Return Of The Giant Slits!: History And Conversation
By: Eric Greenwood
As much as I hate the idea of reunions, I must admit I can't resist certain regroupings. It's just as easily a case of morbid curiosity as it is genuine excitement that forces me to go see bands decades past their prime on the off chance that somehow they will recapture what once made them great. Barring the rare exception (like Mission of Burma), it's typically a letdown. Being an art form inextricably bound to the recklessness of youth, punk rock doesn't age well.
We last heard from The Slits in 1981. With only two albums to its name, The Slits gained notoriety for two reasons: it was the first all-female punk band; and it opened for The Clash on its 1977 European tour. When the original four Slits started playing together, musical prowess was obviously not high on the list. But this group took the DIY aesthetic to a new level of incompetence. By today's standards The Slits' early bootleg recordings sound horribly generic and uninteresting. Luckily, the band waited several years before cutting its first record with veteran reggae producer Dennis Bovell.
Bovell cracked The Slit's world wide open with his sound effects, oddly syncopated rhythms, and fascination with dub beats. And by 1979 The Slits had carved an unique niche out of its early punk ramblings on its debut, Cut. Vocalist Ari Up's sputtering melodies mingled well with the dub effects and stilted rhythms to form a sound that no other post-punk band could claim. To this day the music sounds spooky, assertive, and subversive. How these proudly non-musical instrumentalists transformed into envelope-pushing idea-makers is still a mystery, but Cut remains one of the most important post-punk records ever recorded.
Delving even deeper into world beats and ethnic verisimilitude, Return of the Giant Slits marked an even more extreme sense of ambitiousness. At this point in 1981, The Slits showed little to no interest in any adherence to the Puritanism of punk, instead opting for the destruction of pre-conceived notions of punk's boundaries and women's place in music.
Such extremism was eventually the band's undoing, and, ironically, The Slits lived up to punk's inevitable, self-fulfilling implosion, disbanding before the year's end. Up joined the avant-pop New Age Steppers before disappearing to Jamaica.
I recently spoke with The Slits en masse and newly reunited on speakerphone, as they were traveling to a show during their first week of touring in twenty-five years. It was a difficult interview to say the least- not because the band wasn't eager to talk (it was). But all of them would speak at once, their accents thick and rough. I quickly learned my questions were far too wordy and detailed for such a jovial, haphazard interview, so I tried to simplify them on the spot.
I started off with the obvious in what prompted The Slits' reformation after so many years, to which they snarkily replied, "Cuz we missed each other so much." Clearly. When I pressed for a more substantive answer, I managed to get them to eke out "we have unfinished business." Fair enough. Up claims she never left music at all, even though she left the public eye. She says she "didn't want to know about European existence anymore", thus the move to Jamaica, where she "lived in music every day."
I tried to explore the first women in punk angle, but they weren't taking the bait, although they did say that, if anything, The Slits "gave girls an alternative to standing in the audience." I brought up the band's legacy, asking if there were any bands in which the influence of The Slits were audible, which prompted the most emphatic response of the interview, "THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A BAND LIKE THE SLITS AND THERE NEVER WILL BE!"
And with that, you should probably do whatever you can to see them live because, even though it's a silly, cop-out answer, there's a kernel of truth to it. 2006 tour dates:
Wed 11/08/06 Atlanta, GA Drunken Unicorn
Thu 11/09/06 Birmingham, AL Bottletree
Fri 11/10/06 Baton Rouge, LA Spanish Moon
Sat 11/11/06 Austin, TX Emo’s Austin
Tue 11/14/06 Tucson, AZ Club Congress
Thu 11/16/06 San Diego, CA The Casbah
Fri 11/17/06 West Hollywood, CA The Troubadour
Sat 11/18/06 San Francisco, CA Mezzanine
Sun 11/19/06 Oakland, CA Uptown Night Club
Tue 11/21/06 Portland, OR Dante’s
Wed 11/22/06 Seattle, WA El Corazon
Sun 11/26/06 Chicago, IL Logan Square