R.I.P. ARI UP/Silence is a rhythm too...

R.I.P. ARI UP/Silence is a rhythm too...

I was watching a You Tube video of Bikini Kill, when they played London for the first time and remembered the show. After the fact the NME (or Melody Maker) had asked all the doyennes of first wave punk what they thought about this newfangled riot grill business. Poly Styrene said she was at the show, and thought it was boring, a lame rerun of something that had been cool when she was a teenager, but had since played out... I remember reading that, and wondering if she had been at the same show I was at, because as a 14 year old, my experience was completely opposite. I felt engaged, and alive, felt like we could do something, me and my friends, make something out of what we had seen.

A few years after that there was a feature in a women's magazine, the English equivalent of something like Good Housekeeping that documented some of the women of punk, what had happened to them, from Jordan, the cat lady of the Westwood/McClaren Sex shop, to one of the Slits (maybe Viv?? I honestly can’t remember, though I did rip it out surreptitiously whilst at the newsagents, so it should be floating around in my random papers) through to Gina from the Raincoats and Gaye from the Adverts, and I think Palmolive and Poly too, X-Ray Spex/Raincoats/Slits... Gaye Advert said she still listened to “punky music, like Limp Bizkit.” Cripes! That always stayed with me—as soon as you describe a shitty rape-rock band as “punky” you’ve had it, time’s up. Such a grim adjective, and for a band so opposite of the punk ideal. I still need to get the second Adverts LP, it’s so good and despite finding many copies of Crossing the Dead Sea... for not very much money, I have never seen Cast of Thousands in person.

I lived in NYC for a few years in the early ’00s and one of my clearest memories was going to see Ari Up perform at a reggae night somewhere in Brooklyn. She was sort of cartoon like, really vivid and ridiculous in this one way, but it was clear she was self-made, her own person in a really inspiring way that sort of negated the comic stripness of it all... Even though I devoured ’77 punk as a kid, the Slits were harder to get into. I had only heard their later more experimental world beat stuff, at a time when I wanted Sham 69 and at most, Patti Smith. Stuff that’s still somewhat in the rock’n’roll tradition you know? So was not into them. When my teenage band started this girl at one of our shows was totally shocked that I did not seem like care about the Slits, so she made me a tape I still have with the demo and the Peel Session on it. I can still remember the feeling of hearing it for the first time, how wild and unfettered Ari’s voice was, the music was sort of like a drawing, not a rock cliché, but a total deconstruction, which is what punk had promised. This was no Elvis, no Beatles, no Rolling Stones. The demos are wild bedroom recordings, they have a bedlam-ic quality to them that is not artificially manufacture-able if that makes sense. The sound of possibility and adventure and creation thru destruction!! The Peel Session is a little more “trad” punk, but not really, and many think it’s their finest hour. You can get “fanclub” records that have these songs on them, or of course use the power of the internet to find ‘em for your computer listening pleasure. I wish someone would do a legit reissue... I remember staying at Rosie from Month of Birthdays/Pussycat Trash’s house in Newcastle once, and she was really into late era Slits, and me and my friends were just getting into post-punk, but were definitely not at the point where we could listen to anything Slits related that was released post-Cut. Now I really like the fact that they kept going, kept exploring, didn’t remain with one idea of music, but lived through many during their existence. I think it’s easily watchable on YouTube, but there’s this amazing Don Letts footage of the band dancing at a reggae club called the Four Aces, which has itself been immortalized in film by the awesome Winstan Whittar. He made a great film about the history of skateboarding in the UK, so I am really excited to check this one out when it gets to DVD.

We ran Viv Albertine’s memorial to Ari in the news section, which I implore you to read. It’s unreal that she was 14 years old when she started...

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