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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Chris Sutton Remembers Ari Up

I have 2 great memories involving Ari Up.


Early December 2008. I was on a promotional tour of the U.S. with The Gossip bouncing around the country, finally ending up in San Francisco for two nights. On the second night we found out that The Slits were performing at a venue called Bottom of the Hill. Nathan, who knew the promoter, had gotten everyone in the group on the list for the show. We had to perform across town on the same night but we were hoping to be able to catch at least a portion of The Slits set. After a couple of drinks and a very long set of girl group standards performed by the opening act, we dejectedly started to make plans to return to our show with seeing any music. Just as we were about to leave we were motioned quickly into the backstage area to where Ari, Tess, and the rest of girls were relaxing. Immediately there was a warm vibe and Ari Up welcomed us with the loudest "HEEEYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!" i'd ever heard in my life. Dressed completely in a gold spandex outfit and various colors twisting her formidable dreadlocks and pure electricity screaming from her eyes. Instant impression. Right away, she broke into an animated story about how she hadn't gotten any sleep the last few days "I just got off of a plane from England, and I've been very upset because there was a terrible riot near my home in Jamaica and that's where my son is now. I have no way of contacting him". As suddenly as she had gone to the somber place, she broke into a wide smile and changed the subject. "We must play music together, let's go on tour!, It'll be so great for both of us!" I can speak for everyone in our group that we unanimously agreed with her. "It'll be punk! we will both set up on stage together and we will alternate songs as a set! Yes! It will be like a new band!" Her energy was infectious and was bursting from her obvious fatigue. "You know, it's like the old days, everyone played with everyone else because that is all we had! So poor in those days.." she continued " Like Flowers of Romance! That was the band that everyone in the scene was in but never played or practiced really. Sid, Me, Tess, Joe.. everyone... Nobody does that anymore, you know? Everyone is afraid of real punk"." We couldn't play our instruments, thats why we couldn't play shows!!" laughed Tess from the corner of the room with her kind english accent. "Still the best, though" Ari said under her breath. Ari's enthusiasm was infectious and she held court with funny quotes and exaggerated mannerisms suggesting that her whole life might be one long, constant, dance. We still had a show to play though and we were way late for it so we had to leave suddenly. "You are all punk, stay in touch!" she exclaimed to all of us as we walked down the stairs to exit the venue "PUNK IS LOVE!!!!" "SLITS GET RICH!!" "LOVE REGGAE!" Ari blessed us with several of her mantras. I left that tiny room filled with a mixture of a euphoric daze and appreciative self-reflection. "No big whoop, we just hung out with THE FUCKING SLITS!" said Beth. We all laughed. The hangout probably lasted for maybe 45 minutes and we didn't see them play that night, but I don't know how I couldve gotten a more completely visceral experience. The Slits have meant so much to me in my musical development and have ideologically represented what I believe in musically, so you can imagine I was trying to soak up as much of their wisdom as I could that night, and they were so open and conversational with us. Months later Hannah and I saw her play in Paris and it was amazing! It was probably the best reggae band I had ever seen play, no joke (and they punked it up too!!) Tess shook the rafters, Ari almost got naked, the sound was amazing, an absolutely incredible performance overall. We were ushered out of the venue too quickly to be able to say hi to her unfortunately, but we were certain that we were gonna see her again someday. When I heard that she died I sat for a while in shock and then listened to New Age Steppers "Fade Away" 10 times in a row. It seemed like the proper tribute. We'll all miss you Ari!!!!


Watching my friend Tobi sing the "Shoplifting" on stage with The Slits while standing next to members of the band Shoplifting.

Video from Slits show in Paris:

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