No matter how many times it has been printed, it is still jarring when you read that when Ari Up joined the Slits she was just 14-years-old. That she took on an already spent punk rock form and dragged it to where she and her fellow Slits wished it to be before she was even old enough to buy a packet of cigarettes, will always remain at the heart of why she was so unique. Fuck me, 14 is even young for an X Factor contestant. How we fawned over the bravery of Cher Lloyd during her ultimately transformative audition. By her age, Ari had already squatted down and urinated on the stage of the Music Machine, now Koko, in Camden.
All of which sounds very punk, and it was. Yet, the Slits have always seemed apart from the vision of the time depicted in those reductive documentaries that tell the story of how a thing called punk somehow came along to destroy a thing called rock. And it wasn’t as if Ari Up sprang out of nowhere: she had been entrenched in the music business since she was a toddler. In an interview for Dazed, she told of being serenaded by Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees, of Jimi Hendrix hanging around the house, of John Anderson of Yes becoming her Godfather due to the fact that her mother Nora, who later married John Lydon, was a big music promoter in Munich, where she grew up.
After her mother moved to London to be closer to the party, the pair went to gigs together: Up met Palmolive at a Clash gig in 1976, holding the first Slits rehearsal in a London squat the next day. Thrust into the centre of an unhinged punk scene, she remained strong, refusing to succumb to the drug cliche that tends to affect children who try and grow up too fast. She escaped London after the Slits split in the early 1980s, moving to New York and Belize, India and Jamaica. Through the years she floated in and out of the listener's conciousness, whether with Adrian Sherwood's New Age Steppers, her own Baby Ari or Madusa projects, or the reformed Slits.
She was nomadic, but not rootless, never losing her sense of Bavarian identity. “For Bavarian people it is an insult to be called German,” she said. "I am not patriotic or nationalistic. I never say I am from any country or anything. I am into culture and roots." It was attitude that pissed all over Oi! and the rest of the negative by-products of the era, much as she had that old Camden stage.
Text by Tim Burrows