Formed: London, England, UK
Formed in 1977, The Slits were notable for a) being girls and b) being utterly incompetent. With dreadlocked 14-year-old Ari Upp providing the distinctive, shrieked/wobbly vocals, the four-piece toured with The Clash, Subway Sect and The Jam on the White Riot Tour and pretty much outraged the more stolid members of the public by daring not only to be loud, obnoxious and hopelessly amateurish but by being women as well. Wearing knickers on the outside and playing what could best be described as sheer noise was simply not becoming behaviour for young ladies. They refused to play the industry game of being male fantasy stereotypes and stood out as innovative, fearless and inspirational.
A bit of history: their genesis lay in Sid Vicious' first band The Flowers of Romance, who never got around to playing a gig. In their line-up was Viv Albertine on guitar, and Palmolive on drums. When that band splintered, Viv and Palmolive teamed up with fifteen-year-old Ari Upp and Tessa (bass) as The Slits. They recorded a couple of awesome Peel Sessions in 1977 and 1978, the second with Budgie replacing Palmolive, who had sloped off (ie was sacked) to form The Raincoats. These sessions are now on The Peel Sessions Album, with a third one from 1981, and capture the band at their most intense, before they'd really mastered their instruments.
By the time of Cut they had learnt to play (a bit) and had fully introduced Jamaican reggae and dub sounds into their repertoire. But don't worry, for the result isn't wank white reggae of the kind perpetrated by The Police but a fascinating, convincing, consistently aurally thrilling slab of genuine art-punk lent an extra credibility by their choice of producer: Dennis Bovell. (The cover art, depicting the band naked from the waist up and covered in mud, wasn't bad either.) Ari Upp's quavery, untrained, constantly out-of-key vocals provide the LP with much of its character, although Budgie's drumming helps hold things together when they seem like they're falling apart. Every song is impressively constructed and arranged, with interesting lyrics about sexual stereotypes (on the best song, 'Typical Girls'), the liberation of wares from convenience stores ('Shoplifting', later covered very badly by the Senseless Things) and a track about Mr Vicious ('So Tough'). One of the top twenty punk records of the 70's, guv.
At this point they moved further away from punk and deeper into art/dub/reggae. They teamed up with the likeminded (but much less listenable) Pop Group for a split single in 1980, and recorded a swell version of John Holt's 'Man Next Door'. The next development was delving into African (as opposed to Jamaican) styles on their second and final album, Return Of The Giant Slits, a fairly hard-going record that ultimately succumbs to the occasional tunelessness that threatened their first LP, with long, meandering songs. The 'Animal Space' 12" EP is US-only.
In between their two albums, Rough Trade released Retrospective also known as Y and Songs From A Living Room, a legit bootleg that came without a cover and included bedroom and live tapes from 1977. It is without doubt one of the most inept affairs ever committed to vinyl, and apart from some studio jams (with bongos!) that really do stink, the sheer unpleasantness of their music is a joy to behold: 'A Boring Life' and 'Public Enemy No. 1' are great. Equally noteworthy is a live recording of 'Sister Ray' featuring both the Slits and Subway Sect on stage at the same time, giving you a grand total of eight people, all playing out of tune simultaneously. Not a hi-fi experience, and not for the faint-hearted either.In The Beginning is split into a "lo-fi" "punk era" side and a "hi-fi" "dub era" side, and features guest vocals from Nina Hagen and Neneh Cherry. It was previously issued in 1977 by US label Cleopatra.