Viv Albertine and bassist Tessa Pollitt. Although they had no female role models (other than PattiSmith, perhaps), they certainly were being influenced by the scene around them; in fact, Johnny Rottenwould become Ari-Up's stepfather. And although the girls were neck-deep in the UK Punk scene, theband fortunately managed to avoid any professional involvement with Malcolm McLaren.
From the outset, The Slits knew that they were originals, and they set out to live up to that knowledge.Punk Rock was still new, and it was all about trashing musical boundaries as well as musical venues.Yet even within this atmosphere of invention and re-invention, The Slits were determined to be different."We didn't want to follow male rhythms and structures," says Ari-up in the liner notes to the recently re-issued 1979 album Cut. "We consciously thought about getting girl rhythms into music and concludedthat female rhythms were probably not as steady, structured, or as contained as male rhythms."Hence the tempo changes and staccato percussion arrangements of many of their songs.
Early on, though, the band's musical reach exceeded its grasp. Palmolive's style was heavy andbombastic -- both behind the drum kit, and apparently everywhere else as well. Despite their obviousinexperience with musical instruments, the band's energy and dedication were infectious, and theygained some popular and critical acclaim with the release of their Peel Sessions disc (now re-issued).
After that, the major record labels came calling, and The Slits had their pick of recording deals;eventually they chose Island Records because of the diversity of artists on the label. But even as anunprecedented and highly anticipated band, they could only get a one-record deal. This modestcommercial aspiration was too much for drummer Palmolive, who left the band rather than beingperceived as a sellout.Her replacement was Budgie, a respected member of the local scene, and future Banshees drummer and husband of Siouxsie Sioux. (Siouxsie herself was at this time still a member of The BromleyContingent -- not a band, but a group of Sex Pistols fans who had gained a notoriety all their own.)With the addition of Budgie, the band's creativity and cohesiveness soared. They composed newsongs, developed their live act, and in 1978 went on the road with The Clash.
After the tour, The Slits retreated to the rural Ridge Farm Studios to begin recording Cut, their album for Island. They brought in producer Dennis Bovell, who was perhaps best known as a reggae producer,and the creative sparks flew. (My impressions of Cut: The reggae influence is plainly apparent, yetdespite what I had heard about it, it is definitely
a reggae album. Ari-Up's distinctive voice and"callback" vocal arrangements are edgy, different, and -- Punkers, please don't kill me for saying this --cute.)
The Slits did a big-budget tour of the UK in support of Cut. Although the album cracked the UK top 30,it didn't become the sensation that it deserved to, and that many people thought it would. Lookingback, one would think that the album cover alone would have guaranteed it platinum sales. FeaturingAri-Up, Viv and Tessa covered in mud and wearing nothing but skimpy homemade loincloths, it is thesort of thing that these days would be singled out for scorn by Christians for Prudish and BarrenLifestyles, or some such bullshit "parental advocacy" group.As Viv relates in the liner notes, the album cover resulted from a happy coincidence of a femalephotographer who made the bandmates feel at ease, and an African friend of the manager, who earlier had taught them how to make their own loincloths. Ironically, some people criticized The Slits as beinganti-feminist for posing nearly nude, thus proving that you can't please everybody.
The Slits would release one more album, Return of the Giant Slits, in 1981 under CBS. Thealbum marked the introduction of the genre that is now known as World Beat. Like Cut, it was wayahead of its time; and like the previous album, it was sadly ignored. "Return" has been re-issued by athoughtful Japanese company, and is available in the US as an import.
After that, The Slits quietly disbanded. Ari-Up, distressed from making little professional headwaywhile crappy acts flourished around her, literally dropped out of society and lived in the jungles of Borneo and Belize. Eventually, she re-emerged in Jamaica, and became a DancehallReggae heroine performing under the name Medusa. Now a fit mother of three, she recently returned toNew York, where she performs once again as Ari-Up (and is occasionally joined onstage by her youngest son, Wilton).As not only the first all-girl Punk band, but also possibly the first all-girl
band of any note, TheSlits set the standard for every female rocker who would come after. Many noted artists name-checkthem, and they are acknowledged by musicologists as true originators. Which makes it all the moreshameful how overlooked they were in their day. Whether because of chauvanistic business practices,or their music being ahead of its time (and most likely a combination of both), The Slits were tragicallyignored by too many in the industry and the public.
1/26/2011 Special Artists: The Slitsreplay.waybackmachine.org/…/slits.html 2/3