Previously, I have written on this blog about the importance of being a feral artist; a reject and anti-establishment. Over the years I have attempted to find artists and artworks that are progressive and trying to push the boundaries of art. It is clear that Africa's horizons have broadened of late and those that were rejected yesterday are slowly but surely, becoming acceptable today. I have come to understand that life is a constant flow of rejection and acceptance and with that in mind, it seem irrelevant to be playing into the hands of the establishment, rather the opposite and aim to be rejected for now and wait for a time that will accept your ideology. An artist must take risks and occasionally step off the path and listen to his/her intuition but also not be too stubborn to take guidance from others. A great deal of my inspiration has come from Ari Up and the Slits. This is a band of sisters who have really made a difference to the world and with limited acclaim, until now, yet they have pursued and maintained their vision and their integrity throughout. I am so proud of these women and saddened by the news of Ari's death.
What her life has taught me, whilst reflecting on her struggle to be heard, is the importance of conviction and self belief. She teaches an interesting lesson in rejection being a viable option; just so long as you're working progressively, challenging the conventional and generally working towards the greater good. What is interesting about the Slits is their ability to be so imaginative and challenging in all aspects of art; be it edgy album covers, videos, music, dancehall costumes, rhythms and moves and more recently trying to create audience participation and blend the audience with the music, so each live set is unique to each performance. At a time when audiences are so expectant with multi-media platforms and high tech trickery, the Slits have a seemingly, basic no thrills policy and ask those attending to use their bodies, imagination and themselves and become part of the songs sung. These demands should be welcomed in order to break the chains of a ready-made future, devoid of imagination or intelligent thinking. Their work within humanity, music and the arts should be seen as a liberating performance and audiences should be delighted to participate with them.
Ari took musical influences from Brooklyn and Jamaica, especially the Dancehall music and ambitiously pushed these new afropolitan vibes to smaller audiences within unfamiliar territory, the Northern hemisphere. Similar to the likes of André Derain and Odilon Reden, Cezanne, Gustave Corubet and Paul Gauguin of yesteryear she too tried to blend Oriental musical ideas and forge a slight change in the Occidental world. She should be regarded as the Picasso of music. She encouraged audience participation, not unlike a Gospel church, and had a wonderfully evangelic approach to music and art, whereby all is possible. She fused Jamaican Reggae and African beats with her Rasta-Bavarian accent into the mix and came up with a distinct sound that is universal. Her approach to live gigs was way ahead of it's time. It is rather reliant on self-assured audiences willing to get involved but irrespective of their short-comings Ari was confident that audiences would engage in the gigs, either immediately or eventually. The penny has yet to drop for many of us who went to see the band live.
The scope of entertainment available today is enormous but if music is to be truly experienced properly, we all must take a stand and play our role in ensuring that the enjoyment of a live performance remains safely in the hands of the audience, as well as the performers.
In an era of faceless friendships from MySpace to Facebook this song says so much:
Hated by Many, Loved by a Few:
Sometimes artists need to swim against the tide rather than with it. The instinctive desire to please others is often so overwhelming, especially when their are mouths to feed and bills to pay but holding to an ideal with pay dividends eventually.
There is a wave of admiration for Ari and her contribution to art throughout the world. She is finally being seen as the real rebel of our age, all aspects of her life should be celebrated.
From the Independent Newspaper:
"Ari wore a long mac which she kept flashing to reveal Union Jack pants worn over leggings. I'd never seen anything like it: it was very sexual. She had a totally unique look that has influenced Bjork and Madonna. She had an extremely rebellious spirit." Tessa Bassie.
Here is a beautiful tribute from Jon Savage of the Guardian to a fantastic one-off.
Ari Up: a punk with the courage to confront
When I saw the Slits in 1977, Ari Up would howl, scream and hitch up her clothes. No audience had ever seen a young woman behave like this on stage. And like the best punk rock, she had a gleeful desire to shock and outrage
Slits singer Ari Up dies aged 48
Ari Up, whose death from cancer has just been announced, was an extremely powerful energy force – a trailblazer who embodied the punk spirit. As singer and co-writer in the Slits, she completely redefined what a woman in music could do and – in the ethos of the time – opened up possibilities that would be explored by herself and many others in the years to come.
The Slits erupted during their appearance at the Harlesden Coliseum in March 1977. Like many groups at that time, they were learning as they went along: the performance was chaotic and violent. But no one had seen young women behave like this on stage: enacting a flagrant parody of sexuality, at the same time seemingly tougher and more disturbing than the other (male) groups on the bill.
I loved seeing them in 1977 and 1978. The shows became more coherent, but there was always this edge of chaos – which added to the excitement. Visually, drummer Palmolive was fantastic: standing up to play, beating the crap out of her set in thundering, tribal patterns. Bassist Tessa Pollitt stood stock still and watchful, while guitarist Viv Albertine prowled the stage like a tiger.
Up front, Ari howled, screamed, toasted, crooned, skanked, hitched up her clothes, pulled at her bird's nest hair, and generally behaved in a most un-lady-like fashion. She was confrontational in person and on stage, but her courage went hand-in-hand with a gleeful, teenage desire to shock and outrage that was a major impulse in punk.
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. One masterpiece was FM – recorded for a John Peel session in 1977 – which tackles the insidious psychic effects of the mass media. It ends with a radio sweep that includes Union Gap's salacious Young Girl.
By the time the Slits recorded their first album in 1979, they were a completely different band from their thrash beginnings. Produced by Dennis Bovell, the reggae-infused Cut is justly celebrated as a landmark statement that includes strong songs such as Newtown, Shoplifting and, of course, Typical Girls – an enduring manifesto for young women who seek to reject the norm.
Punk has now become so familiar that people forget its primal, revolutionary drive. For a brief period, everything had to be new. If it hadn't been done before, do it: why not? What's to stop you? Ari Up enacted this impulse on stage, on record, and in person into the 21st century. In any language, this was heroic, and I salute her for that: I'm sorry she's gone.
Jon Savage Thursday 21 October 2010 13.39 BST