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This weekend I’ll mostly be listening to… The Slits October 23, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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There’s no pleasure at all in hearing of the passing of Ari Up (Arianna Foster), lead singer of peerless outfit, The Slits. They were a wonderful earthy, raw, honest oddly transcendent band whose sound was a genuinely unique mixture of post-punk, reggae, dub.

Years ago, probably the late 1990s, Channel 4 showed a film which had been made, I think by Don Letts, to accompany their first album. It was bizarre and strangely moving, filled with skies and towerblocks and streetscapes and the Slits themselves in a landscape entirely familiar to anyone who had lived in London.

The album Cut, released in 1979 is a marvel, unusual changes in tempo and tone, elements of punk, but also much more. Ari Up’s voice an instrument in itself, all quavery tones turning into vocal lances that cut through the melody. And the songs too. Viv Albertine’s guitar creating often skeletal works that have little flourishes of piano here and there and then are immersed in waves of sound. The aesthetic one which saw the immediacy of punk submerged, or overwhelmed, by dub and other rhythms creating almost the perfect example of post punk at its most wide ranging. Maybe that shouldn’t be such a surprise, a fairly eclectic crew were members at one time or another of the band, from Palmolive to Budgie. It sounds absurd, but listen to this and you can hear hints of the sounds that would inform so many different genres subsequently from new wave to dance and even electronica. And without being too chin-stroking this is mature both lyrically and musically. Yet, Ari Up was 17 when it was produced.

I saw them live in the mid-2000s, the gig was good, infused by reggae, unbelievably energetic, but it was a later line-up and there was something divergent from the earlier songs that was simultaneously off-putting and yet also intriguing. And yet home I went to listen again to the first album.

They weren’t exactly prolific. Three albums or so in three decades. But that wasn’t a problem when the first album is so stunningly different.

Actually, I’ve been mulling this over for the last day or so, but in a way the feminism evident, not in the music, but in the approach, the autonomy of these women as distinct individuals, is as much a product of the time as the music itself. It’s easy to make grand claims as to these matters, but in some small way I think they are representative of gains already made by the late 70s and supporting those after them. And perhaps that is overstatement, but consider how fundamentally different they are to the presentation of women in music, say, in the 1960s. Every bit helps in changing the world, however small or large.

What a loss.

Typical Girls

Instant Hit

Shoplifting Peel Session – 1977, a punkier version than the album cut.

New Town

Ping Pong Affair

Spend, Spend, Spend

And an inspired moment on German TV from 1979

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Comments»

1. LeftAtTheCross - October 23, 2010

WBS,

Your point about feminism is well made.

I was fortunate to stumble upon Viv Albertine playing an afternoon set at the Flatlake Festival up in Monaghan during the summer. She’s still giving it loads. There were maybe 20-30 people in the auduience, 40+ in age. The sort of gig that you come away from with the feeling that you’ve just engaged in something worthwhile, politics that’s grounded in people’s lives.

All part of the general mood of the punk era really. And still relevant.

Not meaning to drag the topic off course, but I caught a few minutes of the Ireland’s Greatest on the Late Late Show last night. I hadn’t seen the Mary Robinson documentary but David McWilliams’ summation of her contribution very much focused on the small politics and the gains that were made for the disadvantaged in society in the 70s and 80s, including those gains from the feminist agenda.

RIP Ari.

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2. Worldbystorm - October 23, 2010

Politics grounded in peoples lives… That’s it, isn’t it?

Interesting about McWilliams. I find I like him more and more, at least he seems to get it that this is a society, not simply an economy.

That Viv Albertine gig must have been amazing.

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3. Paul Wilson - October 23, 2010

Saw the Slits at the Lyceum London 1978 supporting the Clash, a unique experience. Shame she was so young when she died.

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4. Mark P - October 23, 2010

Sad news.

I saw the Slits play a couple of times, most recently in Barcelona earlier this year. If Ari Up was already ill it wasn’t apparent in her performance or stage presence.

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5. eamonndublin - October 23, 2010

Saw them in dublin last year. still good but very short set.

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WorldbyStorm - October 23, 2010

Actually now you mention it that’s my recollection of when I saw them back in the mid2000s. Good but short set.

That’s interesting Mark P. Must have been very swift. Awful.

Paul, 1978! So you saw the original, or near enough, lineup. Kudos.

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6. Paul Wilson - October 26, 2010

Showing my age WBS. Yes their set was manic, for the time very left field.

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