So starting I should say that when I was 11 years old my brother took me to see Lee Scratch Perry, I was really into Public Enemy, Beastie Boys and Sonic Youth at the time and I knew they were all fans, and although I've never really gotten into reggae at all, I appreciate the good stuff, and I remember watching Lee Scratch Perry and being completely amazed and blown away by his character.
Then when I was 15 I think, I discovered Ari Up, and it was like being transported to that place again, but discovering women who were as totally insanely incredible. I had gotten into Riot Grrl stuff and X-ray spex and Headcoatees when I was about 14 and I loved it, totally inspiring, this kind of energy that I couldn't explain, and knowing that particularly Poly was the same age when she was doing her thing drove me and my friends crazy. I had seen the Raincoats perform and got really into them, and found something in them that interested me more, and became completely obsessed by Palmolive, leading me then finally to finding the Slits. It was weird cos on all the punk comps you found X-ray spex and The Rezillos etc, and I liked this stuff, but hearing The Raincoats and The Slits really felt like a hidden history to me, and it felt like the kind of punk I could relate to far more, it had so much depth and felt like a new language.
Hearing 'Cut' especially I was just in the feeling of 'how the fuck did they make it, where do these sounds COME FROM?' I'm pretty much obsessed by female vocals, and always have been since I was a child, and I couldn't believe the sounds she made, and how everything worked together, and the photos inside the sleeve really gave me an idea of what it was like to be a proper grown up woman, rather than an excitable teen, seeing their photos was like total magic, and actually I remember thinking wow I wish I had the confidence about my body to be on the cover of a record like that, cos for once I saw women's naked bodies that were owned, rather than being sold.
Of course lyrically it was like everything you wanted to say being said, all perfectly and encased in this world of unbelievable creative sound, and I still get that feeling hearing their records today. When I got to University I remember reading Hebdige's 'Subcultures' book and just being outraged that he would write on about The Clash and how revolutionary their mix of punk and reggae was and he barely mentioned The Slits, I remember bringing this up in seminars and of course most kids there barely knew the Clash so they had no idea who the Slits were, and by that time I couldn't have given a shit about the Clash. The Slits soundtracked a lot of my first year away from home and in University cos I hated pretty much everyone there and I used to shoplift a lot at that time too, so I remember always having them on my walkman or in my mind when I did it.
I remember finally getting to see the Don Letts short film about The Slits at the BFI a couple of years after that maybe, and just thinking they were still so exciting to me, the part where they just change their clothes in a shopfront and when they go cruising into the reggae club and are dancing. Along with Vivienne Dick's films this was the real inspiration for me making a film about Erase Errata, cos I felt the same way when I heard the sounds they made, and I wasn't really listening to hardly any 'punk' based music at all by that point.
The Slits also made sense in the way that finding out about Rip Rig and Panic and Neneh Cherry's part in their history was like a big exciting circle too as she was my favourite pop star as a kid, it really localised a lot of female music history in London for me, and made me really assess female musical communities as I looked more into what these women did and who they surrounded themselves with and what they worked together on.
When I worked in a record shop I was lucky enough to meet Ari Up, she came into the shop and was like a fucking beam, I remember just smiling so much at her as she said 'I'm Ari Up, I am in The slits' to me and my colleague who was a massive punk freak, and we both responded 'we know'. She had copies of her latest record and said that she was having problems with her distribution company so she was just taking copies around to get them into shops but that no shops would buy them from her, we then of course bought a massive handful and I think I just told her it was great to meet her. It made me so sad that people would only ever think of her as this 'thing' from 'then' rather than now, and wouldn't support her.
To me the Slits will always be one of the most important bands in music history, changing sound and vision for me and other women and men, I was so glad when the book finally came out about them because I think what they created, and carried on creating in the reformed line-up was a new mine field of opportunity for music, and women in music, one that gains more depth with every listen and every scream and howl that Ari produced.
2 years ago