Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Slits

It has always fascinated me that the more artistic and experimental of the Punk-New Wave personalities have been women.  While I do consider Patti Smith and Siouxsie Sioux boring and overrated (though influential), others such as Su Tissue of the Suburban Lawns, Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex, Exene Cervenka of X, and Alice Bag of the Bags stand as perfect representatives of what made punk interesting to me in the first place: the expression of individualism.  

Of course punk would go on to becoming as marketed, conforming and irrelevant as beatniks, hippies, and any other status quo-challenging movement that slips into the mainstream.  
But that's another story.   

- Early Slits, (L-R), Viv Albertine, Ari Up (Arianne Forster), Tessa Pollitt, Palmolive (Paloma Romero)

One of the more intriguing of punk bands, at least in my eyes, was The Slits (1976-81, 2006-Present).  

Their importance to me isn't so much that they were among the first wave of the U.K. punk movement, nor that they were one of the first all-female punk bands on the scene.  More so, I appreciate them for what they would become.  

As was typical of too many early punk bands, the inability to actually play their instruments never stopped the original Slits line-up from giving it the old college try - as documented on the In the Beginning and Peel Sessions collections.  

While I understand that the early version of the Slits are well regarded amongst the punk brigade, I just don't see the allure.  

Frankly, the presentation of an all-girl punk band was simply not enough compensation for having to listen to such garage-like misery.  

Or was it?

Music, after all, was not the point.  

As strange as it might sound these days, the Slits were a dangerous band.  Their antics rivaled those of the dastardly Sex Pistols; physically attacking other bands, destroying innocent cars, public flashings of the 'naughty bits' that we bourgeois love to tittle-tattle over tasteless microwave dishes - anything to shock and outrage conservatives, feminists, and pseudo-hipsters, alike.
- (L-R), Bruce Smith, Tessa Pollitt, Viv Albertine, Ari Up
Late era Slits, NME photo sessions by Anton Corbijn

One (loooooooong) look at the Cut album cover reveals all we need to know about the Slits' politics.

Um, yeah.  

It must be noted that lead singer Ari Up has always been interesting. Her vocal style has been described as 'exotically distinct', even during the early (and sometimes painful) caterwauling stage.  
However, the overall package was a tough pill to swallow.

From a musical perspective, it is no surprise it took the band so long to sign to a record label.

From a social perspective, it is a surprise they got a record deal at all. 

- (L-R) Ari Up (vocals), Tessa Pollitt (bass), Viv Albertine (guitar)

But then a funny thing happened.    

As punk fell by the wayside and post-punk emerged from the ashes, Tessa Pollitt and Viv Albertine would not only learn to play their instruments, they would excel at them.  The band became bored with punk, replaced founding member Palmolive with drummer extraordinaire Budgie, fell under the production wings of Dennis 'Blackbeard' Bovell, and released two experimental (and amazing) dub-style albums to little fanfare - before fizzling out as a unit in 1981. 

It figures.  The experimental nature of Cut (Island ILPS #9873, September 1979) and Return of the Giant Slits (CBS #85269, October 1981) did the band in, as far as their marketability.  Yet it is that very same experimental nature that made me a fan in the first place.  

- (L-R) Viv Albertine, Tessa Pollitt, Ari Up

So why are the Slits important to me?

The Clash may have dabbled - and John Lydon may have been an authority on the subject, but the Slits (in addition to Jah Wobble) were the ones to open my eyes (er... ears) to the greatness of dub and reggae.  Sure, there has been and always will be Bob Marley & The Wailers - but beyond that, I had no clue as to the depth and brilliance of the genre.  

Without the music of the Slits - and in particular Tessa Pollitt's rumbling bass lines, I doubt I would have gone beyond Marley's Legend.  

Thanks, Tessa.  

Links of Interest:

*  In the Beginning - Borx's Ups Blog
*  Cut - Commercial Zone Blog (Highly Recommended)
*  Return of the Giant Slits - The Eighties... Blog
*  The Slits Peel Sessions - Champagne Blog

Updated Link:  Cut @320kbps!  - Hong Kong Gardens Blog

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