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Silence Is A Rhythm Too

2010 October 21
by Sarah Jackson

In 1994 I was 12. I was also spending most of my time in the late 70s. Surely the only punk in my small Cornish town, I’d got a short back and sides, a pair of docs and a blazer prickling with safety pins. I’d got my Pistols, Clash, Ramones, Buzzcocks, Undertones. And I wanted to tear everything to pieces. I was all set.

Then one day while rifling through my parents’ (excellent, though I hated to admit it) record collection I pulled out a sleeve that looked like a B Movie soundtrack. There was an exploding volcano, a pterosaur and three women dressed as bedouin from hell. It was Return of the Giant Slits.

When I put the record on it was like nothing I’d heard before. It was as if The Slits had stolen their beats from the gaps in other peoples’ songs. The rhythms seemed alien but I felt something click into place – next time I had the bus fare to get to Truro I found and bought the magnificent Cut and fell in love. Here was something truly radical, with the chaos and creative destruction that I loved in punk but with irony and humour and WOMEN.

Ari Up onstage at Alexandra Palace in 1981, picture CC nicksarebi 1981

Ari Up onstage at Alexandra Palace in 1981

The Slits were true musical innovators, drawing as much from reggae and dub as from the punk scene. They were funny, aggressive, embarrassing, chaotic, and sexual without trying to be sexy. From the name of the band onwards they played with gender and with ideas of what women were and were meant to be.

The Slits’ lead vocalist Ari Up (aka InnoDBnna Forster) died yesterday aged 48. She was only 14 when she formed The Slits with drummer Palmolive (anyone else feel kinda old? Are you even allowed to form a punk band after you’re 20?) and was still gigging this year. Her music means a lot to me and to many others, and the importance of The Slits for women in punk and, well, most alternative music really is difficult to convey. They cracked the mould.

Rest in peace, Ari.

  • Watch The Slits play Typical Girls on the bandstand in what I think is Regent’s Park
  • Listen to the whole of their debut album Cut online for free (with ads sadly, but less annoying ones than Spotify)

(Post title is from In The Beginning)

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