Punk chick pioneers
Back and as mad as ever - the Slits.
Photo: Chris Woo
Rock has overlooked the Slits, writes Anthony Carew.
IN THE annals of rock'n'roll, the Clash and the Slits are portrayed in vastly different ways. The Clash are musical geniuses who authored a unique hybrid of punk and reggae. The Slits - who did much the same, possibly slightly ahead of the Clash - are a bunch of crazy chicks who got their kit off for the cover of their debut album.
At best, this popular portrayal is a mild misrepresentation. At worst, it's a case of flagrant gender bias.
"It's always the boys," says Ari Up, in an accent equal parts German (reflecting her country of birth, as Arianna Foster) and Jamaican (where she has spent much of her adult life).
The 44-year-old vocalist was only 14 when the Slits started as an all-girl quintet in London as punk-rock was beginning.
"We were prepared to battle the whole world, we knew that when we walked down the street we were in danger of being beaten up," she recalls, of their beginnings.
The teenaged Slits were taken under the wing of both the Sex Pistols and the Clash, the latter the "big brothers" who took the Slits on their first tour in 1977. But, 30 years on, she's tired of being overlooked.
"The Clash, they're great, I'm not trying to diminish them or anything, but while people always call them this musical hybrid, that same thing should be said about us, and it only seems like it isn't because of gender," Up says.
"We definitely changed music forever. When we did the reggae, we really hit the reggae on the real tip, we really wiped out that connection between reggae and punk. It shouldn't be played up like we were just this gimmick, these crazy girls who couldn't really play.
"We're like the missing link in the history of music. I watched the Grammys the other day and I was thinking: 'Where are the Slits?' They should be at the Grammys because there was the Police, who used to be a warm-up band for us, and Sting was a huge fan of the Cut album, he said he loved the drums of Budgie. And of course the Hot Chili Peppers were there, winning something and playing, and they're huge fans of the Slits, and were truly inspired by us."
In the 25 years since their break-up, the music of the Slits has persisted. The bigwigs of the recent disco-punk renaissance - Out Hud, the Rapture - all cited them as an influence. And go to any dance-rock club-night populated by kids in tight trousers and striped T-shirts, and you're bound to hear the Slits' two most evergreen songs: the five-minute percussion workout In the Beginning there Was Rhythm, and their punk-reggae cover of I Heard It through the Grapevine.
In 2005, Up decided to reform the band, which included original bassist Tessa Pollitt as well as Holly Cook and Lauren Jones, daughters of the Sex Pistols' Paul Cook and the Clash's Mick Jones.
While she doesn't care what audiences make of them, Up is keen to point out "we're not nostalgia".
"You're gonna know real quick that we're not retro.
"We're like a whole new band. And we're just as mad now as we were then."