ARI-UP (OF THE SLITS)
by Charlotte Robinson -C2002
PopMatters Music Critic
There are basically two camps of aging punk rockers. First are those who continue to make music that rarely rivals their previous successes (Joe Strummer, John Doe, Wire, etc.). Second are those who have drifted off mainstream radar to become romanticized cult figures (Adverts, X-Ray Spex, Subway Sect, etc.). The Slits and their lead singer, Ari-Up, have been part of the latter category since their split in 1981. The all-girl group began to take shape in the mid-'70s when 14-year-old Ari-Up (Ariane Forster) met drummer Palmolive (Paloma Romero) at a Patti Smith concert and agreed on the spot to sing with her band. With guitarist Viv Albertine and bassist Tessa Pollitt, the Slits made one of the biggest, wildest rackets in British punk. They toured with the Clash, recorded sessions for John Peel's influential radio show, transformed from a raw punk band to a dub reggae conglomerate, played with Nina Hagen and Neneh Cherry, and left behind just two studio albums (after Palmolive's departure) before their demise. Ari-Up briefly performed with producer Adrian Sherwood's New Age Steppers in the early '80s, and Palmolive played on the first Raincoats album in 1979, but after that, not much was heard from the former members of the pioneering punk band.
What a treat it was, then, when Ari-Up briefly turned up in a 1990s "history of rock" documentary, still decked out with crazy hair and living in Jamaica. In her years out of the spotlight, she had mothered three sons, become a clothing designer, and continued to perform in Jamaica under the name Medusa. Now going by Ari-Up in the States, she divides her time between Jamaica and Brooklyn, and is looking to reclaim the Slits' impressive legacy. To that end, she has performed a number of live shows in New York (with a recent stop in Chicago) and recorded a song for the 9/11 benefit album Love Songs for New York with her eight-year-old son, Wilton. Her self-titled six-song EP ARi-UP is her first serious attempt at a recording comeback.
So, should we now add Ari-Up to that first category of old punks, the ones who keep recording but never quite reclaim that old magic? No way. Ari-Up is one of the few former punks who has somehow managed to capture the spirit of her classic period while taking her music in new, modern directions. Synthesizers and drum machines are now used to create the full sound for which the Slits required an extended live band, but for the most part this makes the music sound up-to-date rather than mechanical. The fact that Ari has chosen to record reggae-influenced material adds to the freshness of the sound, since dancehall and dub remain underrepresented musical styles in America and Britain.
"True Warrior" incorporates the best elements of the Slits circa Return of the Giant Slits: a trance-inducing reggae beat, subtle percussion, and Ari on lead and backing vocals. Her bizarre and intriguing voice, always the defining element of the Slits' work, is a mixture of straightforward singing, high-pitched warbling reminiscent of a bird call, and rapping. Ari's lyrics are also an impressive mixture of strong and tender sentiments. While the Slits made fun of romantic relationships in songs like "Love und Romance", their singer now has no qualms singing about relationships in a serious way. "I need a man with a strong nature" she asserts on "True Warrior", "A bad boy to society / A lover to his family". Another song that shows uncharacteristic sweetness is "Can't Have", a simple, plaintive ballad about a love triangle. "There's a man that I love / But I know I can't have / 'Cause he's with her / And I don't share", Ari sings. Not everything on Ari-Up is so restrained, however; "Exterminator" and "Baby Mother" are hard-edged Jamaican-style dance numbers that showcase Ari's dance sensibility and rhyming skills.
Despite its short running time, Ari-Up shows an impressive musical range. While putting out six songs on a small label may seem like a low-key way to make a comeback, the music on ARi-UP is far from low-key. It's downright fierce.
___18 September 2002
ARI-UP of the SLITS - 2002
by Baron Dakota
ARI-UP is the raw & real deal, full-on. She and her band of disparate gypsies kick up a blazing sunstorm unrivaled in its authenticity. Ms. ARI serves UP the most passionate hybrid of Dub, Punk, Dancehall, & Hip-hop, out there right now. The cavalcade of gangsta-ho's, ladder-climbers, & pop-princesses can't even touch her. ARI-UP is shockingly talented and intuitive on a shocking number of instruments, in a shocking number of sub-genres. She is based in New York right now, and I am very glad to report that she is going to be kicking down doors big-time on a slew of levels. First & foremost artistically, perceptions of what makes truly great music great, in an industry hoarded by people peddling the most disposable product disguised as "art". Fashion-plates & plastic surgery disasters with nary a voice, let alone talent, backed by corporate teams the size of small towns providing the inauthentic "content" used to hoist a "face" to the top of the charts. ARI-UP, amongst a sadly small handful of others, actually composes the work straight from her head, heart, and EXPERIENCE. These visions are hard-earned, profoundly universal & illuminating, while remaining fiercely personal & individualist.
C2002___Baron Dakota - Q.O.R.E. Inc.
Nina Hagen & Ari-Up - Live at Webster Hall - September 2002
New York Rock Magazine - C2002
Ari-Up's hair is out of control. The ex-Slits singer has curled dreadlocks (think fuzzy fusilli) down to her knees. But that's not the only thing that makes her a hoot. The woman is exuberance incarnate. "The Slits, Nina Hagen, Siouxsie and the Banshees are true warriors," proclaimed Ari, "like Xena!" Her punk-reggae hybrid music led the motley dancers and back-up singers through mightily spastic routines, kind of like me in my bedroom. Not wanting to forsake traditional style, Ari and her band played some punk songs that went over quite well with the buoyant crowd. "This is the real punk shit, right here," she said. And the queen even had a little hip-hop in her. "Big up to Nina Hagen!" she cried.
Bigger up to Ari-Up. No one had more fun, and no one made me have more fun. Isn't that what all this is about?
A huge cloud of smoke swelled onstage, and out of it emerged Nina Hagen with jet-black hair adorned on top with a small peacock feather and a big flower. Those glaring wide eyes, that Cleopatra eye makeup, that bewitching presence... a few more arms and the woman could've been Shiva. The moment had arrived. "It's the returrrn of the mutha, the returrrn of the goddess of love," sang Nina Hagen in her unmistakable voice. Hagen's vocal range could span the Great Wall; its force and grandeur are stunning and better suited to the Metropolitan Opera House than Webster Hall. When she addressed her people, Hagen attacked their soul like a dignified motivational speaker. She's the Billy Graham of punk rock. A glance at her Web site will tell you the woman has spent a lot of time getting acquainted with Hindu philosophies. Hagen warned against walking on the crutches of others; she spoke at length of a free-will zone. "We will be free one day. Why not right now!" she spat. Her eccentricities may be a hoot to some people, but make no mistake, this woman runs much deeper than her discography. That said, she put on one hell of a show. Nina is simply uninhibited. She sat on the floor, pulled off her big boots, rolled backwards, and played a hand drum with the grace of a toddler. She covered "Bang Bang" by the glorious Janis Martin and "Runaway" by her friend Dee Dee Ramone. Her original material incited uproars from the crowd, and at 2:15 a.m., she was just beginning her encore. Listening to Nina Hagen talk is like listening to the Wizard of Oz. Both seem to have the little people's best interests in mind. Both sound larger than life.
- September 2002
Interview by Maria Catamero and Marisa Handren
for Kitty Magik Magazine - C2002
"You're going to have a day in Brooklyn with me and we're going to hang out and talk the whole time. I hope you brought enough tapes," shouts an overly excited Ari-Up from the intercom of her apartment building in Brooklyn, NY. "I'll be right down!"
I had barely brought enough tapes, but that's what happens when you have such a history to speak of - you use up almost three, 90-minute cassettes.
It was inevitable that Ariana Forster - Ari-Up - would become involved in music. It has surrounded her since the day she was born. Her mother, Nora, dated Brian Gibbs and Chris Spedding, later marrying Johnny Rotten, and had people like Jimi Hendrix stay at her home when they passed through on tour. The Clash's Joe Strummer taught her how to play guitar and at the tender age of fourteen, Ari started the Slits with drummer, Palmolive, introducing the bass-heavy sounds of dub into rock.
The Slits, unlike their peers of that time - Sex Pistols, Clash - never achieved commercial success since they were fighting commodification and sexism when record companies wanted to change their image. They were never given any real recognition of being a part of London's 70s' punk pioneers and were viewed subordinate because they were an all female band.
When the Slits ended, Ari retreated to the jungles of Borneo and Belize, where she lived naked as the day she was born. Later, she moved to Jamaica, making a name for herself yet again in music. This time it was under the alias "Medusa," a provocative, ass-shaking star who wore skin-tight, self-designed mini fashions, putting on dancehall parties in clubs and on TV.
Today Ari resides between Brooklyn, NY and Jamaica with her youngest son, Wilton. Currently she's been playing locally in New York City and is in the process of releasing her solo recordings. The following interview took in Ari's Brooklyn neighborhood, first over breakfast and later at the local YMCA where she's trying to have a soccer league started for Wilton.
Marisa: You mentioned on our walk over here that you lived here right after the Slits.
Ari: What happened is that right after the Slits, I moved to Jamaica and whenever I would leave the island I would come here.
Maria: Did you have friends here?
Ari: First I stayed with friends and then I got myself a boyfriend - my green card boyfriend - married him for the green card, so to speak. Another part of the time when I lived away from Jamaica I lived in jungles, naked as the day I was born. I really couldn't stand the '80s - the yuppie cult '80s. (Laughter) I guess the only good thing that came out of that time was the birth of hip-hop and break dancing. But I just couldn't handle the '80s and those were just bad times for me because I could have continued and said, "OK, I'm from the Slits" and just joined that new pop world of the new wavers. I would have been solo artist Ari Up of the Slits in the pop scene. It was just sickening; I wanted to throw up all the time so I ran off to some jungles in Borneo and Belize.
Maria: Your friends that you knew here, did you know them from being in the Slits?
Ari: Yes. It was through the Slits because I didn't have many American connections because my mom grew up in England and all of her music scene was in England and Germany before that so I didn't have the New York contacts. But now I do! Brooklyn in the house! (Laughter)
Maria: You mentioned the whole pop scene and moving from the Slits into '80s pop music. On a few of your records, Nena Cherry sings with you guys, but then I remember her in the '80s playing pop music on MTV.
Ari: She came from her own scene. She came from the whole John Cherry scene with jazz. Some of my band was really into John Cherry and jazz so we toured with John Cherry in England. That's how we got to meet Nena because he brought her on tour. And Nena became my roommate. We were like this (makes a hand gesture showing how close of friends they were). It was like a love affair without being lesbians, just totally in love. When you would see one you would see the other type of teenage friendship you have with another girl. But you know, she's a Pisces and I'm a Capricorn so she broke my heart. (Laughs) I don't want to get too personal about it so let's just put it like this: She came out of her own music scene and she and I lived in London for a while. She grew up in New York and Sweden. She had an African father from Africa so that's how I learned how to wrap my hair up and we wore African outfits. She had a very interesting artist lover and her brother is Eagle Eye (Cherry) who is a total sweetheart. John Cherry was very heavy into heroin and stuff so she lived in England with me in a squat because even though we had a record company, God knows why I was broke but I was and I was a kid. So she started touring with us and she started moving in with the Slits scene and started singing with me on stage. She also did stuff with me and The New Age Steppers. Then we were in New York and I was very upset because she was hustling. So she made money and hid it under the bed and her own father stole it for heroin. That was really shocking to me. One thing to me about drugs and drug addicts, I grew up with them all my life, but that was very hurtful. She just moved from spot to spot. She just dropped me like a cold piece of stone. She was like that. She moves on from girl to girl, man to man, group to group, circle to circle - in a cold way. She actually went to the Slits and said she wanted to be the singer. She tried to take me off. The Slits were just over because we wanted it to be over with; it wasn't about a new singer. We had such a rough time being 20 years ahead of our time, being the women that we were, politically, and just sabotaged so bad in the music business and society at the time. It was rough. Men were still really running the business.
Maria: Do you think it was because you weren't aware because of your youth and they just took advantage of that?
Ari: That had something to do with it but that was the '70s and back then it was different. Look at girl groups now. Do we see any Rolling Stone rock and roll heroes out there? Where are the VH1 greatest rock bands ever of girls? Where are they? They don't exist. If they did it would have been the Slits and then history would have been different. Maybe history would have changed and we would have had amazing bands playing. If we were able to be away from all that male chauvinist shit going on at that time we would have been to the level of... you know, it was alright for guys like the Pistols or the Who to smash up their instruments on stage and it's alright for the Clash to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The boys could be boys. They could be punks. They could be naughty. It was accepted. It was an acceptance even though the Sex Pistols were revolutionary. And the Slits, or any other female band, of course weren't acceptable. I was definitely not fully aware of things then, I was only thirteen. I personally didn't know about the business that much at all. If we handled the Slits like women know how to handle business now, we still would have gotten shit because not only were we 20 years ahead, musically, of our time, and revolutionary, spiritually, socially and clothes-wise, but we were girls and girls didn't know. If we were around now, we would be right in time.
Easy Skankin': punk proto-grrrl ARI-UP
Village Voice - C2002
While punk grandparents like the Ramones and Talking Heads become Hall of Fame royalty, don't hold your rusty safety pin waiting for English punky-reggae proto-grrrl group the Slits to follow (not commercial enough, too quirky). Keeping their noise and spirit alive is their lead shrieker, Ari Up, who's been making her way back into the limelight with a series of local performances.
When you see an Ari Up show, only expect that Ari will show up. Yes, she'll be sporting mile-long dreadlocks and homemade outfits like her clear-wrap creations that should set off catwalk crazes. Yes, you will witness her mashing it up with her wily wobbly wail, banshee screams, and skanking/slamming groove. But no, Ari is usually not the star of her own show. Be prepared for a loosely strewn showcase where she ropes in rappers, toasters, poets, and musicians who appear and disappear in and out of the spotlight, in the meantime, she might be stalking the crowd with a mic or camera to document the event. Her full band with a rhythm section, horns, samples, and singers may be there, or only bits and pieces. Sometimes this congeals into a wondrous collection of arts and artists, and sometimes it's a bizarre mess. In her own benevolent way, it's as much a deconstruction of the concept of a "concert" as the Public Image Ltd. riot gig so many years ago here. How much more punk can you get than that?
And punk she is, having been in the thick of things at the very start of it in ol' Blighty, gallivanting around with then-friend, later-stepdad Johnny Rotten, who's called her "a total individual as I've ever seen." After leading the Slits in her tender teens, Ari shuttled between Brooklyn and Kingston for some two decades, once living in a tent on a small island off Jamaica. Her gypsy-like existence ended a few years ago, when she settled down (a little at least) to do New York appearances and work up new material. During her off years, she earned her reputation in Jamaica with an alter ego. There they don't even know who "Ari" is___instead, they know her as "Medusa," a sexy, butt-wiggling superstar, donning provocative, outfits and putting on dancehall shows in nontourist areas.
For us at-home tourist Yanks, now is a prime time to experience her childlike, wild, goofy energy as she's capping a new album back in Zion and prepping for a national tour to follow. If it isn't past his bedtime, one likely guest will be her seven-year-old son, Wilton (who duets with her on the Voice's Love Songs for New York benefit CD). At this rate, he may follow in his mum's footsteps and start his own outrageous combo before he can drive. He can certainly be proud that, unlike much of the rest of the class of '77, his mother hasn't aimlessly juiced her legend. Even if he doesn't get into the Hall of Fame either, he can take solace in his mom's life as an example of how obscurity is sometimes its own reward.
Village Voice Presents Love Songs for New York CD Release Party
Tuesday at 8, Knitting Factory, 74 Leonard Street, 219-3006
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