It’s hard to believe that Ari Up is dead.
Only 49 and at the peak of her creative powers.
The Slits frontwoman was one of those forces of nature that would fill a room like a hurricane of energy.
She came out of punk unstoppable and leaves an amazing catalogue of great records and ideas.
I interviewed her a few times and would always come away feeling energised and inspired. This went for her music as well.
The Slits (even the name took no prisoners in the cock obsessed world of old school rock n roll) are one of the key bands that came out of punk. One of the great things about the disparate movement was that it was not the usual lads club that music gets bogged down with.
In punk the way that women made music, on their own terms, in their own way was inspirational- not only to woman but to men as well. It could be argued that this was the most revolutionary thing that came out of punk and Ari Up was right in the middle of this with the Slits.
The band was formed in 1976 right at the heart of movement. They were surrounded by members of the Clash and the Sex Pistols and initially took their cues from the greats before re-inventing punk in the purest possible terms.
They were no mere liggers hitching a ride, they were making music that was more revolutionary than their peers and in many ways defined what punk really was.
I loved their punky reggae party, the way they took dub bottom end and combined it with the shrapnel guitar and prose of punk and made something utterly original and if it ironically took a male drummer called Budgie to eventually define those feminine rhythms they talked about- well it worked, it really worked.
Their records never dated, the initial Peel session where they could barely play were a revelation, I still remember being hooked on it when it was first played now. The songs were dislocated cut and paste punk pop, great tunes and in your face attitude played in a new way. The debut album was smoother but no less inventive- that classic take on Marvin Gaye’s ‘Heard It through the Grapevine’ with Ari’s amazing soaring, sweeping vocals- cramming invention into space- total genius- nothing remotely sounded like her…it was all classic stuff- re-writing the rule book in what could be done in music.
The Slits proved that you didn’t have to be a demure dolly bird to make music- this was a revelation in the deathly dull seventies. Ari Up changed what a woman in the public eye could be- the fact that people could wear what the fuck you liked and look out of control and still look amazing changed perceptions. There was Ari Up with her bird’s nest hair and attitude and her wardrobe from hell and she looked fantastic and her fuck you attitude empowered so many people.
They could have had it all but with fantastic attitude they burned brightly and went on their own idiosyncratic paths, Ari deeper into the dub with several side projects- each fascinating and genius. And that’s the crux of the matter, no matter how much they changed attitudes to making music the word genius is still reserved for men. Ari was a true revolutionary and genius and I took as much energy and inspiration from her as any of the blokes in punk.
The reformed Slits a couple of years ago were a revelation, they updated their sound without copying anyone and the shows were packed and thrilling, musically light years ahead and finally getting recognition with a potential Grammy (fuck that- we know how great they were!) and Ari Up still irrepressible- owning the stage and looking cool as fuck with endless dreads and crazy skanking. So full of life, sex and energy.
Inspirational, beautiful and free.
Ari Up RIP.
It’s hard to believe that Ari Up is dead.
Manchester Deaf Institute
Oct 12th 2009
In these strict times it’s great to see a band cutting gloriously loose and the Slits are loose. Not in an un-together way- their musicianship is amazing- bass goddess Tessa is awesome- big, loping, dub bass lines played with a fingered precision she has got to be one of the best bass players out there and the new members of the crew are equally fab. Guitarist Michelle Hill’s clipped scratching six string is so precise and the drumming has the classic Slits time changes nailed. Where the Slits rule over any other band, though, is their joyous, celebratory looseness- a deliberate capturing of the moment that most bands seem too dogmatic, too stiff and too scared to pull off.
This mostly comes from Ari Up, who is a dynamic force of nature. With her endless dreads and gold hot pants she cuts a powerful figure and her instinctive feel is fantastically opposite to the earnest plod of male bands with their whole dullard approach to music. Ari Up is so alive that the room brims with her glowing energy. The Slits make you feel super alive with their punk reagge party. If Ari Up feels like walking onstage and singing along with the music getting played over the PA she will. If she feels like inviting a drunk from the crowd on stage to dance with her ‘pom pom; she will, if the Slits songs need a sudden time change from punk to dub to free jazz then they will have one. The band teeters on chaos but a deliberate chaos like the free jazz genius of the fifties. This is not a messy mess but a brilliantly instinctive sound tracking of he moment that pulls you in, a joyous celebration of life and sex that is always utterly compulsive.
Formed in the heart of punk in 1976 the Slits were friends of the Clash and the Pistols, they cut one classic album, ‘Cut’ that has the unique trick of never dating. They fused punk and reggae into one big party and made ‘femi rhythms’ naturally opposed to the plodding 4/4’s of bloke rock. Ari Up was a tangled haired, in your face teenage tearaway and the band were brilliantly going in ten directions at once. Their second album ‘Return Of the Giant Slits’ was esoteric freak jazz with dub undertones that confused nearly everybody but still sounds amazing to this day.
The reformation of the band was great news, it’s really cool to see Tessa up there playing the bass again and if her and Ari are the only original members it doesn’t really matter. The Slits were revolutionary they rewrote the rulebook then providing an extraordinary template for all the best woman to plunder in the last thirty years (and a big inspiration to a lot of bloke rockers who were felling it).
If in 1977 they were too free and wild for most people they almost sound like a pop band in 2009. With added keyboard player Hollie (daughter of Pistols drummer Paul Cook) there is a great dynamic onstage with her and Ari Up trading off vocals that are so imaginative and clever that it leaves you gasping. Hollie has a natural charisma that is powerful enough not to be washed away by Ari’s tidal wave of presence and her vocals are perfect for the Slits experience.
The Slits stuff more melody and great ideas into their songs than most bands manage in a lifetime, their off kilter rhythms are dance detonators and the whole punky reaggae vibe has the hall bouncing. Fusing the best of both forms of rebel music the Slits have created a unique and brilliant hybrid that sets them apart from everyone else.
Of course they played ‘Heard It through The Grapevine’ and it it’s still an amazing version- for me better than the original with its time changes and hyper singing. ‘Typical Girls’ is devilish and the new songs from their upcoming third album are as original and brilliant as anything in their career
The Slits are a stunning live experience and the just released third album should hopefully see them breakthrough into a musical landscape that is potentially far more welcoming than when they were first running free around the circuit in the late seventies. That is if the cowards that run the radio dare to play something as thrilling and as alive as this.
In the meantime go and see the Slits live.