Saturday, October 23, 2010

Ari Up: Punk Rock and Feminist Pioneer

Ari Up, former vocalist for the seminal punk band The Slits, died earlier this week from a "serious illness" (later reported as cancer by the Guardian). She was only 48-years-old.

Formed in 1976, the Slits carried the brunt of punk's criticism as noise made by unskilled pseudo-musicians. Of their early recordings, critic and author of The Sex Revolts, Simon Reynolds said, "The Slits initial focus was in demystifying the means of musical production, and their earliest recordings (released belatedly as an untitled 1980 album) offer an artless, atrocious racket." That racket when on to inspire a legion of women in the 80s and beyond, especially the riot grrrl scene of the early 90s. Their most well-known album, Cut, is sited as one of punk's best, and most underrated, records. It was also one of punk's most iconic album covers showing the three members of the band naked and caked with mud. Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein in a blog post for NPR detailing The Slits' influence:

"Not once did a Slits song cease to amaze me, not after repeat listens, literally hundreds of listens. Not once did they fail to excite or inspire me, to make me a worshipper of rhythm, chaos and of attitude. The Slits were giants and they only grew bigger and more potent over the years. Their album Cut — on which the band is pictured topless and caked in mud — is nothing short of a pinnacle. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that Cut sat there in the record collections — of both musicians and fans - -as the dynamic, the sound and the uniqueness for which to strive."

Critic Jon Savage wrote in The Guardian, "The Slits found it difficult to assimilate within a conservative, male-dominated music industry. The songs became clearer, and when you listened, they were tuneful, witty and extremely sharp." Ari Up herself downplayed her band's feminist connections. In the book Cinderella's Big Score, she said, "It was more a personal thing... we wanted to female without being what female was supposed to be. We just wanted to be us."

She is survived by her three sons and her mother, Nora, who is married to the Sex Pistols' John Lydon.

Further Reading:
Previously Unpublished Q&A With Ari Up (Spin)
(Not A) Typical Girl (Bitch Blogs)

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