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The Slits
WetdogULU, London
Friday October 16 2009


You know the story, right? How, back in 1976, a bunch of wild-haired punk girls grabbed guitars and, without troubling overmuch about the tiresome business of learning to play, formed one of the essential bands of punk's first wave. Not only did The Slits embody the 'just do it' ethos of punk, they blazed a trail for women in rock, too - it's an irony that for all its iconoclasm, punk was very much a boys' thing.

Over the years, the wild-haired punk girls discovered dreadlocks and dub, and The Slits in their latter days became a one-band punky reggae party before finally dispersing in a flurry of side projects. But now, they're back, and with a new album, too. Seems it's time to get the punky reggae party started once again.

I've seen Wetdog compared to The Slits on a few occasions, and while that might be the obvious comparison most vaguely punky all-female bands get at one time or another, the fact remains that Wetdog do have a certain DIY quality that's not a million miles from The Slits in their early days. They even have a home-made guitar - unless, that is, Mr Fender has started a new range of instruments made of floorboards and duct tape. But that guitar sends a message: we're definitely not in the chin-stroking muso-bloke zone here. And thank fuck for that, if you ask me.

Wetdog clang and thump like a surrealist, funky freight train, the bass kicking notes through gaps between the drumbeats. 'Lower Leg' has an insistent tug-and-jerk to it, like a twenty-first century Delta Five - to throw in a comparison that's perhaps a bit more appropriate. It's all a nagging, jolting, twitching racket that works rather well, even as it tweaks the nose of standard heavy-on-the-powerchords rock music. Down with Bloke Rock, I say!

KASMsKASMs are a familiar band around here, and a favourite band, too. I've seen them umpteen times in assorted East End rock 'n' roll holes. Tonight's gig is a little unusual for the band in that for once they're playing in the West End of London - and to a crowd that's largely here for the headliners. The Shoreditch new wave kids who make up the usual KASMs crowd are absent tonight. That means the band has some work to do. There are people to be won over here.

So, it's straight in to the KASMs uproar, then: that clamouring guitar that sounds like it's been dragged through Siouxsie And The Banshees backwards, that tribal-rumble of bass and drums, and of course Rachel Mary Callaghan's vocal detonations and unrestrained acrobatics. KASMs are a firework display in sound: spectacular, noisy, ever so slightly scary, but like all the best firework displays they never let things go out of control. When Rachel leaps into mid-air, you know she'll land bang on the beat. This is a band that kicks it around with more abandon than most, but they never lose their tight grip on their art.

Upbeat and colourful, The Slits are a six-piece band these days. Founder members Ari Up on vocals and Tessa Pollit on bass are joined by an ensemble of new Slits - all female, aside from the avuncular, bespectacled figure of the melodica player, who lurks stage-left as if he's not sure whether he's been invited to this party. But he needn't worry. Everyone is invited to The Slits' party.

Steering an erratic course between old-school punkisms and bouyant reggae steppers, The Slits of today incorporate elements from all their previous incarnations, and the resulting musical brew - frothy, bubbling, but with a definite bite - goes down rather well. It's all based around rhythm, naturally, with choppy guitar and keening melodica dipping in and out. Ari Up, a one-woman riot of dreadlocks, presides over the proceedings with an animated exuberance - and several costume changes, each one carried out live on stage and each costume more colourful than the last. Sparking off keyboard player Hollie Cook, very much her foil and accomplice in the lively bounce of the show, she's a shot of pure vitality that energises the entire room.

The greatest hits are played alongside the new stuff. A frantic, punkzoid 'Love And Romance' ('The John Peel session version!' announces Ari, referring to the song's earliest, ramshackle, recording) rubs The Slitsshoulders with the loping dub of 'Earthbeat', Adrian Sherwood flying in bouts of heavy-duty reverb from the mixing desk. Curfew time eventially arrives, and there's a sense of disappointment that the revels have to stop. This punky reggae party could go on all night.



Essential links:

The Slits: MySpace
KASMs: Website | MySpace

For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.

Oi! Stop looking at me code!

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  Page credits: Review, photos and construction by Michael Johnson.
Nemesis logo by Antony Johnston, Red N version by Mark Rimmell.