Viv Albertine was the guitarist in the seminal all-female punk band The Slits. She spoke about her recently published autobiography at the Big Green Bookshop, Wood Green, this week.
I’ve been a fan of The Slits for a good few years now. Their music always sounded so very different, so beyond the confines of the narrow margins the term ‘punk’ confers.
The Slits were sidelined for years – not until the concept of ‘post-punk’ was coined (about 20-odd years after the punk era), did the band finally find their rightful place in music history.
As Viv describes, The Slits were ‘so musically, ideologically different’ from all the other punk bands out there, and it was only John Peel who took them seriously at the time. They were completely shut out by the rest of the music establishment.
Viv explains how Ari Up (the lead singer, just 14 when she joined) was amazingly proficient in pulling apart their songs, piece by piece – lyrics, rhythm, timing, every note – everything was meticulously analysed and then experimented with. This painstaking process may partly be what sets them apart from other bands of the same era.
New Town and Shoplifting – from the John Peel sessions
The unique sound of The Slits came from the sheer, often bizarre range of the band members’ musical influences – they listened to and soaked up the sounds of Dionne Warwick, the songwriting of Burt Bacharach, even songs from musicals.
The Slits didn’t simply try to replicate artists they admired, but ‘filtered’ the sounds they heard through themselves, as Viv says, ‘until a new sound came out.’ You’d be very hard-pressed to pin down their influences when listening to them, which proves how well they succeeded in their mission to craft a sound that was entirely new.
More than anything, Viv stands as a true survivor of the punk era, and beyond – someone who openly admits that her book is about ‘falling down and getting up’, a ‘tale of how often you have to fail’. Her no-bullshit opening very consciously sets a standard – I expect the rest of the book to follow in the same vein. More than anything, she places the greatest emphasis on making your own path and following it through to the end, even though this path may at first seem ‘messy and shapeless’.
The music of The Slits hasn’t dated, for the simple reason that, as Viv points out, ‘it’s authentic’. I’m sure I’ll be able to say the same of her autobiography.