Ariane Foster was still only 14 in 1976 when she formed The Slits. Living with her German mother Nora, who ran a kind of rock & roll salon at her West London home, Ari mixed life at Holland Park Comprehensive with hanging out amongst the movers and shakers of the punk scene – Joe Strummer became a mentor.
From the outset, The Slits confounded all notions of the role of women in music.
Dressed in a glorious jumble of lace, leather, mohair and smeared mascara, they looked and sounded completely unlike The Runaways or Girlschool, playing a jerky mixture of angry punk and skipping reggae, thudding drums and tremulous vocals.
It was all given a compelling focal point by Ari, a brattish Lolita in scarecrow hair and Union Jack knickers, skanking wildly (she was always a brilliant dancer). Sometimes Ari sang almost conventionally, but she also toasted, warbled and howled.
Malcolm McLaren attempted to manage The Slits, seeing them as the female Sex Pistols. Legend has it that his managerial come-on was: “I want to work with you because you’re girls and you play music. I hate music and I hate girls. I thrive on hate”.
But McLaren’s plan was wildly sexist and degrading, involving a scenario where the all-girl band would go to Mexico only to find themselves effectively sold into slavery and ultimately turned into porno-disco stars.
The Slits shrewdly extricated themselves from McLaren’s grasp and started work on their debut album, Cut, with Dennis Bovell in the summer of 1979.
Cut bristled with tribal rhythms and proto-Riot Grrrl observations on love, gender, politics and consumerism, and the early chaos of the band had developed into sharp social commentaries like Shoplifting and Typical Girls – their signature song.
1981’s Return Of The Giant Slits brought in eco-themes (Ari’s back-to-nature streak later led her to live in the jungles of Indonesia and Belize).
Like many punks, Ari was bitten hard by the reggae bug. After The Slits disbanded she recorded for producer Adrian Sherwood’s New Age Steppers and – after relocating to Jamaica – with assorted musicians including Lee Perry.
She grew blonde dreadlocks, took the name Madussa, and became mother to three boys.
Ari and Tessa Pollitt reformed the band with new members in 2005, and in 2006 released the EP Revenge of the Killer Slits.
With several new members, The Slits toured the US, Australia and Japan as well as performing in Britain (with Viv Albertine rejoining them for two gigs). A fine new album, Trapped Animal, was released in 2009.
Sadly, Ari Up died unexpectedly of cancer in October 2010.
Ari Up (Ariane Foster)
Palmolive (Paloma Romero)