Tuesday, January 15, 2019

writing about music

an interview with someone called Elodie from about ten years ago about being a music writer, fanzines, the music press, the relationship between journalists and musicians, as well as more lofty themes such as obsession, passion, truth etc

What was the very first article you wrote about? When was it? What do you really write about when you write about music?

The first piece was on Bow Wow Wow for an arts magazine at Oxford called Radical Review. This was the winter of 1981. The editor Paul Oldfield would go on to be my best friend and together with some other people we would do a fanzine called Margin, which then became a kind of polemical wall-poster which we'd stick up all around the university and town. Then after graduating we started a new magazine, Monitor, which was a fanzine that had pretensions to being a pop journal--no interviews or reviews, just thinkpieces, and with a strong design aesthetic. Unlike other fanzines, we had no local element whatsoever - no coverage of Oxford bands. We saw ourselves as national, even international!

 That was 1984.  We did six issues, the last one was summer of 1986.

What do you really write about when you write about music?

That's too big a question. I suppose in a strange way it is autobiography, but only glimpsed through the prism of other things--music and everything it touches. I don't have a lot of time for the memoiristic school of music writing, I don't feel it tells you anything much about the music and how it will affect you the reader. Just because it intersected with the memoirist-critic's life in such and such a way… it's too particular, the meaning that is being written about is not intrinsic to the music, it doesn't inhere to the sound in any real way. It can be interesting when done really, really well--and it helps if you know the writer--but I don't think it has much to offer in the way of truth.

What was your experience like as a fanzine-maker?

Great collaborative excitement and a sense of purpose, coupled with a lot of hard work, which was the appeal, and the point. A life without work is empty; a life of leisure, a permanent vacation, would be horrible. We were on the dole, most of us, but we invented a job for ourselves to do. And it led to a real one for me. Not directly, I didn't get a telegram from a music paper, but in terms of me honing my skills and building up my courage.

Do you remember in which context Monitor was started? Were there something missing, a room you felt you had to inhabit?

Nothing so flowery, just tons of ideas about music, lots to say, a lot of ego and ambition. I knew I wanted to be a music journalist, a certain kind of critic, and this was my training phase, a sort of girding of loins.

As a reader I had been a fan of the side of the NME in the late 70s and early 80s that was high-powered intellectually and did think pieces, as well as thinkpieces/manifestos that masqueraded as record reviews, gig reviews, interviews. Around 1983 the editorship of NME started phasing out those kind of thematic essays gradually while the writers who'd been doing that kind of thing either moved on to other things (Paul Morley started ZTT Records) or were getting marginalised. So as a frustrated consumer I tried to supply my own demand as it were. I don't think the others at Monitor were so much the NME fanatic as I was, but that was certainly the impetus for me: the music press has stopped doing this, so I'll do it. Hence the no interviews, no reviews policy at Monitor, which lasted until someone started sending us free records. We immediately started a record review section!  But we only ever did one interview, and that was fairly abstract and didn't feature any direct quotes, as I recall.

Were you into writing before you were into music?

My parents are both journalists and it was a bookish orientated household. Apart from a brief phase of wanting to be a cricketer and wanting to be a cartoonist, my ambitions were always to write -- satirical and Monty Python type humour at one point, science fiction later, then finally music journalism.

Are writing and music two interdependent activities to you?

For me listening is accompanied by thinking, usually -- and writing is a tidied up form of thinking aloud. And I was a fan of music journalism --again a particular kind of music writing -- almost as much as a fan of music.

Does the reality of the written world (the page) convey the reality of the musical, outer world that’s happening before your eyes (the stage) or are these two different realities as it were? Would you make such a distinction/opposition between the page and the stage?

What were you trying best in your early articles: was it to be faithful to your heart or to your eyes?

Dunno. I always think what I'm saying is the truth, if that' s what you mean. I try and avoid going down the path of qualification and seeing the other point of view, because it leads to weak writing, most of the time.

What is the role of emotion in music writing? What about the role of obsession?

It's all emotion. It may be more abstract and rarefied forms of emotion -- contemplative, the emotion that perfection of  form produces, which is an emotion that has nothing to do with "emo" type emotions, but can be really intense and swoony and rhapsodic, or just a real clarity and acuity of perception.

Obsession is the aim. You're looking for music that is worthy of obsession, and that can trigger obsession. In the mean time you'll settle for delight, or amusement, or in really lean times, "interesting".

Also, do you consider writing about music as a re-presentation of something that happened before (the report of a story) or a presentation of something new (telling a new, and maybe another, story)?

I don't think about that kind of thing very often, at least not when faced with a specific piece of writing. The goal is more to get it into a shape that works. There's probably a mixture of fact and fiction in the end result, in the sense that leaving stuff out is always going to reduce the complexity of reality. Rip It Up is defined as much by what is left out as what is in there.

Did you feel closer to the bands and their language (The Smiths for example) than you were to other music journalists?

Not really. Most bands are understandably wary of journalists, because whatever they write, however flattering or aggrandising it is, it is going to box them into some kind of corner. I've seen that in a limited way when people interview me or profile me. Just the way a quote is cut down to size can give it an emphasis that is deceptive --and you go, "I didn't mean it like that!" - that emphatically or resoundingly.  

Bands and music journalists are symbiotic life forms, they need each other, and are often working on the same side in the sense of trying to will into existence the perception that something (a band, a scene) is happening. But the relationship is freighted with tension. Bands can be very frustrating for journalists if they don't talk themselves up or are evasive, or if they just refuse to rubber stamp the version of what they are about that you the journo are trying to put out there.  

Bands also don't understand why you don't want to keep on writing about them forever, even if (rare scenario, this!) they keep on making good records. They don't understand that to write about the same subject over and over is for the journalists exactly like if the band had to keep remaking its first album again and again.

Was there a sense of community, of togetherness in the Melody Maker team when you joined in for example?

Not at first, but it built up gradually, partly with Monitor members joining me there like David Stubbs and Paul Oldfield, but also new comrades like the Stud Brothers. And generally there was an affable atmosphere among the writers, riven sometimes by discord over particular bands or scenes that one faction or other favoured/disfavoured. But they were great times. This was back when magazines didn't have emails and even faxing was quite unusual, so people brought their copy into the office and then hung out there all day, leading to all afternoon and all night drinking sessions.

I also met my future wife Joy Press at Melody Maker and she was part of our gang, but I had no idea then that romance would be on the cards!

Can you remember your attitudes towards music writing and the music press before you started to write about music yourself?

I thought that that was the life to live.  I probably imagined something a lot more glamorous than it actually was, although it did have a glamour of its own, and in some ways surpassed my expectations.

To which extent would you consider post-punk or indie pop as literary, movements, created in words?

A lot of the musicians were more like critics than actual muso musicians; if ever there was a period when left-field musicians and the cutting edge of music journalism were really close, that was it. Quite a few musicians were actually journalists, and journos were in bands, or involved in the music business. It was a very discourse-oriented culture. My ideas about music were affected by key critics at that time but also by musician-theorists like Green Gartside, Brian Eno (slightly later on), and Malcolm McLaren (more a manager-theorist although he did "make" some great records)

Do you think there is a link that draws together everything you ever wrote about music?

If there is, I can't see it. There's some kind of quest, maybe, but I couldn't verbalise it. It does relate to the idea of obsession being the highest state of being.  Of true music fandom being essentially bi-polar  -- so that you're either in a state of mania or in the slough of despond.  Those kind of  see-sawing rhythms seem to run through the whole trajectory of my writing.

Is there anything you wish you hadn't written?

There' s a fair few dull-ish pieces, but not that many things that are excruciatingly embarrassing -- mostly odd sentences here and there which make me wince. Journalists can sometimes sell themselves on the idea of a group because it's a good story, and I've done that a lot less often than some writers, but there are a few things where I now think, "nah!".

Does your perception of the past and of the past musical scene(s) (such as post-punk) keep evolving with time?

Yes. At any given point I'm generally rediscovering things I was once into and finding new things about them, or exploring areas I never checked out because of various prejudices or simply not having ever got round to them. 

but even things that I lived through very intensely, like postpunk, or the early days of rave and jungle, they don't seem like closed books at all, I still find them fresh to listen to and new ideas pop up. Which is odd given that I've written books about both, you'd think I'd be sated and sick.  But not yet, not yet....

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Postpunk London

It Came from London: A virtual tour of Post-punk's roots
Time Out London, April 2005

by Simon Reynolds

If you want to get a vivid sense of what London felt like in the late Seventies, rent the DVD of Rude Boy. Filmed during 1978-79, the Clash's semi-documentary teems with great footage of Rock Against Racism carnivals and National Front demonstrations. But what really strikes the contemporary eye is how crap everything looks. With its washed-out colour schemes, shabby clothes, and grey faces, London resembles an Eastern Bloc city compared to today's design-conscious and style-saturated metropolis.



Beneath the drab surface, though, late Seventies London was culturally vibrant in ways that make the sharp-dressed and monied capital of today seem frankly impoverished. Rock music, avant-garde art, critical theory, and militant politics cross-contaminated each other to create a ferment of creativity and dissent. Although the capital was getting an early taste of Thatcherism--spending cuts, attacks on public transport and council housing--courtesy of the Conservative leadership that took over the GLC (Greater London Council) in 1977, London still had plenty of spaces for alternative lifestyles. Squat culture and low-rent bohemia thrived during what was effectively the glorious last blast of the counterculture.



1977 was supposed to be Year Zero, as far as the punks were concerned. They scorned the lank-locked hippies, rolling joints on their gatefold album sleeves and blissing out to noodly guitar solos. Yet in truth punk rock was really a historical blip, a brief interruption in the continuum of progressive music and culture that stretched from the psychedelia of 1967 to the avant-funk and industrial dub of 1979. This explains why Ladbroke Grove and its surrounding neighbourhoods were so key during the postpunk period. Former stomping ground of Pink Floyd and Hawkind, home to the epoch-defing progressive labels Island and Virgin, the Grove segued seamlessly from the era of kaftans, flares and Afghan coats to the Doc Martens, drainpipes and holey out-size jumpers of postpunk.



One thing shared by the hippies and the postpunks was the white Brit boho veneration for reggae as the ultimate "roots rock rebel" sound. Former Island Records press officer, reggae journalist, and maker of the dubby post-punk single "Launderette", Vivien Goldman lived in W11 during this era. She remembers there being at least half-a-dozen illegal sound systems within walking distance from her house on Ladbroke Grove. Known as "blues," the parties typically operated out of someone's flat or house. "You'd pay a quid on the door, get a spiff and a Red Stripe, and rave all night to dub and lover's rock. Ladbroke Grove was much more scuzzy in those days, and much more like a village. It really was a scene where you'd run into everybody on Portobello on Saturday afternoon without fail, whether you wanted to see them or not."



A major hangout for West London's postpunk community was the Rough Trade record shop, which took over a building on Kensington Park Road that had formerly been the site of the UK's first hippie "headshop. "Rough Trade became a real magnet," says RT co-founder Geoff Travis. "You could just hang out and browse without anyone harassing you, and there were chairs and huge speakers pumping out all the reggae pre-releases. We made the connection with punk really early." Ladbroke Grove was The Clash's manor, after all. Their lyrics were shadowed by the Westway flyover and the Brutalist monstrosity of Trellick Tower (which now looks almost charmingly quaint with its utilitarian design), while "White Riot" was inspired by the disorder of the 1976 Notting Hill Carnival.



Rough Trade the label started almost exactly two years after the record shop opened for business in February 1976. Operating out of a little shed at the back of the store, between 1978 and 1981 Rough Trade released many of postpunk's defining records, some from out-of-towners like Swell Maps, Cabaret Voltaire, Kleenex, and The Fall, and others from London vanguard outfits like This Heat, Scritti Politti, and The Raincoats. As striking as its discography, though, was the idealism that informed the way Rough Trade operated. Despite being a privately owned company, it was run as a cooperative, with all the staff enjoying equal pay and equal say (just like Time Out, in those days).

Travis embodied the continuity between the counterculture and postpunk. He talks about growing up during the era of Schoolkids' Oz and the Grosvenor Square demonstrations, and living in squats all across London. "Mile End, Camden, Bloomsbury... I was living in a squat when the Rough Trade store opened." Later he became Vivien Goldman's housemate and tested her patience with the endless succession of Rough Trade bands from outside the city who kipped on the floor when in town to make records or play gigs.



A short walk from Rough Trade, at the far end of Portobello beyond the Westway, stood the former premises of Sixties underground paper International Times. By the late Seventies it was occupied by a company called Better Badges. Wearing your allegiances--political or musical--on your lapels was the thing to do in those heady days, and Better Badges was the market leader. But the guy behind Better was no "breadhead." An original hippie who had worked as an editor at International Times and legendarily hadn't cut his locks since 1968, Jolyon McFie started an idealistic "print now/pay later" scheme to help fledgling fanzines like Jamming get off the ground. The editors could then lug the copies down the road to Rough Trade, whose burgeoning distribution network would get them into independent record stores across the nation.



On their way from Better Badges to Rough Trade, the spotty zine kids would pass Acklam Hall, a venue tucked under the Westway flyover. Later renamed Subterrania, Acklam Hall started out hosting benefit gigs (including ones for Rock Against Racism), survived a neo-fascist arson attack, and blossomed as a crucial performance space for postpunk groups. Scritti Politti made their live debut there in November 1978, playing a four song set (because that's all the tunes they then had) and going down so well, the audience insisted they play the 15 minute set again. On the same bill were Latimer Road postpunks pragVEC, whose offshoot band The Atoms featured comedian/actor Keith Allen singing ditties like "Max Bygraves Killed My Mother."



Another key West London venue was The Chippenham, a dingy upstairs room of a Westbourne Grove pub, where bands performed without a stage. In 1979, it was the place to see Rough Trade's gloriously shambolic feminist postpunkers The Raincoats and lesser-known absurdists like The Tesco Bombers and The Vincent Units. Raincoats bassist Gina Birch lived nearby in the squat-infested Monmouth Road. "Some of the houses had been burnt out and were literally uninhabitable," she recalls. "The one we lived in was not a pretty sight. People would say, 'we're making a post-holocaust film, can we shoot in your house?' We had mushrooms growing out of the toilet wall."



Vicky Aspinall, the Raincoats' violinist, was recruited after she spotted the band's ad--"female musician wanted: no style but strength"--in Camden's late lamented radical bookstore Compendium. There were postpunk outposts across the city--John Lydon and PiL's bunker at Gunter Grove in the grubby end of Chelsea, the Cold Storage studio on Brixton's Acre Lane where This Heat recorded, Throbbing Gristle's 'Death Factory' HQ in Hackney--but in truth Camden was Ladbroke Grove's only real rival during this period as an alternative culture stronghold. It was home to Scritti Politti and the clutch of likeminded do-it-yourself bands who clustered around them, and to the London Musician's Collective.



"Being in Camden, it just felt like you were in the right place," recalls LMC co-founder David Toop. He says that the area's bohemian prime really kicked off with punk. "One time I took this musician from America to a local café, and the guy was utterly astonished when the Clash walked in. But that was actually totally normal at that time." The Clash were doubtless taking a break from rehearsing at their practice space, a disused British Rail storage shed on Chalk Farm Road. The LMC also repurposed British Rail property, taking over a former BR laundry-cum-social club on Gloucester Avenue and turning it into a performance space.



Originally born out of the UK's free improvisation scene, the LMC began to attract discontented ex-punks like Viv Albertine of The Slits and Mark Perry of Sniffin' Glue/Alternative TV, who chafed against the strictures of conventional rock. Fans of the early, chaotic incarnation of the Slits, Toop and LMC co-founder Steve Beresford wanted to foster a dialogue between the virtuosos of British improv and the non-skilled DIY types who'd emerged from punk. A spirit of irreverent playfulness and quirked-out whimsy informed the LMC scene's music, symbolized in a shared penchant for toy pianos and other unusual instruments. On one memorable night, Bendell from LMC regulars The Door and the Window played a solo set using the room's radiators. "The whole idea was 'to make music you don't need to have a musical instrument," says Perry. "'Fuck the rules'."



In 1979/80, the LMC became a real vortex of activity. "The monthly meetings were hugely well attended, and quite fractious," says Toop. Anarcho-feminist ideas were in the air, and inevitably there was a tension between wanting to dismantle conventional power structures and actually getting anything done. "A lot of people's typical LMC gig was, you arrived at 8 o'clock, nobody was there, so you'd go to the pub," recalls Toop. "You'd come back and somebody was collecting money on the door, but the musicians weren't there. Gradually the musicians might drift in, somewhat pissed. And it might be a great gig musically or it might just fall apart. Usually there was no PA system." In the end, Toop got worn down by being the de facto organizer and quit the LMC. "That's the main argument against collectivism--it's just too exhausting!"



Over the road from the LMC was The Engineer pub, whose back room became "the court of Scritti," according to Steve Beresford. Scritti Politti were also a collective. The core trio of musicians were surrounded by a think-tank of some 20 people who vigorously debated all aspects of the group's existence. As well as attending regular meetings at the band's Carol Street squat, some members of the collective would also come onstage at Scritti gigs to add extra clamor and commotion to the group's "scratchy-collapsy, stop-start mistakes, falling-over sound", a style that singer Green christened "messthetics."



"The squat was pretty squalid, there wasn't even a bathroom," recalls Green. Oi! band Skrewdriver lived a few doors down the road, and the contrast between Scritti (members of the Young Communist League) and the Far Right Skrewdriver neatly captures the political polarization of the time. In the May 1979 general election, the National Front ran candidates in every electoral seat in the country, prompting Rock Against Racism to retaliate with the 40 date "Militant Entertainment" tour. 1979 was a banner year for racial attacks and street violence, inspiring songs like the The Jam's "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight" and Fatal Microbes' postpunk classic "Violence Grows", on which singer Honey Bane describes people looking the other way as someone gets "kicked to death in a London pedestrian subway." Green remembers the threat of aggro as a constant presence. "A lot of my friends in Camden were beaten up. We'd get attacked coming back from gigs. I was doing some part-time work at the Communist Party HQ in Covent Garden and there were letter bombs while I was there."



Today the average price of a house in Camden is £420,000. At the tail-end of the Seventies, though, it was an edgy place to live. Compendium served as a crucial resource for radicals of all stripes, crammed as it was with small press periodicals, activist pamphlets, fanzines, critical theory paperbacks, and early translations of French post-structuralist philosophy of the sort that would eventually inspire Green to write a catchy ditty entitled "Jacques Derrida." "You could go downstairs in the basement and root about, spend hours in there," recalls Green. "It was a really important place."



One member of Scritti's sprawling collective in those days was Ian Penman, the legendary music journalist (in)famous for introducing the jargon of deconstruction to the ink-smutted pages of NME. He occasionally blew freeform saxophone onstage with Scritti, as well as playing on pragVEC records under the pseudonym "Reeds Moran." According to Penman, life for the amphetamine-fiending postpunk aesthete was organized around a clandestine cartography of "grotty squats, grotty art house cinemas, grotty record shops." All-night cinemas like Screen on the Green or the Scala were crucial hang-outs. This was an era, remember, before the mire of entertainment options offered by video stores and DVDs, satellite and cable. If you craved culture, you had to go to specific locations to find it, meaning that you would experience it not in the solipsistic pod of your living room, but in a collective environment, surrounded by fellow freaks and night creatures.




Postpunk bohemia started crumbling in the early Eighties when the Thatcher effect kicked in. It was time to "get real," clamber onto some kind of career(ist) track, whether within pop music or outside it. Hence New Pop, in which squat-punk fellow-travelers like the Thompson Twins followed Green's lead and ditched their saxophones and hand-percussion in favor of synths and drum machines, and embraced the aesthetic and promotional possibilities of video.



Boy George had lived in squats in Kentish Town and Warren Street, alongside characters like gender-bender Marilyn and Haysi Fantayzee's Jeremy Healey, but then his band Culture Club stormed the charts with a pop reggae sound even more sugary than Scritti's failed crossover bid "The 'Sweetest Girl'." Camden became synonomous with New Romantic club the Camden Palace, and with Madness, whose latterday hits included a cover of "'The Sweetest Girl.''



Partly impelled by losing hit-hungry bands like Scritti to big labels with the muscle to get them in the charts, Rough Trade tried to shed its "brown rice" collectivist image and adopted competitive practices in tune with the Eighties. They overhauled their managerial structure and hired radio pluggers. For those who didn't take the chartpop entryist route, the alternatives were to continue making marginal music in an increasingly discouraging environment, or... get a job. Sue Gogan, vocalist for pragVEC, briefly worked as a road sweeper for Camden Council after the band fell apart. One cold morning in 1984, working her broom at the bottom of a short steep hill near a photographer's studio, she saw "a pretty flash motor pull up. The driver got out and opened the back door of the car. Out stepped Green. I guess he'd 'made it'. Funny."

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Cut in Uncut (The Slits, remembered, in 1997)

The Slits - Cut

Uncut, December 1997

by Simon Reynolds 

I remember very clearly the first time I heard Cut – it was the summer of '79, I was staying at my aunt's in the Yorkshire Dales, and I'd sneaked off to listen to The John Peel Show. The tracks – ‘Spend, Spend, Spend’ and ‘Newtown’ – sounded incredibly eerie and ethereal, partly because of the tatty, trebly transistor radio through which I heard them, but mainly because it was my first exposure to dub-wise production.
A few weeks later, Cut became the second album I ever owned. As with other records from the days when my collection was in single figures (like PiL's Metal Box), Cut's every rhythm-guitar tic and punky-dread vocal inflection is engraved in my heart.
As a just-missed-punk 16-year-old, I'd first encountered The Slits' name in a Melody Maker profile of Malcolm McLaren. After losing control of the Pistols, McLaren was offered the chance to manage The Slits and briefly schemed to make a wildly exploitative movie in which the girl-band go to Mexico, find themselves effectively sold into slavery, and are turned into porno-disco stars. 



Thank God, The Slits slipped out of McLaren's clutches. He went off to make skin flicks in Paris, and The Slits made Cut – one of the greatest albums of the post-punk era, alongside Metal Box, Gang Of Four's Entertainment and The Raincoats' first two records.
One of rock criticism's minor dissensions is which version of The Slits is better – the untamed, untutored rumpus of their early live gigs versus the tidied up, punky-reggae studio-Slits with dub wizard Dennis ‘Blackbeard’ Bovell at the controls.
As exciting as the 1977-78 John Peel Sessions indisputably are, The Slits sound infinitely better after they fell in with Bovell, Budgie took over the drumming (following original sticks-woman Palmolive's departure for The Raincoats), and they acquired some basic chops. On the Strange Fruit CD of those Peel sessions, you can hear the embryonic glory of Cut, but the raw tumult is closer to heavy metal bludgeon than punky-reggae sway.

Compounding the taboo-busting frisson of the band's name, Cut's cover is a confrontational classic: mud-smeared and clad only in loincloths, The Slits strike bare-breasted Amazon poses and defiantly out-stare the camera's gaze. The backdrop is a picturesque, bramble-strewn English cottage – as if to say, ‘We're no delicate English roses’. The back-sleeve has Ari Up, Viv Albertine and Tessa Pollitt daubed in warpaint, lurking in a bush. The music and lyrical stance is just as fierce, kicking off with two jibes at punk rock machismo, ‘Instant Hit’ and ‘So Tough’ (the latter namechecking a "Sid" and a "John"). Everything great about The Slits is instantly audible in these songs: Albertine's itchy-and-scratchy rhythm guitar, Pollitt's revved-up but rootsical basslines, Budgie's clackety rimshot drums, and, above all, the strange geometry of the clashing and overlapping girl-harmonies. Ari Up's harsh Teutonic accent makes her sound like a guttersnipe Nico, on sulphate rather than smack.



‘Spend, Spend, Spend’ is where Bovell's dub-wisdom makes its presence felt. It's desolate dirge-skank, all sidling bass and brittle drums. Ari's portrait of a shopaholic is truly poignant as she tries to "satisfy this empty feeling" with impulse-purchases. But if ‘Spend’ is woman-as-consumerist-dupe, ‘Shoplifting’ turns this on its head, imagining petty theft as proto-feminist insurrection: "We pay fuck-all!" Oi!-meets-Riot-Grrrl backing vocals urge, "Do a runner! Do a runner!", and the music – surging, spasming dub-funk – does exactly that as Ari unleashes an exhilarating scream of glee-and-terror, then collapses in giggles with the admission: "I've pissed in my knickers!"
The sombre ‘FM’ critiques the mass media. Ari's protagonist wonders, "What's feeding my screams?", and describes radio transmissions as "frequent mutilation... serving for the purpose of those who want you to fear". ‘Newtown’ is an Irvine Welsh-like vision of a society based around addiction and surrogate-satisfactions, drawing a disconcerting parallel between the cathode-ray junkies "sniffing televisiono, taking foot-ballino" and The Slits' own bohemian milieu numbed-out on illegal narcotics. The jittery, scraping guitar mimics the fleshcrawling ache of cold turkey, while dub-FX of dropping spoons ram home the analogy.

‘Ping Pong Affair’ is about emotional withdrawal: Ari measures out the empty post-break-up evenings with cigarettes and masturbation ("Same old thing, yeah I know, everybody does it"). ‘Love Und Romance’, scorns the very lovey-dovey intimacy that ‘Ping Pong’ craved. It's a witheringly sardonic parody of smotherlove-as-braindeath, with Ari gloating to her boyfriend: "Oh my darling, who wants to be free?"
‘Typical Girls’ – the only single off Cut – was The Slits' manifesto, a mocking diatribe against the non-punkette ordinary girls who "Don't create/don't rebel" and whose heads are addled with women's-magazine-implanted anxieties about "Spots, fat, unnatural smells".

With its cut-and-dried, programmatic critique of conditioning, ‘Typical Girls’ is the closest The Slits got to the 1979 agit-funk bands. But unlike, say, The Au Pairs, The Slits sound riotous rather than righteous.

After Cut – 32 minutes of near-perfection that ends with the touching if slight ‘Adventures Close To Home’ – The Slits went all earth-mother feminist and tribal conscious. "In The Beginning There Was Rhythm", a 1980 split single with The Pop Group on the flipside, was terrific. But it took until 1981 before the sequel to Cut arrivedthe African music influenced Return Of The Giant Slits, whose off-kilter meters and cluttered soundscapes make it a poor cousin to The Raincoats' mistress-piece, Odyshape.


inspired by the Nic Roeg movie?
But, by '81, the post-punk zeitgeist had shifted to New Pop. String sections, suits and synths were de rigueur; anything that smacked of bohemian withdrawal from the mainstream was lambasted as punky-hippie defeatism. The Slits scattered: Ari Up became a fully-fledged Rasta, settled down and had babies; Viv Albertine eventually worked in TV; Tessa got into martial arts.

Although The Slits' attitude was clearly a crucial ancestor for Riot Grrrl and its UK chapter (Huggy Bear et al), the question of their musical legacy is more elusive. 1979-81 post-punk experimentalism – death-disco, agit-funk, ‘John Peel bands’ – is one of the great neglected eras of modem music.*
Maybe, when people tire of Britpop's Sixties / New Wave tunnel-vision, that period will be rediscovered. But so far I've only ever encountered one band who cite The Slits as an influence: New York's goddess-and-Gaia-obsessed pagan funkateers, Luscious Jackson. Singer Jill Cunniff declared: "There was a time when The Slits were the epitome, the ultimate, the coolest of the cool. They were everything I wanted from life."
I second that emotion.



Well, I hadn't realised I was already starting to think about postpunk as a neglected era as early as 1997. Seeds of Rip It Up and Start Again, ahoy!



actually come round to Return of the Giant Slits as a lost demi-classic, but still no match for Cut