The Slits formed in the heyday of Punk, notable for their all female line up and 14 year old frontwoman Ari Up. Bagging a support slot on The Clash’s White Riot tour in 1977, they went onto make the ‘punky reggae’ album ‘Cut’ with reggae producer Dennis Bovell and inspire a generation of woman to get involved in music.
After a long period of inactivity the band reformed in 2005 and have recently supported Sonic Youth and The Cribs with new album, ‘Trapped Animal’, out now. ClashMusic caught up with Ari Up to ask about the old and the new.
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How did you get in touch with The Cribs?
The Cribs are huge fans of The Slits. I mean one of The Smiths is, anyway. They have always been very big fans, one of them is in The Cribs and the rest of The Cribs are big fans too. They are very much into post-punk, and they also know Holly – the daughter of one of The Sex Pistols, as they played with The Sex Pistols. Holly is one of our girls in The Slits, she is connected to them as The Cribs played with The Sex Pistols. What happened is that after we left they weren’t sure what was going to happen. They considered not even coming onstage, or if they did come onstage they were going to.. they weren’t sure what they were going to do, they so upset at the way The Slits were treated.
So when The Cribs came on they wouldn’t stop talking about it they mentioned it like three times or so. They said onstage to the audience: “Look, we supported The Sex Pistols and we know what it’s like because the audience treated us the same way”. Apparently when they played with The Sex Pistols The Cribs were abused, had a bunch of stuff thrown at them, beer and whatever. The thing that I didn’t like was that they were throwing coins at us. Coins, money and bottles. What was really freaking me out was that before we even started and went onstage Holly – The Sex Pistols daughter – she was bombarded with coins and beer. Immediately. As soon as I came on and we played a song I was covered in beer, I tried to get away from the beer but there was such bright lights that I couldn’t know where the beer was coming from. So I couldn’t really avoid it. Every time I got hit by beer people cheered – like it’s a big rollercoaster ride or something. A real yob, football crowd. It was weird.
Punk crowds were renowned for their violence – is this something you have experienced before?
Yeah I guess it was a bit like going back to ’76 actually. Punk, our people were not – that’s the irony. Our circle were really the creators of it, the creators of the revolution were never into it. I don’t know where that came from, the spitting and throwing things. That was a kind of tourist audience, an audience who were jumping on the bandwagon. But The Slits audience, the more we developed out own audience, were nothing like that. The exact opposite in fact, very creative people. So we haven’t had that since ’76, ’77.
The cameraman who was there came up to me and asked if my eye was cut and I didn’t know what he was on about. Then he said “they were throwing coins at you and one could have gone in your eye”. When he told me they were throwing coins at me then I got really pissed off because I don’t want to lose my eye or something due to shit like that.
Where did the impetus to record new material come from?
It’s mostly my material actually that I have collected over the years. I never stopped writing or playing music. Some of the songs I wrote just for the album. A few of the Jamaican stuff, the synth stuff – a couple of them were made for the album.
Do you view the new material as being solo or a continuation of The Slits in 1981?
It’s the same thing. I mean, you know The Slits stuff and my own stuff are similar. In The Slits we mixed it, creating a real hybrid of stuff. It’s still the same, still similar. I think. We did reggae, we did punky, we did world beat before world music. We did hybrid type of music long before people really did that. So some of the songs are most like ‘Return Of The Giant Slits’ album, a continuation of that. Some of it is a ‘Cut’ mode, even one of it is more like ’76 – going back to the Peel sessions sound. I think we kind of take a mix of everything that we are from before and now.
That’s typical when that happens to The Slits. That is just so typical to The Slits I can’t even tell you. Always some crazy drama happening.
How did you first get introduced to dub reggae and Jamaican music?
Oh it just happened back then. Everyone was playing it, the only thing that was around was dub. There was nothing left to listen to.
What attracted you to dub reggae?
The Slits or me personally? Because me personally probably had another thing for it than other people. For me, I grew up with every music you could possibly think of because my whole entire family was music. We were all into music, so I had heard everything but nothing touched me like reggae. Reggae spoke to me, so personally that was it for me. That was the thing I could relate to most out of everything.
Of course after The Slits split up you move to the Caribbean.
I lived in Jamaica the whole time, yeah. Well because punk died and there was nothing happening for me in England that I could relate to. That’s why the punk thing revolution kept me going. When there was a revolution that made sense to me as it was all against the system – the Queen, against the establishment, all that old hippy shit and all the old music. That was when I found England to be really exciting, because those were changes for England and for the world. But then when nothing was happening I had to get away, so I went to Jamaica where there was a real revolution going on. In Jamaica there’s a real revolution happening all the time.
The sheer creativity in Jamaica is stunning.
People who don’t know about it are missing out. The whole world is missing out.
I’ve read that you recently worked with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry?
No I never worked with him at all! I didn’t work with him. They’re making it up! It’s a lie, a fabrication. Never even met him, I saw him for five minutes at a stage show then I jumped onstage and that’s about it. They took my voice and put it onto some dub album. Mixed it in, making it look like I worked with Lee Perry but I didn’t.
How did The Slits fit into the original punk scene?
Well our people were fine with it. Our people accepted us. But the world, it was very dangerous at that time for a girl. The rest of the world was dangerous.
Did the rest of the world take The Slits seriously?
No, are you kidding me? (Laughs). No one could even understand what we were doing. Who are you talking about the world or our people? Our people, musicians loved it. John Peel loved it. Our people, our circle of people liked it and understood it for the most. But that’s just a few people, a handful of people.
Does The Slits posthumous fame surprise you?
That doesn’t surprise me. When you set the pace, when you’re thirty years ahead of time they will find out soon. Most of the respect comes from musicians.
The early recordings are dominated by a sense of fun, is this deliberate?
That’s definitely in it. It’s natural, it’s who we are – a reflection of who we were. There’s a lot of humour in The Slits. That’s just us, a reflection of our personalities.
The band then became involved in world music, what drew you to that scene?
Oh like ‘The Return Of Giant Slits’? I guess that was having heard so many different groups who were playing so many different types of music. Jazz, and all kinds of different shit. It goes into your brain and then into your music.
Do you feel that The Slits fit in better in today’s music scene?
No I think that’s the real problem. We don’t fit into anything, or anywhere right now. People still try to label us and I try to say “OK if you have to label us we’re punky reggae”. We started punky reggae with a couple of other people, The Clash, Public Image. A couple of people who did punky reggae. If we are to be labelled then that’s it, but we don’t fit in obviously with that category. No one even knows what punky reggae really is. There’s very few who know us. We’re still totally out of place, put it that way.
With the album out what are the band’s aims?
Oh no no. We were never about fun. Even back in the day. Nothing was ever fun, it was about a revolution. The Slits hit back it’s already feeling like a revolution, it’s always like that with The Slits. We’re just trying to get out there, to the public. To find our people out of it, to find our public. Only certain people seem to understand what we’re doing. People who note only understand what we’re doing but can really relate to having this type of music in their life.
There is something universal about The Slits can you think what that is?
That’s true. That’s good, it’s supposed to be like that. We’re like that. We’re ageless and timeless, a multi-cultural hybrid. Universal creatures. We’re all Jah’s animals!
Words by Robin Murray