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Delta 5's Julz Sale had complete control

With her humor and wit, Julz Sale (center) helped Delta 5 craft a high-voltage sound that, to this day, still rings true.
Courtesy of Kill Rock Stars
With her humor and wit, Julz Sale (center) helped Delta 5 craft a high-voltage sound that, to this day, still rings true.

Julz Sale, singer and guitarist for British post-punk band Delta 5, died in September — but in this live video from 1980, she is a perpetual force. Performing the now cult-classic single "Mind Your Own Business" alongside bandmate Bethan Peters, Sale chants "BUS! NESS!" with a ferocity that suggests she's inventing an entirely new word. In truth, Sale was a mother of invention, because in the crowded Leeds post-punk scene — and for those who discovered her much later — her role was a necessary one. Her impact was such that it only took two years and a small handful of singles for Delta 5 to craft a high-voltage sound that, to this day, still rings true (and is often emulated).

Sale was 63 years old and living in Thailand, where she taught English, when she died after a short fight with cancer. Her brother, Marc, confirmed the news to NPR. After initial reports of her death circulated online in September, Delta 5's labels, Kill Rock Stars and Rough Trade, both confirmed her passing. "Julz Sale's contribution to punk, post-punk and music at large will be felt forever," Kill Rock Stars' statement reads. "She was a delight to know and will be missed immensely." In 2006, the label revived some of Delta 5's most obscure material for the first time with a compilation titled Singles & Sessions: 1979–1981.

Rough Trade's tribute quotes "Mind Your Own Business," originally released by the label in 1979. In a testament to its enduring and timeless appeal, the track experienced a resurgence in popularity after being featured in a 2021 Apple ad about iPhone security.

Fitting, because with its infectious, lightning-quick groove, "Mind Your Own Business" isn't just a song, it's a dare. Sale and Peters deliver dueling vocals with unprecedented attitude and scathing wit. "Can I lick the crumbs from your table?" the two women shout with a sharp, flippant sarcasm. Four decades and many imitations later, the words still cut.

Delta 5 emerged from the same late-'70s Leeds University art scene as close friends and collaborators Gang of Four and the Mekons — but with three women and two basses at the forefront, their brand of angular dance-punk stood out. With "Mind Your Own Business" and subsequent singles like "You" and "Try" the band developed a detached, distinctly feminine style that was cool, confident and unapologetic. As biting as she could be behind the mic, Sale had natural comedic timing; "You" drips with her jagged scorn, turning the concept of cheating on its head. "Who was seen with somebody else? Who likes sex only on Sundays? YOU!" she quips. Her freedom is contagious, her winking resolve, tenacious.

"In Britain, the 1970s felt like one long crisis," Simon Reynolds writes in Rip It Up and Start Again, opening a chapter about post-punk in Leeds. For Sale and Delta 5, that crisis was personal. At the time of the band's inception, far-right sentiment was rising in England, and especially in Leeds, which had become a northern base for the fascist National Front and neo-Nazi organizations. Though the group was transparent in its feminism and active in the Rock Against Racism movement, there were no overt political references in Delta 5's songs. Instead, Delta 5 weaponised cleverness and humor to help make sense of a senseless society; Sale's guitar parts weren't so much riffs as they were electric shocks, jolting bolts of raw energy into music that was singularly honest and joyous for its time.

After Delta 5 disbanded in 1981 — leaving behind just one album, See the Whirl — most of its members, including Sale, who taught Thai children in a government school for more than 25 years, remained absent from public life. Peters has crept up occasionally; she was quoted in Vivien Goldman's 2019 book, Revenge of the She-Punks, reminiscing about Delta 5's "rudimentary approach to everything." But Sale? Perhaps she had said all she needed to say.

Sale's pointed, light-hearted approach to punk still casts a shadow; bands like Shonen Knife, Dum Dum Girls and Habibi have all put their spin on Delta 5 classics, and an endless string of post-punk (and post-post-punk?) revival bands keep borrowing from her fractured guitars and effortlessly evocative vocals. But there's no mistaking Sale's original, defiant voice — made even stronger when she and Peters used theirs together. "Can I interfere in your crisis?" they once asked, examining the chaos around them and maintaining their own defense: "No! Mind your own business."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Loren DiBlasi