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Femalefront.com - The Slits

Femalefront.com - The Slits

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Published by Gregg D'Albert
An appreciation of the band The Slits, originally published on femalefront.com in 2005, and retrieved from archive.org.
An appreciation of the band The Slits, originally published on femalefront.com in 2005, and retrieved from archive.org.

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Categories:Types, Reviews, Music
Published by: Gregg D'Albert on Jan 28, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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http://w w w .arhythmius.com/slits.html 2 captures
12 Jul 06 - 20 Jul 06

Special Artists: The Slits
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Hail to

The Slits
Honoring the one band that made this station possible.

Viv, Ari-Up, Tessa and Palmolive of The Slits

Most music-lovers have at least one legendary band or artist in their favorite genre who, for one reason or another, they've never actually heard. These bands are frequently cited by top artists as major influences, and so their names are kept alive; but their music still does not get played anywhere. There is one prime example of a band that is paradoxically both influential and ignored, without even the name recognition that a male band like the Buzzcocks have, but arguably more important. And it is to my disappointment (and a bit of embarrassment) that I had never heard a full album by this band until now. For, before there was such a thing as New Wave, and long before anyone could conceive of bands like Hole, L7, The GoGo's, or indeed any artist played on this station... there were The Slits.
The infamous "Cut" album cov er

They were true Punk Rock. Formed in 1976, they were friends of the Sex Pistols and The Clash. They were amateur musicians, but they had nobody to copy; so they invented a new sound all by themselves. And they were all girls. The term "girls" is meant literally: singer Ari-Up (aka Ariana Forster) was only 14 when she formed the band with drummer Palmolive (Paloma Romero). Fourteen!! (When I was 14, I was throwing rocks at my neighbor, Robbie Joyner...or maybe that was someone else.) The band was filled out by guitarist




Special Artists: The Slits
Viv Albertine and bassist Tessa Pollitt. Although they had no female role models (other than Patti Smith, perhaps), they certainly were being influenced by the scene around them; in fact, Johnny Rotten would become Ari-Up's stepfather. And although the girls were neck-deep in the UK Punk scene, the band 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 reissued 1979 album Cut. "We consciously thought about getting girl rhythms into music and concluded that 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 and bombastic -- both behind the drum kit, and apparently everywhere else as well. Despite their obvious inexperience with musical instruments, the band's energy and dedication were infectious, and they gained 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 an unprecedented and highly anticipated band, they could only get a one-record deal. This modest commercial aspiration was too much for drummer Palmolive, who left the band rather than being perceived 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 Bromley Contingent -- 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 new songs, 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, yet despite what I had heard about it, it is definitely not 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. Looking back, one would think that the album cover alone would have guaranteed it platinum sales. Featuring Ari-Up, Viv and Tessa covered in mud and wearing nothing but skimpy homemade loincloths, it is the sort of thing that these days would be singled out for scorn by Christians for Prudish and Barren Lifestyles, or some such bullshit "parental advocacy" group. As Viv relates in the liner notes, the album cover resulted from a happy coincidence of a female photographer 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 being anti-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. The album marked the introduction of the genre that is now known as World Beat. Like Cut, it was way ahead of its time; and like the previous album, it was sadly ignored. "Return" has been re-issued by a thoughtful Japanese company, and is available in the US as an import. After that, The Slits quietly disbanded. Ari-Up, distressed from making little professional headway while 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 Dancehall Reggae heroine performing under the name Medusa. Now a fit mother of three, she recently returned to New 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 Rock band of any note, The Slits set the standard for every female rocker who would come after. Many noted artists name-check them, and they are acknowledged by musicologists as true originators. Which makes it all the more shameful 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 tragically ignored by too many in the industry and the public.




Special Artists: The Slits
Fortunately, my eyes have been opened, and as a fan of modern female artists, I also owe a great deal to The Slits. Perhaps if they had truly been huge, then others would have followed; and radio and the record industry and the listening public would be more open to, and respectful of, female rockers. And perhaps I wouldn't need to run a radio station on the internet at my own expense, just to get some of these female artists heard. Nevertheless, The Slits did what they did, and they were truly Punk. They were also musical originators, and nobody can take that away from them. To Viv, Tessa and Ari-Up: Thank you!
Update: Ari-Up has seen this site, and thanked me for the tribute to The Slits! This is now the greatest thing to happen to me since the John Peel email incident (see below). Special thanks to Ari's assistant Megan, who got her Luddite friend to check out the site. Rock on!



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