Easily recognizable for her massive dreadlocks and queen-of-the-jungle outfits, Ariane Forster -- better known as The Slits' vocalist Ari Up -- was just a teen-ager in 1976 when she was swept up in punk's seminal bubblings. Her mother Nora (who would later marry Sex Pistol John Lydon) had been a music promoter since the '60s, and rock stars like Jimi Hendrix had paraded through Ari's house. "My mom was like the mama of the punks," she says.
Ari formed The Slits at the tender age of 14 with drummer Palmolive, and a brash, punky version of the band toured the following year with The Clash and The Buzzcocks. Her initial encounter with Palmolive, at a Clash gig is the stuff of legend. "Yeah, she was Joe Strummer's girfriend, [but] I realized that she was a girl on a mission. She said, 'Listen, we're going to do a girl group and start rehearsing tomorrow -- I heard you can sing.' So I said, 'Fine, I'll come to the rehearsal,' and I was immediately in the group." (Palmolive eventually left to form Rough Trade girl-group The Raincoats.)
The version of The Slits many remember, however, is the post-punk and dub-reggae-influenced lineup photographed for the famous cover of their 1979 Island Records debut, Cut: Ari Up, drummer Viv Albertine and bassist Tessa Pollitt naked except for some mud and loincloths. They also released a split single with British agit-punksters The Pop Group and the archival Return of the Giant Slits, but the band soon ran its course.
Ari moved to Jamaica to raise a family, but kept in touch with the vibrant U.K. scene, working with everyone from dub-rockers New Age Steppers and avant-funksters Rip Rig & Panic (featuring a young Neneh Cherry) to German techno producers Terranova. She also released solo material, some of which is available on her 2005 dancehall-inflected album, Dread More Dan Dead.
That same year, Ari rejoined Tessa Pollitt in a new edition of The Slits, which now includes Holly Cook (daughter of Sex Pistol Paul Cook). "[Pollitt] came to my shows and we both said we needed to continue this mission. This is the first time I can say that there's a huge explosion of kids that are really inspired and excited to do their own stuff, even more than in the '90s," Ari says. "So there are all kinds of people now who need to be around us and uplifted."
The Slits picked up right where they left off, releasing the 2006 EP Revenge of the Killer Slits, touring Australia and Japan for the first time and opening for Sonic Youth in New York. The exuberance of Ari's adolescence still shines through in her current performances, a string of DIY-booked dates with Brooklyn band Shellshag that includes a stop Fri., March 21, at the Warhol Museum.
"It's still a revolution when The Slits play," she states assuredly. "It's not just about the music but about the attitude. We were ahead of our time back then, so we never really finished what we started. [In the interim] we've been written out of history, so we have to continue and be here in these times, now."
The Slits with Shellshag. 8 p.m. Fri., March 21. The Andy Warhol Museum, 117 Sandusky St., North Side. $12. All ages. 412-237-8300 or www.warhol.org
- Killer: The Slits