In 1976, fourteen-year-old Ari Up ran into her friend Palmolive at a Patti Smith gig. That night the two girls, inspired by the punk scene exploding around them, decided to form a band. Along with their buddies Tessa Pollitt and Viv Albertine, they started the Slits. Borrowing equipment that they were barely able to play from their friends in the Sex Pistols and the Clash, the Slits started playing a new breed of primitive punk. By the time they recorded their first album, Cut, in 1979, they had lost their drummer—who was replaced by Budgie of Siouxie and the Banshees—but scored an awesome producer who helped fuse their love of dub and reggae with their own punk-gone-primal sound.
In 1981 they broke the band up. Viv retired, Tessa became a martial arts expert and Ari spent eight years in the jungle of Borneo.
Pissed off that the Slits never fully completed their mission, Tessa and Ari reformed the band last year.
Why did the Slits break up?
You’ve got to think about the pressure. You’re fourty years ahead of time and you’re born into a revolution, right? It’s a musical one as well as a social, political and cultural one and we were women in it. It was really dangerous to be the Slits; a witch-hunt. We went through so many evolutions: from raw, punk-type stuff into that whole punky-reggae thing then into the world beat thing, all in the space of only five or six years. I don’t even know how we managed to be around in the first place.
So do you feel you were a gang, like, the Slits against every one else?
Yes. I think it was a really tribal gang. I think we would have done very well in Australia and New Zealand. I think we would have done well with the Aborigines. We really wanted to go to Australia cause we were really into that movie Walkabout. We were inspired by that whole tribal thing. We even did a song on Return of the Giant Slits album called Walkabout as a tribute to that movie and the indigenous people.
I love the new EP. It sounds just like the Slits but different.
Right! It’s a continuation. It’s part of the third record that we would have had: timeless. It’s very selfish in a good way—this is what we are and we’re not going to change it for anything or anyone. I know that people all over the world need this. I’m not saying it as Ari or the Slits even—I’m saying it almost like someone who’s been an outsider for many years now.
Back in the 70s you wouldn’t have been allowed in a department store like Selfridges but you recently played a show there with the new band.
They would have thrown us out. Even as customers, they would not have even let us shop in there. That’s how bad it was.
So why did you decide to play the show?
We just played for the hell of it, and then we thought ‘hey, we’ll play Shoplifting in there’. I told everybody to raid the place. I don’t know if anyone actually stole anything but I told everyone to.
Why the name of the EP?
That was an accident because a girl mistook Return of the Giant Slits for Revenge of the Killer Slits and I laughed so hard. So many things emerge from accidents—like even the cover of Cut where we’re all covered in mud. It wasn’t like ‘oh, yeah, lets do this’. We were living in the country and there was nothing but trees and mud around and we thought, someone’s going to come and take photos of us so fuck it, lets just roll around in mud.
Are you going to come to Australia now?
We’re really working on it. We always wanted to tour Australia. It’s one of those things that needs to be done still.
I think you guys really set a good example.
Right. That’s the good thing that the Slits accomplished. We were a good inspiration and influence for other people as well.
The Slits’ new album Revenge Of The Killer Slits is out now through Exo Records. www.myspace.com/theslitz