underground since'89

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

In Memory of Ari Up by Tobi Vail

I have been listening to The Slits non-stop since I heard Ari Up died last week, thinking about how much they mean to me and wondering how to express what we have lost...I don't know if there is any way to do that, but honoring Ari Up somehow is really important to me. I don't think the world would be the same without The Slits. I know my life would not be. I can't even imagine how things might have turned out differently. It makes me feel very small but also awed by how big of an effect one person can have on planet earth. Well, I know The Slits was a group and not just their singer, but no one can deny that without Ari Up The Slits would not be The Slits...and without The Slits, things would have turned out differently for girls and ok for guys too and music would not be as free-form and unrestricted. They opened things up. Minds. Hearts. Ears. Bodies. They annihilated boredom. They celebrated joy. Their songs expressed sadness and marked limits but turned things upside down and created room for us to breathe...to think...to live...to create.

These words are not songs but if you get your Slits records out you will hear what I mean. Voices and instruments and phrasings and words and rhythms that are so expressive they can't be categorized or contained. Nothing is literal nothing is as it seems, everything can be questioned, taunted into nothingness, built upon and made fresh. Life/Music is repetition and contradiction and melodies that seem to drift off and suddenly start again. Typical Girls Typical Girls Typical Girls. Unpredictable! Predictable!

My personal story with The Slits goes on and on. I am a big fan and have studied them closely. I will just tell a sliver of my own Slits story here tonight in hopes that it will encourage you to share yours. If you have something you'd like me to post you can email me or post it in the comments.

I first heard about The Slits in 8th grade...1982 maybe. My memory is a little fuzzy, but I am pretty sure that my best friend Heidi and I met this guy at the mall and got his number. We started calling him up and talking on the phone, asking him what bands he liked and stuff. He looked kind of punk, but he told us that punk was dead and that he was an "ant-person". I seem to remember he had blond hair in tiny braids and a bunch of piercings and dressed weird. We told him that we wanted to start a band. Or maybe we told him we had already started our band, that is probably more likely. He said that he thought we should listen to The Slits. He said they used to be punk but now they played "ant-music". He told us about someone named "Viv from The Slits". Heidi decided to change her name to Viv. We tagged "Viv" and "Viv from The Slits" and "The Slits" everywhere. It took us 3 or 4 years for our band to play our first show and even though I don't think I actually ever heard a Slits record until a year or two later, The Slits were an inspiration to us, simply by existing. I remember imagining what they might sound like and wondering what "ant-music" was besides Adam Ant. Guy-we-met-at-the-mall had probably read about post-punk somewhere and decided it was all "ant-music".

Fast forward to early 1988. I am 18. I decide to quit school and move to Eugene because I need to get away from Olympia for awhile. Calvin gives me three records as a going away present: The Slits Cut, The Young Marble Giants Colossal Youth and X Ray Spex Germ Free Adolescents. I had never listened to any of these records before. They were all super hard to find. I don't think I had ever even heard of The Young Marble Giants or X Ray Spex, which is weird since I had worked at KAOS for three years and been going to shows in Olympia all through high school. So even though I was a music obsessive and a big part of the hardcore punk and independent/underground music scene in Olympia, I still didn't have access to this music until someone shared it with me. I got a copy of the first Raincoats album around this time too, probably from Calvin. I remember being in my apartment, feeling so homesick and overwhelmed by how the world limited my options and made things harder for me just because I happened to be born female. Listening to this music I started imagining that it didn't have to be this way. Maybe things could change. Mecca Normal said Oh Yes You Can. Maybe there was hope. I decided my next serious band would be female-led and have a feminist outlook.

Ok new chapter. Bikini Kill is on tour. Everywhere we go, girls are starved for more. We start making them lists.
"Here are some movies you need to see: Out of The Blue, Times Square, Born in Flames and Ladies and Gentlemen the Fabulous Stains. Here's a list of bands with women in them that you need to hear, we are not the only group! Before us there were a bunch of female-led/all female bands that no one knows about anymore like The Raincoats. X Ray Spex. Girlschool. The Runaways. Young Marble Giants. The Marine Girls. Anti-Scrunti Faction. Sin 34. Sadonation. Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. Pink Section. Jerri Rossi. 45 Grave. The Avengers. Mecca Normal. Rubella Ballet. Dolly Mixture. The Modettes. Kleenex. Delta 5. THE SLITS! THE SLITS THE SLITS!"
We wrote THE SLITS on a girl's arm in Oklahoma City after the show. Instead of drawing a penis in the dressing room, we'd scrawl out one of our lists. We made fanzines documenting this history and sent countless letters to isolated young girls telling them about music they should try and hear somehow. We traded tapes. Later, when people started standing in line to get their Bikini Kill record signed after the show, we'd try to usurp the weird dynamic by using this ritual as a way to write a secret history of girl-punk on our own records. Because none of this music should be out of print and hard to find. This was our music. The history didn't deserve to be lost, we needed to keep it alive by word of mouth and sharpie tattoos!

I went to see the Slits in Seattle a few years ago with old school Olympia riot grrls Angie Hart & Michelle Noel. We were freaking out the whole time and Ari Up pulled us up onstage to sing back-ups during Shoplifting. I got to do the scream! It was so fun and then we were back in the audience dancing around some more. Afterward we said hi briefly but I didn't introduce myself, it was a perfect moment as it was, us -the wild girls in the audience and Ari the wild lady who made us a part of the show -there was no need for an explanation or a proper introduction.

I got back home after the show and thought, maybe I could join The Slits. Even though I don't play Slits style drums and I had my own life and my own work to do I really just wanted to quit everything and be on that stage with Ari Up forever. We exchanged a few emails after that but thinking about it some more, I realized that what I really wanted to be doing was screaming my own songs and beating my own rhythms on stage. There have been times in my life where I have lost the desire to perform and create but The Slits make me remember why I do what I do and they are one of the reasons I am here today still playing guitar and drums and typing these words out for you.

Thank You Ari Up. For everything. The Slits music will live forever.


everett darling said...

I first heard The Slits while I was living in the Lucky 7 and had found "Cut" in the basement stashed away like it didn´t even matter. I put it on and was blown away, like immediately, having never heard anything like it. It sort of transcends boundaries, at once reggae, then chaotic-punk, and then well...something else entirely that I just hadn´t and still haven´t been able to name exactly. From then on, 5 years ago and counting, I have been a total spaz about The Slits, adding a song or two to mix-tapes (jep, I still make them) and telling friends all about it, freaking out about Viv Albertine´s new album- and liking it at that-and well, now this, a sad time for all Slits fans, and for all would-be or should-be Slits fans.
I think what is so appealing, for me anyway, about The Slits is their freshness, that it´s timeless music, their material doesn´t sound dated, so I don´t feel like it´s some nostalgia thing. Perhaps that´s owing to hearing them only in 2005, but it sounds like nothing else before or after, and not that it should, but it just doesn´t.
Viva The Slits! and Thanks to Ari Up!

Anonymous said...


hello, this is a little documentary i found with ari up, filmed by the tunisian musician/artist samia farah.