extracts from Conversations with Punx – 1. Ari Up
It’s Collapse Board’s pleasure to introduce the first in a new series: extracts from Conversations with Punx.
I have long been an admirer of Brisbane writer Bianca Valentino’s interview style: the (full) examples I’ve seen are so in-depth and revealing and soulful. They show an obvious attnetion to detail and to the other person that most interviewers just don’t get. [Rolling Stone or Frankie magazine, for example, should be killing to get access to these.] And for the most part, her interviews are conducted on the telephone – which puts the lie to the notion that it’s a broken device.
For the first Conversation, Bianca has sent me over an excerpt from a chat she had a while back with Ari Up. I don’t think any regular Collapse Board reader needs reminding of how much this lady means to us here, and how saddened we were by her recent untimely death.
I don’t know about you, but I’d love to see the entire conversation. [ET]
ARI UP: The main thing about punk is that it’s really liberating. You can feel utterly free in what you’re doing. You can express your spirituality without even thinking about it. We didn’t walk around thinking, “We’re so spiritual, we’re being spiritual”. In hindsight [punk] is even more of a spiritual thing than even people who pursue religion. The irony of it all is when we went through that whole revolution, it was more spiritual than the so-called spiritual movement. You felt like you could explore a lot. It was limitless in expression.
People tend to see the violent side of punk, because when you were able to express like that, you went all the way. You’d have your violent outbursts, your fits, your upset, your anxiety attacks and your aggressive side. When your aggressive side comes out, you’re able to explore your desires and needs that are exploding in your body. They come to the front, which is why I think The Clash had such a spiritual side to them. They became very spiritual without them saying it.
The Slits became really spiritual because we became so tribal. We explored the roots of womanhood. We explored being women without being conditioned and bombarded by modern things being thrown at us by the media. We were saying that, “We’re not sure if that’s necessarily woman”. We dug underneath what a woman could be when she is totally stripped.
What did you find?
AU: It was more of an instinctive spiritual search. We didn’t even want to say “woman”. Women were defined as having to be very feminine — whatever that was — wearing makeup, high heels. We were sick of it. Women now don’t even know how completely confined we were. It was such a prison being a woman back then. You had to pretend to be something else around guys. You had to show a certain picture of what you might be so guys would accept and like you. You had to be a big pretend picture. It was so horrible.
When we were able to explore our spirituality in The Slits we stripped it down completely. That’s why we did that Cut album cover. We were kids, teenagers, girls—we didn’t even know what “woman” was. Every gut feeling in us was expressing how we didn’t want to be a woman. We rebelled and wore clothes in a punky style that was against fashion. We made our own style of clothes.
Womanhood to me is just a very independent individual way of thinking. Each woman is very different. On a whole I’d rather go back down to earth, back to basics where you orientate yourself to how we used to be in the tribal days — it could be from ancient Celtics, African or Native American style.
At one point in your life, didn’t you live with the Dyak Indians in Borneo?
AU: Yes. I did because of that very reason. In England it had all just become so fake, the whole MTV and new wave thing. It became punk imitations.
In the ’80s I wanted to be back with The Slits or myself and take part in the music scene because of the hip-hop and dancehall explosion in the American and Jamaican scene. Dancehall is a cousin to hip-hop; they were very intertwined from the get-go. I wanted to take part in that. I lived in Brooklyn for a lot of my life. I grew up with the whole hip-hop scene too.
The Slits were feeling spiritual and music from the get-go. People may think that punk was just crazy, but it was very constructive. We had an enormous amount of discipline. We rehearsed every day in squats.
What is spirituality to you?
AU: It’s a very internal thing. It’s private and personal to me. It comes from the deep, deep depths of inside. We’ve expressed that through our music.