Ari Up R.I.P.
Fuck. I don’t know what to write. This lady has been such a major influence on my entire adult life. She was younger than me. Ariane Forster, aka Ari Up, died yesterday, after a serious illness. The news was announced via John Lydon’s website a few minutes ago. I’ll miss her. Right up to her final single, she was vital.
Ariane Forster was born January 1, 1962, and died October 20, 2010.
Here are a few things I’ve written about her over the years.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 31, 2010
Well, duh. I finally purchased the reissue of The Slits’ first album Cut – with a little hesitation, truth be told, as I already own various versions of it several times – and Powers alive, if the eight-track demos on the bonus CD don’t sound even better than the original. (As Jack Endino wryly remarks on Facebook, “The eight-track demos are ALWAYS better than the album”.) But how can that be? The original is, hands down, one of the 10 most influential records of my life, no denying no denying no denying. Wow.
It’s as Au Pairs once sung, “They’re equal but different”.
So yeah. I thought I should shove a song up from the album to celebrate. And repost a review of a show in Brighton I wrote about several years ago for Careless Talk Costs Lives. I’d love it if someone could scan in and upload the Jon Slade illustration that originally accompanied the article.
Video first, then review.
Pressure Point, Brighton
It wasn’t meant to happen like this.
Don’t revisit your childhood. Don’t revisit the past. The Slits were brilliant because they were bratty teenage girls who happened to chance upon a few universal musical truths – spontaneity is at the heart, make others jealous, dub is great for dancing, grasp your opportunities, men are scared, nothing wrong with sexuality, be yourselves, screaming is fun, punk is fun, what matters is the sounds you make from your instruments not how adept you are at playing them, no one can play guitar like a woman, irritation is a weapon too, typical girls make noise and smells… and so on. Their music was revolutionary because they were so naturally irreverent towards accepted (male) rock history: they didn’t give a shit.
Fast forward to 2003: two girls have replaced Tessa and Viv, rolling their eyes and vowels, bouncing up and down exuberantly, screaming and laughing and swigging bottles, and Warrior Princess Ariane is pouring water down her knickers, flashing her butt to the sound of female fans whistling, tall and proud and erect in her dreadlocks and swaddled garb, cajoling and pleading with the soundman to give her more monitor sound – “because for tonight the monitor is my lover and I want to fuck all of you” – rocking steadily back and forth as the punk-reggae Jamaican sound of her backing band (ace ska revivalists The Slackers) pulsates low and heady, a constant flow of audience members climbing on stage to clap and sing along as she pleads to “Kill Them With Love”, mock-grinding with Large Local Dude as he brilliantly freestyle toasts, breathlessly ricocheting her way through old Slits numbers “Love And Romance” and “Shoplifting” (everyone’s favourite London guitarist, Debbie Smith adding extra oomph), stamping and smiling, complaining that she’s being rushed off stage and her “pom-pom” is suffering from the stress, facing off lewd suggestions with counter suggestions that the man in question should get on stage, “but I’m warning you, I haven’t had sex in ages and I feel really horny”, a dervish in white and bare legs, lost within the deep dub groove of “Man Next Door”, a dozen fans video-ing and snapping, Tessa foremost among them, laughingly refusing all exhortations to join Ari on stage until Debbie lifts her bodily up there during “Heard It Through The Grapevine”, lesbians dancing linked shoulder-to-shoulder with the surrogate Slits, all voices equal and lascivious and lusty, screaming and giggling and slipping into patois, Debbie telling us that she worked out what Ari says at the end of “Shoplifting” – “I’ve pissed my knickers”…
It wasn’t meant to happen like this.
There are no revisits of the past but a fluid motion on and upwards, drawing on experience and revelling in songs that are fucking 5,000,000,000,000,000,031 times more classic and challenging and influential than anything The Clash or Sex Pistols managed. Ari teasingly refuses to play “Number One Enemy” (“too complicated”) or “Typical Girls” (“not enough girls here”) and no one asks for “In The Beginning There Was Rhythm” (although one fan starts to cheekily sing its gorgeous “Silence is a rhythm too”refrain over one of Ariane’s newer songs), but the newer numbers…! This, to a generation mostly too young to recall the wild punk dub of 1979 Ladbroke Grove sound systems – and then she splays forward into “FM” (“Frequent mutilation/Transmits over the air/Serving for the purpose/Of those who want you to fear”) and it ain’t possible to resist, feet have been pounding a rhythm to the brain for eons now, staggering back and forth and smiling, Oh my God, smiling, because this is a reaffirmation of everything I ever believed to be true and fun and VITAL to rock/reggae/jazz/party/dub music, and nothing can overcome the shock of seeing Ari strut around in her warrior garb and heels, the countless asides, the water poured over her body and dreads, the righteous mayhem, the playful chants, the surrogate Slits having a fucking ball…
I’m not denying I’m prejudiced. This, after all, is the band that made me want to move up to London – all those salacious squeals and shouts of glee on “Shoplifting”: “Ten quid for the lot and we paid… [altogether now]… FUCK ALL!” This is the band that introduced me to the idea of women and girls as being invested with sexuality – not fashion parade sterility, not male fantasy bondage, not public school “whore or the angel” pedestal shit – but glorious, unafraid, smelly, unpredictable SEXUALITY, not that I ever found Slits sexy cos they were too damn important to me… and I’m not denying that that’s a failing that has stuck with me throughout my life, that I divorce sex from value…
So I rush home – no I don’t, I hang around, entirely star-struck and bewildered, me and 50 other fans, all waiting for The Word, any word, but of course the absolute crushing delight of The Slits and Ariane and all of this spontaneity and ribaldry and LIFE is that they are us and we are them and that there never were any barriers except perhaps they had slightly more famous partners than us – and I send an email to a couple of my closest allies, too shocked to make sense, desperate once more to communicate a love for music and rhythm and fun and joy and air that runs deeper than anything I can name. Back at home, my wife loves the sight of me bubbling over, happiness etched in every pore. Whatever. THIS IS MUSIC, THIS IS RHYTHM… THIS IS ETERNAL LIFE. The email runs somewhat like this…
Oh my God. Ari Up is INCREDIBLE onstage. Such presence! Watch her now, and begin to understand why Everett True was into all the women that followed – Courtney has nothing on her: there’s nothing artificial or faked about Ari, her warmth and craziness and spontaneity. She has such command, so many flights of pure fancy. At any point she had about eight crowd members up on stage, dancing, singing, toasting… She’s dirty – but in a natural way. Dirty isn’t the correct description: like she ain’t aiming to turn us on except that of course she is because it’s implicit in the air she breathes and the music she feels, but she’s dirty only inasmuch as someone trampling all over neatly arranged flower borders is dirty. She’s so inspirational – watch her and understand why Everett True was into all the Riot Grrrls that followed. Half Slits songs, half Jamaican punk/reggae style, my favourite moment was when she bewailed the loss of her old guitarist, “Because no one is able to play guitar like a woman”.
Dance? Oh My God! Did we dance!
Of course it wasn’t meant to happen like this. I had the entire review worked out in my head – “This is The Slits,” it was going to run, “This isn’t The Slits…” – all ponderous and secure and measured. In a few swift beats, Ari once more removed the safety balance of convention from beneath my feet. WHO THE FUCK CARES WHAT NAME YOU GIVE THIS! This is rhythm. This is life.
POSTED BY JERRY AT 11:10 AM
The Slits Trapped Animal
Album. Released 26 October 2009.
This is as good as can be expected – and fortunately, that is pretty good.
Everett True 2009-11-25
The Slits never were much ones for standing on convention. The (mostly) all-girl outfit might be associated with 70s punk rock, but they were always way more anarchistic and fun than the norm.
Their first album, 1979’s laidback, subversive and life-changing Cut, was produced by renowned reggae dude Dennis Bovell. It delved into the heady groove of Don Letts’ Ladbroke Grove rude boy sound systems, topped by Ari’s infectious giggle and high-pitched screams. This was followed by a wilfully experimental, untitled, un-sleeved but totally lovable album and 1981’s much underrated Return of the Giant Slits, which revealed that dub visions of The Mad Professor and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry ran deep.
Fast-forward to 2005, and it’s time for a reunion. Pollitt and Up return, grab a few friends (including, temporarily, Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook) and record an EP, Revenge of the Killer Slits. They’ve since been touring, and now we’ve the first Slits album in over 25 years.
The only real question that needs to be asked, bearing in mind this heady lineage, is: is Trapped Animal worthy of the Slits moniker? You need to ask? This is The Slits we’re talking about – they don’t know how to stand still, they don’t do ordinary. These ladies do not pretend to be anyone they are not. These songs are about issues that concern them, right now – no pretence to be sweet young things (not that they ever were). These are songs dealing with everyday trials and tribulations (‘Had a Day’, the norm-skewering ‘Pay Rent’). These are songs for 2009, not 1979 – and that’s perhaps the highest compliment of all.
On the turbulent ‘Reggae Gypsy’, the music is reminiscent of New Age Steppers’ loose groove – unsurprising, given the amount of fresh faces given voice – while the devastatingly sweet lover’s rock of ‘Cry Baby’ could almost be a ‘Fade Away’ for today. Often, the music has an almost unsettling sexual charge with a 00s slant – provocative brass opens the energetic Ask Ma and helps bolster the bouncy, satirical cry of rage ‘Peer Pressure’.
Sometimes, the music veers into ‘Number One Enemy’ (from the untitled album) territory: especially the brash ‘Reject’ and croaky, meandering ‘Can’t Relate’. And sometimes, wonderfully, the music recalls the underrated third album: especially on the deep mellow groove of ‘Babylon’ and ‘Be It’. But is this album worthy of the Slits moniker, 25 years on?
(from Plan B Magazine #28)
Return Of The Giant Slits (Blast First Petite)
Some stuff you should know about The Slits:
Singer Ari Up’s stepfather was John Lydon. Wait, hold on. Ari Up was 14 when she formed The Slits in 1976 (she was 17 when their debut album Cut came out). Drummer Palmolive dated Joe Strummer for two years, around the time of The Clash/Slits/Subway Sect White Riot tour in ’76. Ari Up’s grandfather was very rich indeed (she was born in Germany). Lily Allen has claimed that Slits bassist Tessa Pollitt is her godmother. Hold up. Does any of this matter? Even if The Slits had split without entering the studio, bootlegs of their early performances – some of which later resurfaced on Rough Trade – would prove them to be the most ‘punk’ of all the 1976 punk bands: irritating, free-spirited, fully imaginative, spontaneous, given to wild bursts of creativity. As it is, debut single, 1979’s ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ (double A-side with ‘Typical Girls’) is the finest cover of a Motown song ever, and Cut was the album that made me want to move up to London.
Palmolive left shortly after Cut and (similar to Janet Weiss 20 years later when she was simultaneously in Sleater-Kinney, Quasi and The Go-Betweens) only went and helped The Raincoats record their debut, thus being responsible for the two finest albums from the late Seventies, bar none. Ari Up formed New Age Steppes, which did a very fine line in female-fronted dub indeed (and helped kick-start Neneh Cherry’s career) and also got caught up in that whole Bristol scene (notably The Pop Group).
This you already know. If not, then put this magazine down, go online and order Cut and the 1980 live album Typical Girls. Seriously, do it now. OK…
Well, I cherish Wikipedia as much as any jobbing hack – more, probably, seeing as how I get paid minimal for sourcing it – but this is where me and that repository part company. I look up the entry for this, The Slits’ second album – released in September 1981 on CBS, a few months before they split – and it says that, by the time of this release, “Many felt that their initial energy, exuberance and innovativeness had deserted them”. Many? Who? Where are these ‘many’ detractors, cos I sure ain’t encountered any round these parts, least not those who’ve actually heard this record.
Most everyone who’s ever picked up a Kathleen Hanna diatribe or partied to The Gossip or understood Kurt Cobain’s musical taste, will have heard of Cut. It’s infectious, sassy, riotous – a perfect collusion of attitude and reggae producer Dennis Bovell’s spacious dub sound: squeals and laughter and carefree social commentary. It is one of the cornerstones of my musical taste. But wait. Here’s the thing…The Return Of The Giant Slits is possibly even better.
It’s certainly different. I can sort of understand why its detractors might think it jaded: it sounds more grown-up, more focused, with even wider spaces in between the merriment. It has a purpose, a consistent framework. Where Cut sometimes seemed to be running unchecked from one bout of mischief to the next, The Return Of… feels positively sedate in comparison. Mannered. Mature. It doesn’t sound like an album made by a bunch of teen girls – but here’s the rub. It wasn’t made by a bunch of teen girls (um, Ari Up aside). There’s space for the ideas to breathe and grow, and for new sounds and instruments to be added, for the input of Pop Group drummer Bruce Smith and left-field improviser Steve Beresford, and also visionary dub producer/manager Dick O’Dell (the man behind ace dance label Y Records). Sure, the two records have a different energy – but why wouldn’t they? They’re made by different people, at different stages of their lives: The Slits’ influences had progressed from Don Letts’ heavy dub reggae sound systems that so brilliantly helped soundtrack the early punk revolution in ’76’/77 to African beats and the ever-omniscient musical adventurism of Sun Ra.
Songs like (second single) ‘Earthbeat’ had a deep rhythm and joy the equal of the Gaye cover; ‘Face Place’ starts with sonorous brass before fragmenting and breaking into shards of expression and squeaky little toy sounds and melodica, a touch of old school laughter and off-mic noises and squealing dominating the vocal mix; ‘Animal Space/Spacier’ had already seen life before as a Human Records single, but here it’s more playful, given a coda at the end where it can spread and soar: ‘Improperly Dressed’ is a cautionary tale of travelling the tube late at night – you can hear echoes of Björk within its tribal drumming and echoed brass refrains: ‘Life On Earth’ stutters and swaggers and squirms in self-delight.
This way-overdue reissue also boats a bonus album – no less than five versions of ‘Earthbeat’ (none of which have paled yet), a welcome reworking of ‘In The Beginning There Was Rhythm’ called ‘Begin Again Rhythm’ (cue line: “SILENCE IS A RHYTHM TOO”), a pointless radio interview, and in the grand tradition of Studio One B-sides which reworked the A-side as an instrumental dub version, ‘Dub Beat’. (Sadly, no sadly, ‘Man Next Door’ or ‘In The Beginning…’ itself.)
Listen up. Most of you probably didn’t even know this album existed. You’re in for a treat. Reissue of the year, this side of Young Marble Giants and Pylon.
(from Plan B Magazine #30)
music that time forgot: new age steppers
Words: Everett True
In 1981, the debut, self-titled album from New Age Steppers was released.
I wasn’t aware of it, far as I can recall. This was odd, as it featured members of several of my favourite groups (The Pop Group, The Slits, The Raincoats, The Flying Lizards), plus musicians from Creation Rebel and Aswad – and it sounded pretty much as good as that implies. Maybe there was too much else going on (The Birthday Party, Blurt, Crass, Postcard Records) for me to pay attention, maybe the wrong journalists praised it, I don’t know – but it was some miss. It wilfully straddled the fertile ground between The Slits’ two studio albums (it appeared halfway between them): patchy, sure – but also heady, dope-addled, spacious, dub-heavy, adventurous, produced by Adrian Sherwood, with spiralling, high-pitched vocals from Ari Up and assertive, distorted vocals from The Pop Group’s Mark Stewart, plus a few genial instrumental tracks.
New Age Steppers contained a Slits track (‘Animal Space’, stretched way out of shape), a future cult single B-side (music journalist Vivien Goldman’s awesome, paranoid ‘Private Armies’, recorded amid PiL’s Flowers Of Romance sessions, with a searing Keith Levine guitar), bicycle bells, the sound of kettles boiling, a track that would, 20 years later, become a mainstay of my DJ set (the melodious, mellifluous ‘Fade Away’) and enough experimental excellence to keep the tapes running for a full 43 minutes. It was clearly inspired by the good-natured dub madness of Studio One and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, and in time served as a welcome introduction to same.
But in 1981, I was sadly bereft of my dub fix: reggae was still mostly alien to ears sullied by 10cc (‘Dreadlock Holiday’) and too many Police TOTP appearances, and Peel’s championing of all that Jamaican stuff was too hardcore for ears more accustomed to the asexual groove of James Chance and the New York No Wave ‘heads. Although I did love Linton Kwesi Johnson’s inspired dub rants, and James Blood Ulmer…but who didn’t? And, of course, The Slits’ debut, Cut, was a mainstay even then – but I was coming at it far more from The Raincoats’ angle, than producer Dennis Bovell’s…but you have to understand something. The Clash championed reggae back then and their combat fatigues were enough to turn anyone off.
I eventually ceded defeat in 1982, and bought the debut New Age Steppers seven-inch (first release on On-U, backed by London Underground), quickly followed by the Crucial 90 Statik cassette for £5.99 from Jim Thirwell’s underground tape counter in Virgin Oxford Walk, packaged in lurid yellow and with a free poster to boot. One side of the cassette, marked with a yellow dot, was New Age Steppers. And that was fucking great. The other (marked by pink) was its slightly more conventional follow-up, Action Battlefield, which featured the indelible single ‘My Love’, and Neneh Cherry on backing vocals throughout. And that was even better. Songs so loose and free and elastic and sensual they buggered my musical perceptions for years afterwards: songs that spun and slithered and slurped and slid unheeding on their way to a new musical perception. It’s an album that sounds way contemporary now, as generations of fans (come to it via the Goldman single) through Chicks On Speed, DFA Records and Disco Not Disco can attest.
Thirwell later sold me an UT cassette, Sonic Youth’s Sonic Death and convinced me to attend a Throbbing Gristle signing for the release of Heaven Earth – five of us showed, and somewhere out there is a video of Genesis P Orridge scribbling on my (unwillingly offered – I didn’t believe in autographs) copy. I digress.
I never saw New Age Steppers play live. I’m not sure they ever played live. But man, they sure helped turn my musical education around.
(originally written for www.dominorecordco.com, as part of my International Pop Underground series – and later reprinted in Careless Talk Costs Lives #9, alongside the first Yeah Yeah Yeahs cover feature.)
I moved to London because of The Slits.
More specifically, I moved to London because of a song on The Slits’ debut album Cut called “Shoplifting”. It sounded as though the four girl musicians were having such a great, great time – all the squeals and giggles of glee as they ran shrieking away from the besieged store. The bass looped, pounded, and panted in sympathy behind them, the guitar played all shrill discord and exclamation marks. The vocals were… dirty. “Ten quid for the lot/We paid FUCK-ALL,” they boasted, out of breath. Never had I heard girls sound so natural and unafraid and mischievous, so comfortable with their own naughtiness. (Years later, the same qualities attracted me to Olympia’s sense of righteous, contradictory Bikini Kill and London’s turbulent Huggy Bear.) Never had I heard anyone – male or female – sound so free, so in love with the limitless possibilities of life.
Sure, I used to steal from shops – but to me, it was more of a necessity. (I could never afford the vinyl I craved.) The risk usually outweighed the thrill and adrenaline rush. I was – to put it frankly – a wuss. The Slits sounded like anything but, as they moved unchecked through their West London streets. “Is this what the big city is like?” I wondered. “A place where girls like The Slits run rampant on the underground and down dark alleyways, a place where punk gigs happen in dark, dub-heavy Ladbroke Grove clubs – playing music like that created by “Cut” producer Dennis Bovell – not in a fucking Chelmsford community center?” Listening to “Shoplifting” made me want in, so bad.
I knew little of The Slits beyond that album. I kinda preferred The Raincoats – their scratchy, wired music was tempered with what sounded suspiciously like a couple of comforting upper-class accents; their music was more insular, more frightened and fettered than that of their female brethren. I could relate to it more – I could imagine holding conversations with The Raincoats where we drank tea and chatted about Women’s Problems. I preferred their version of “Adventures Close To Home,” the song they shared with The Slits (they also shared a drummer, Palmolive), because… well, because it wasn’t so reggae. (It took me a while to grow accustomed to such an alien culture.)
The Slits scared me, frankly. They were only about 16, for Chrissake! (Even younger than me.) Their singer, Ari Up, wore her underwear unerotically, yet very disturbingly, on the outside of her clothes. They couldn’t give a fuck about other people’s opinions. On the cover of their debut album, they covered themselves in mud, naked – London nature girls having a riot. That much was clear even to a politically corrected boy such as myself. Did the cover influence my decision to buy the record? No way. The cover of “Cut” may have been many things – provocative and smart not the least among them – but it certainly wasn’t sexy. Again, the girls had managed to subvert conventional sexual imagery through sheer cheek.
On the down side, The Slits had supported The Clash (boo! hiss!) on their 1976 White Riot tour – all right, a good year before my Year Zero when I discovered pop music, and thus ancient history, but still a big minus. We hated the Clash with all their combat gear and posing with machine guns in Ireland, and that macho crap about “white riots.” It wasn’t until years later that I discovered – through a fax from Joe Strummer, who had been stung into replying to one of my Melody Maker taunts about how “punk rock died the day [he] strapped on a guitar” – that much of The Slits’ formative attitude, and indeed profile, was due to their status as Clash girlfriends.
My illusions were shattered… until I realized that (i) yes, they were allowed to have sex, and (ii) it didn’t change the unalterable fact that The Slits were 10,000 times better and more important – in terms of influence on later generations of musicians – than any sad bunch of Rolling Stones wannabes could ever be. I’ll give Joe kudos for being a decent bloke, and for introducing Ari, Viv Albertine, Tessa Pollitt, and Palmolive to the sweet sound of reggae and dub, but that’s it. Anyway. I digress.
So yeah, I was intimidated – a feeling which only intensified when I moved to London and started attending Slits concerts, only to witness two stabbings, one of a kid standing next to me. The latter happened because the two of us had been arguing with some skinheads (omnipresent in late ‘70s London) who’d been heckling The Slits’ support band, the proto-electronica Deptford band This Heat. “What d’ya do that for?” I asked bravely, if a trifle foolishly. “Because I felt like it. D’ya want some?” came the reply, followed menacingly by another question: “Are you a Jew?”
Fuck punk concerts and their bonehead fans. I knew The Slits had nothing to do with their audience – and indeed, you’d think that the mere fact that they were women in a fiercely patriarchal world playing heavily dub-influenced punk rock would have been enough to dissuade even the most bone-headed of thugs from attending their shows, but no. Media image is sometimes all. And boy, were there some distorted images flying around back then.
So I went back to listening to Cut in my south-east London bedsit, and buying all The Slits bootlegs and records I could get my hands on – also The Raincoats and The Au Pairs and The Poison Girls and Delta 5 and The Leopards and (the sadly defunct) X-Ray Spex and Penetration and Yoko Ono and all the great slew of women-only bands and women-fronted bands that had sprung up in the immediate aftermath of punk in the U.K. Because it was from these bands, and these bands alone, that I got a sense of the world outside of my stunted English Public School upbringing… I already knew what men were like, what bullies they were, and how tedious the weight of patriarchal history was. I knew all that. I was ready to have some fun.
Cut yielded one astonishing single, “Typical Girls”. Its subject matter was, of course, about anything but. Typical girls wore white stilettos and short skirts with no stockings in the height of winter, and drank Babycham in cheesy disco clubs in Romford called the Pink Flamingo, hanging on the arms of only the most obnoxious brutes. Typical girls populated Sham 69 songs, or played the part of the brassy, bossy blonde in ‘70s English sitcoms – they weren’t sassy and fun and boasting about leaving “smells” the way The Slits wanted – but perhaps they were. I had no way of judging. And I loved The Slits for making me realize that there was more to girls than the patronizing English Public School archetype.
The Slits introduced me to the “female gang,” a concept hitherto confined to Russ Meyer tittie-fests and cheap ‘50s sexploitation flicks. The Slits introduced me to the concept of “sex” with all its attendant glorious smells and tumbles and squeals of jealousy and open-air liaisons. The Slits taught me the concept of freedom, showed me that life didn’t begin and end with the cradle-to-grave route of school-university-office-job-marriage-retirement, that there were illicit pleasures to be gained and wrongful pacts to be made, that life wasn’t as serious as I had imagined.
I never shoplifted when I moved up to London, though. I was too scared.
(taken from Careless Talk Costs Lives #6)
Words: Everett True
Photography: Steve Gullick
Pull quote: ‘Punk clothes were hard to get. The Slits really started our own style’
This is odd. I’m in a tiny basement of New York’s Knitting Factory with Steve Gullick – the only other person present is Ari Up, ex-singer of The Slits, cool and loose dub-heavy female punk band, ’77 vintage (also in On-U’s New Age Steppers, inventing Massive Attack and all that 15 years early). She’s wasted. We’re excited. Steve says, “You’re Ari Up”, and she replies, “Yes, want to interview me?” without even knowing we’re journalists. So I tell her my shoplifting anecdote [retold in the review printed above – Ed], and this is how the conversation progresses…
“What happened was Palmolive corrupted me,” she laughs. “Palmolive was our first drummer, a real kick-ass Spanish girl, also in The Raincoats, and I was much younger, a little girl, 13, 14, and she got me into it and I thought, ‘Thank you so much, thank you’. I always thought it was OK to shoplift from big stores, not from friends – I never stole from friends, but from a big system. And of course we went second-hand shopping. Punk clothes were hard to get. The Slits really started our own style. And the whole point of it was not to be uniforms, but just to pick up pieces here and there, either make them yourself, or nick them. So we went into stores, and we put clothes underneath clothes, and walked out with them. Of course, you can’t do that nowadays, that was back then. So we did ‘Shoplifting’, I don’t remember how it goes, what’s the words again?”
(Me): “Ten quid for the lot/We paid FUCK ALL.”
“Well, Palmolive wrote those words, cos she’s such a punk rocker.”
If I’d known you were going to be in the audience tonight, I would have done a Slits song on stage (see CMJ report). I used to do “Number One Enemy” on stage.
“You’ve got a group?”
No. Just me. Why did you form the New Age Steppers? What was your motivation?
“Adrian Sherwood [the man behind On-U Sound], who I met when The Slits were touring, was primarily just selling records out of his van in England, promoting reggae bands. And then we moved into a squat together, and he picked up a cheap little echo machine, and – he’s a fucking genius – he taught himself how to mix. And then I came up with the name New Age Steppers, but before new age shit was even created, fuck that.”
I have a tape of that, bought in ‘78 or ‘79.
“With who on it? Wow, I don’t even know about that. Wow. Well he’s a genius in music, and he’s a great guy to hang out with, but as far as business is concerned, you’ve gotta know your head. He’s very shrewd. We collaborated and lived together. We had Creation Rebel, or whatever they were called, and I played with them in the studio, and that’s how it came about.”
I used to make fun of The Clash and say how The Slits were the only true punk rock group… Joe Strummer faxed me once, all this stuff about how The Slits started because of The Clash. Is that true?
“We supported them, plus we went on the White Riot tour. I love The Clash and I love the Pistols.”
When I saw them in ’79 they were all playing guitar on their backs, like The Rolling Stones.
“I would play with Joe any time, because he’s a great guy. Paul, he is a great guy. They were one of the few true punk bands, although the Pistols hated The Clash, and so on. I was too young to get it. I just thought they were great.”
I wrote about Riot Grrrl quite early on, and I always linked The Slits in with it. Do you see a connection?
“When punk died in the early Eighties, when it turned all New Wave and intellectual, started being the crack yuppie age, I went to Jamaica for a long time. So I don’t really know enough about Riot Grrrls to comment, but I’m sure they were very punky.”
What was very exciting to me about punk was the fact women were making music. This is my problem with The Clash. They were a good band, and I’m sure they were lovely guys, but they were just doing what I’d heard before, whereas a grip like The Slits, or The Raincoats, or the Au Pairs, or Delta 5, or Kleenex, were doing something a bit different. That’s why I like Riot Grrrl, and that’s why I think there’s connection there between Riot Grrrl and The Slits.
“Definitely. I met Kathleen [Hannah, Le Tigre] recently… they are great girls. And she’s with Beastie Boys now, right? Beastie Boys have always wanted to be in contact with me, and for some reason, I don’t know, what the fuck, I’m not in contact with them. But we should be, and one day we will be.”