R.I.P. Ari Up of the Slits

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From DJ Eric J Lawrence:

The music world was saddened yesterday to learn of the passing of groundbreaking singer Arianna Forster, aka Ari Up, of the seminal punk band The Slits.  Announced on her step-father John Lydon’s web page as having died Wednesday, October 20 from a serious illness, Ari Up had recently reconvened The Slits, who had originally disbanded in 1982.  The newly-reformed group, featuring original bassist Tessa Pollitt and a group of younger musicians, had toured the US a number of times in the past five years and in 2009 had recorded their first album in 28 years.

ari upWhile starting out in the London punk scene of the mid-70s, The Slits distinguished themselves from their contemporaries by being (initially) all female, as well as being among the first punk bands to incorporate world music, specifically reggae, into their sound.  Clearly following the “Do-It-Yourself” spirit of the scene, Ari Up and her bandmates were often accused of being untutored, amateurish musicians, but by the release of their classic 1979 debut album, Cut (produced by acclaimed reggae producer Dennis Bovell), they had coalesced into a quartet capable of creating a stunningly unique (and complex) brand of multi-cultural pop music.

Ari Up’s warbling, yelping vocals were perfectly matched by the lurching guitars and the dub rhythms of her bandmates.  Even the album’s notorious cover photo, featuring Ari Up, Tessa Pollitt and guitarist Viv Albertine caked in mud while wearing only loincloths, demonstrates the band’s liberal, spirited, feminist approach to music-making.  Ari Up’s spiritual side, as well as her experience singing with Adrian Sherwood’s UK dub reggae project New Age Steppers, influenced The Slits’ 1981 album, Return of the Giant Slits, but the band fractured and broke up a year later.  She spent a number of years living with her family in remote jungle areas of Indonesia, Belize and Jamaica, before return to music in the new millennium and leading a successful revival of her now-legendary band.

I had the pleasure of seeing the reformed Slits at SXSW a few years back.  Ari Up’s spirited performance style and strong presence made clear her influence on generations of artists, from contemporaries like The Raincoats, Tom Tom Club and her one-time roommate Neneh Cherry, to the Riot Grrrl bands of the early 90s, to current artists such as The Gossip, Santigold and M.I.A.

Her attitude towards the incorporation of sounds from around the globe helped move the three-chord, 4/4 punk aesthetic into the much more dynamic (and less definable) post-punk sound that is still being profitably mined by dozens of bands today.  She will be greatly missed.