This weekend I’ll mostly be listening to… The Slits October 23, 2010Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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.
Shoplifting Peel Session – 1977, a punkier version than the album cut.
Ping Pong Affair
Spend, Spend, Spend
And an inspired moment on German TV from 1979