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Slits - Interview with Ari Up

  by Adam Wood

published: 17 / 9 / 2005

Slits - Interview with Ari Up


Former Slits frontwoman Ari Up has recently released a new solo album 'Dread More Dan Dead'. She talks to Adam Wood about it, her past career and living in the jungle with South American Indians

When Ari Up was just fourteen years old she formed what was arguably the most important all girl band of the punk era, the Slits. They were a politicised, detuned monster of punky reggae party, marshalled by the unique vocal warblings of Ari Up, who characterised the musical fall out from the venomous spitting of a punk movement defanged by its own pretensions and its subsequent acceptance by the mainstream. The great American music journalist Lester Bangs recalled seeing Ari Up on tour with the Clash in 1977 “In all sorts of rags and a fishnet shawl, high footing around the dance floor like some mix of spider and strutting ostrich.” A better example of Ari’s terrifying individuality is hard to find. Taking a little time out from touring, looking after her kids and living between Brooklyn and Jamaica, Ari found a moment to talk whilst she rested in Ladbroke Grove, as she said in her thick Jamaican/German accent (her mother is the German Nora Lydon who married John Lydon) amongst "the London bombers", which she joked was suitable as she is always "terrorising the music." Indeed, the world into which she is released her highly acclaimed new album 'Dread More Dan Dead' is massively different to when 'Cut', her first record with the Slits, was released way back in 1978, both politically and personally. Back then she was a confirmed subterranean Londoner whereas now she feels at home only on tour, and with kids in tow I enquired as to how difficult it is to lead an almost constantly mobile lifestyle; "Children doesn’t stop anything" Ari answered, "Women need to stop thinking that children hold you back." Clearly Ari Up has not been numbed by motherhood. She remains the fiercely independent feminist that was first unearthed with the Slits, a band that writer Jon Savage remarked was the sound of people discovering their own power. Unlike contemporaries such as the Clash, Ari, however, doesn’t see music as a kind of an education, telling audiences to rebel or how to live, instead she believes "intellect is bad for musicians. I’d rather feel music and grow with it." Whilst Ari is personally radical therefore, her music is not to be confused as revolutionary, in a typically individualist twist; Ari subverts the old feminist mantra - the political is personal. According to Ari, the Slits had serious problems with the music industry and at age fourteen perhaps her inexperience was taken advantage of by record execs- "I was a child star, thrown out of the industry so young." By the time Ari Up had reached majority, the Slits were on the scrap heap, allowing Ari Up the time to concentrate on her side project the New Age Steppers. Just as with the Slits, the Steppers have been almost forgotten by musical history, despite the fact that they are a direct influence on bands such as Massive Attack. The Steppers created "really excellent space age Reggae, not Dub but its offspring, high tech dub." Indeed tracks like 'Nuclear Zulu' show exactly what Ari means, anti-gravity Rasta beats being powered by thunderous rocket dub. But then after a brief period with the New Age Steppers Ari fell off the musical radar, and went to live in the jungle. In the ultimate escape from the post consensus, unabashed consumerism of the 80's, Ari claimed her descent into the jungle came as a natural progression from the Slits. The artwork from 'Cut', where the band loaf around wearing little else but mud, is a testament to this. Living with Diak Borneo Indians, Ari swapped the dangers of being eaten up by what she calls the "Yuppie yucky hippy yippy junky 80's" in favour of the rather more real threat of being eaten by jaguars and snakes. "It was all bows and arrows and stuff like that… [we used to walk] with a jungle guy and a dog in front because if a jaguar attacks he’ll attack the dog. The corn feed making Indians [we lived with] got bitten by snakes and died regularly." It was this return to nature that helped her overcome the rejections of the music industry and allow her to fall out from the pressures of modern life, from child star to nomad in less than six years. When Ari emerged from the jungle she went to Jamaica, sporting a new found serenity and waist length dreadlocks that she still has today. She reinvented herself as Medusa and started designing clothes, as well as becoming well known for her now purified reggae and dub. With 'Dread More Dan Dead', Ari Up has found that little has changed, as with the Slits the record was blighted by distribution problems, though all is forgotten when she goes on stage to play her "modern Slits-y, punk kind of shit." With tracks like the superb 'Baby Mother' she again returns to challenging the perceived roles of women, this time attacking a particular contingent of young mothers who think it's "more important to have a new outfit and guy to fuck", the song’s patois message is that "you should still be partying but you have responsibility." So with a unique history behind her and her first proper solo album seeping into the shops, does Ari ever feel that the underground legacy of the Slits weighs her down? "The only burden of the Slits is that we are ahead of our time."

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Slits - Interview with Ari Up

Slits - Interview with Ari Up

Slits - Interview with Ari Up

Slits - Interview with Ari Up

Visitor Comments:-
361 Posted By: arlene, dublin on 21 Oct 2010
so sad to hear that Ari Up has passed ionto the light. Saw her in May at Primevera..rocking reggae!

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