feel guilty, never give in.

Back then, a number of mainstream artists – Elton John, the Village People, Boy George – telegraphed homosexuality, often with stereotypical flamboyance, but they rarely addressed gay issues directly in the song. Bronski Beat was different, avoiding shyness and gimmicks.

“They challenge stereotypes,” Jim Farber wrote in The Daily News in 1985, “posing as everyday Joes.”

The band’s debut album, “The Age of Consent” (1984), was as straightforward as the two singles. The album cover listed “the minimum age for legal same-sex relationships between men” in European countries, an effort to point out that the age in Britain at the time, 21, was higher than almost everywhere else. The sleeve also included a phone number for a gay legal advice line.

Mr Bronski said the trio did not start out as a political or social statement.

“We were just writing songs that were about our lives at the time,” he told Gay Times magazine in 2018. “We had no idea ‘Smalltown Boy’ would resonate with so many people.”

But when they started doing live performances in 1983, he told The Associated Press in 1986, the audience’s reaction helped them realize they had struck a chord.

“We had all of these people come backstage saying, ‘I think it’s great that you guys were so honest about this,’” he said.

This same public reaction won the band a contract with London Records in early 1984. Mr. Bronski was on keyboards, as was Mr. Steinbachek; Mr. Somerville’s distinctive falsetto voice was the band’s signature.

Warren Whaley, a Los Angeles-based electronic music composer and half of the synth-pop duo The Dollhouse, began a current correspondence with Mr. Bronski when he wrote to him after Mr. Steinbachek’s death in 2016.

“I remember hearing their first single, ‘Smalltown Boy’, on Alternative Music Radio Station in Los Angeles in 1984,” Mr. Whaley said via email. “The song begins with a heavy octave bass. Then a staccato hook. Then Jimmy Somerville’s charming falsetto. I was addicted to 22 seconds. This group was something special. Something new – but old. Their sound was reminiscent of disco and R&B. But it sounded new, different.

Bronski Beat’s original lineup didn’t last long; Mr. Somerville left the band in 1985. But Mr. Bronski continued to make music, with Mr. Steinbachek for a time and with others over the years including “Hit That Perfect Beat” a hit. in Britain and elsewhere in 1986 and a dance hall favorite ever since. Mr Whaley said that although Bronski Beat’s best-known songs have gay-centric lyrics, “their appeal has gone beyond the limits of sexual alignment.”

“Everyone nodded and danced to their music,” he said.

Mr. Bronski was born Steven Forrest on February 7, 1960 in Glasgow. He had traveled to London in the early 1980s, where he had met Mr. Somerville and Mr. Steinbachek.

“It was a lot easier to live in London,” he told Classic Pop magazine in 2019, explaining why he and other gay men had drawn to the city, “because there was a scene flourishing gay compared to other parts of the country “.

Information on the survivors was not available.

In 2017, more than three decades after the release of “The Age of Consent”, the only album with original Bronski Beat lineup, Mr. Bronski teamed up with Stephen Granville and Ian Donaldson to release the album “The Age of Reason “under the Bronski Beat name, revisiting songs from the original album and adding new tracks.

“I think a lot of the songs are as relevant today as they were all those years ago,” he told The Gay Times.

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