Here’s a “punk” band that rarely gets talked about here in the USA, THE SLITS. A new documentary, Here to Be Heard: The Story of The Slits, shows that the initially all-female group deserves more accolades than they generally get. There at punk’s inception, the girls – lead vocalist Ari Up was only a teenager when The Slits got going – embraced the DIY ethos that was part of punk, taking up instruments because they figured if someone like Sid Vicious or Billy Idol could do it, then why not them?
First guitarist Kate Korus, first bassist Suzy Gutsy, drummer Palmolive and Ari put together the band and started to work up songs, eventually landing their first gig with The Clash, Buzzcocks and Subway Sect. In rapid succession Viv Albertine and Tessa Pollitt joined, taking over The Slits’ guitar and bass slots, went through numerous managers, got signed to Island Records, put out an album, etc. All of that is your standard “story of the band” fare. But what lies at the bottom – the foundation of The Slits’ story and their ongoing legacy – is that they were pretty much the first all-female punk or new wave band. And what gets to its original members (Albertine says so herself in the doc), is that they weren’t setting out to be an all-girl band in the first place. That is just how it initially shook out. We learn in Here to Be Heard that quite soon Palmolive was sacked and a guy called Budgie took over the drum throne. He, of course, went on to an amazing career as the drummer for Siouxsie and the Banshees. And he wasn’t the only male to serve.
William E. Badgley does a pretty tidy job of telling The Slits’ slightly convoluted story, taking over on a project executive producer Jennifer Shagawat had worked on with Ari Up herself until Up died in 2009. All of the band’s original and subsequent members, aside from Up, are interviewed here, as well as punk/reggae legend Don Letts, Neneh Cherry, former managers, punk scholars and more. (What, no Henry Rollins or Elvis Costello? Were they busy??) Here to Be Heard is a highly interesting and watchable documentary, and the DVD contains an additional twenty minutes of bonus material, including live footage.
Ari Up, it should be noted if you don’t know already, was only 14 when she started the band. A very strong personality she was, and an amazingly talented, driven and complex woman she turned out to be. The band’s 1979 debut album, Cut, still stands as a punk music must-have. Here you get a chance to hear her and the band’s story from the band members themselves. That is pretty rare these days, if you’ve spent any time watching the numerous and sometimes dubious documentaries available on Netflix and Amazon.
3/5 (MVD Visual CADIZDVD166, 2018)