Vinyl from the Archive: The Slits, Cut
Cut Album cover: Island Records
The Slits’ Cut is another classic vinyl straight out of our Underground archive. Released in 1979 the album was a triumphant moment not only for the punk movement but for women in music too.
As virgins to making composing and making music, The Slits were as DIY as they came. Taking inspo from their immediate surroundings in “punk London”, artists like Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood with SEX and various musicians, The Slits always aimed to push boundaries and question the status quo. With Cut they endeavoured to covert this feeling into sound and at the same time amalgamate a range of styles and motifs to make music that stood alone amongst its peers.
Like most punk bands of the past, and present, The Slits underwent a series of changes with the members of the band. Nonetheless, they always made music their priority, whether that meant them staying in or leaving the band. The original line-up saw Ari Up the 14-year-old German firecracker on vocals, Palmolive (Paloma McLardy) on drums, Viv Albertine on guitar and Tessa Pollitt on bass. While the foursome caused a riot, most notably as the support for The Clash on the ‘White Riot’ tour no less, they made their name on the punk scene as uncompromising musicians who weren’t afraid to fight for their right to play punk music just as men did.
With their performances fuelled by passion and rage, and often ending with a violence, The Slits quickly became synonymous with chaos. But with such a provocative conception The Slits began as they meant to go on, that was to subvert every misconception about femininity through their art. The release of Cut was a huge part of their feminist agenda and desire to create something of greatness.
Woolwich, 1979: From Viv Albertine’s Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys
Produced by the legendary Dennis Bovell, the reggae star was eager to get involved in making a record with the gang. During the making of the album The Slits had be whittled down to a threesome after Palmolive’s departure, and was joined by Budgie on drums (of Big in Japan and later Siouxsie And the Banshees). Taken away to Ridge Farm Studios, The Slits’ energy was just about contained in the confined space where they are were encouraged to produce an album authentic to themselves and a powerful mix of genres.
Although, as Bovell claims, they weren’t good at reggae the threesome didn’t let that stop them hybridising punk with reggae, jazz, the avant-garde and everything in between. Subsequently the album was a beautiful concoction of a bunch of different genres thrown in together like a student using herbs in a dish — fledgling but delicious. However, although their skills weren’t as honed in as practiced musicians, this threesome knew exactly what they wanted and how they wanted it to come across and each track was meretriciously worked on until just right. Each single straddled the fine line between mockery and attack whether it was against romance, suburbia, drug taking, music making or most importantly sexism. There is not one track that isn’t intended to make a great impact whether it be on a specific person or the music industry.
Opening track ‘Instant Hit’ is a sound mumbling cacophony referring to being set on self-destruct with some hits towards Keith Levene’s drug habits mixed in over the top of cheery overtones from guitars and drums along with the odd note from a flute. The ridicule of failed love affairs didn’t stop with the opening track and instead was joined by numbers such as ‘Ping Pong Affair’ and ‘Love und Romance’ – jeers at Mick Jones in the form of pastiche love-songs. Consumerism is also met with a sharp stabbing with tracks “Spend, Spend, Spend” and “Shoplifting” which saw the girls in one breath referring to capitalist-infused beliefs that in order to be fulfilled you must have “things” and in another encouraging listeners to ‘do a runna’ for their dinner.
The album’s peak arguably comes from songs ‘Typical Girls’ and ‘So Tough’, tracks where each member can be heard to be fully indulging in a feminist feast of sardonic release and fury at the fundamental flaws of society. ‘So Tough’ was inspired by the “male punk” facade that came out of wearing a leather jacket, taking loads of drugs and starting fights in local bars. The track is such a mockery its lyricism uses expressions and words from the characters which it pokes fun at. ‘Typical Girls’, on the other end of the spectrum, is a call to arms for women to take control over their own image through taking the piss out of all the expectations and clichés about women. Ari sings “Don’t create/ Don’t rebel” over the top of strange alternating time signatures, just as unpredictable as “typical girls are”, illuminating the ridiculousness of female stigmatisation based on misogynist misconceptions. Comedic and rebellious, the track is a feminist anthem that is perhaps just as relevant now as it was in the late 70s.
To complement their unbridled feminist musical presence, Cut’s cover sees the threesome naked, coated in dried mud, with only a loin cloth adorning their “privates”. In their nakedness, there is no invitation for the voyeurism of the male gaze to take pleasure from the image. For it was not intended to titillate but to empower them. Like Amazonian warriors, the image transcends the fine-line between erotic pleasure and enters the realm of erotic power, where they as women show that only they own their sexuality.
Despite a disbanding of the original group in 1982, The Slits’ legacy lives on. Their mix of in-yer-face sensibility and plethora of musical inspiration not only pushes the boundaries of music but also brings forth lurking social-oppressions into questioning. Cut for over 30 years has enabled its listener to empower themselves and quiz their complicity to the status quo, and will no doubt continue to that for years to come.
Side 1 –
Spend, Spend, Spend
Side 2 –
Ping Pong Affair
Love und Romance
Adventures Close To Home
I Heard It Through The Grapevine
Words by Aimee Williams-Maynard