Ari Up, one of the most inimitable figures in music, passed away last night at the age of 48. In addition to being one of the founding members of The Slits, Up was an outspoken and entertaining personality and spoke at length with us about Siouxsie Sioux and Shabba Ranks in our most recent icon issue. After the jump, read the full, unedited text from that interview and watch our favorite Slits video.
ARI UP ON SIOUXSIE SIOUX AND SHABBA RANKS
I remember everything about Siouxsie because we grew up together, and of course Shabba because, to a degree, I lived in Jamaica for most of my life. We can compare: The two are worlds apart. Siouxsie grew up in punk/reggae revolution, so even though she herself wasn’t punky-reggae, she was bombarded by it. We, The Slits, of course, were the leaders of it, the punk-y reggae thing. This whole punk-y reggae explosion came and later Chrissie Hynde was inspired by it and Boy George and Sting from Police used to warm up for the Slits, too. Later on all these people came that did more pop-y punk-y reggae and we were the raw thing coming out of this punk reggae. There was Public Image and the Clash, of course.
Tessa already played the bass like a reggae bass. We already had that deep heavy bass sound with punk mixed, so it wasn’t just our attitude that was reggae inspired and our clothes, as well, but it actually wound up in sound. It didn’t really wrap up in Siouxsie, but Budgie—here comes the key now—we and Siouxsie used to play shows all the time, in ’76, ’77 that’s when they started. And what happened with Siouxsie was that she started being a fan, not just a fan, not just any other fan, this is the thing with Siouxsie. Siouxsie stuck out because she was a very, very unusual girl artist from the get-go. She didn’t have to have a group to be famous. She was already famous hanging around in the scene with the Sex Pistols. She was really a Sex Pistol, a female Sex Pistol. She was everywhere that John was, he was my stepfather, so to speak, and so, she was everywhere there. When the Sex Pistols got really famous from that interview—remember that really famous interview where the guy got fired, I forgot the name now, but he provoked the guys to say “shit” and "fuck" on live TV. He provoked that. It started with Siouxsie. If you look at it again, on the Internet or YouTube or something, the whole thing when it started and Siouxsie took the hugest part, the whole thing really started through Sixousie.
You could even say the whole punk evolution with the explosion of the Sex Pistols came to be because of Siouxsie in a way. She played a huge part in it because she was there standing as one of the squad, one of the girls—that was so great. Back then there was such a window for boys and girls to be equal. We all pierced, there was no sexual pleasure, there was no hanky panky stuff going on, trying to get with the girls. It was all about having the expression of music and art, whatever you did, whether it was fanzines or pictures or art or anything. Clothes, like Vivienne Westwood. She had a shop called Sex. Siouxsie was huge in that too because she would always hang out in sex shops with Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. I think that’s how John might have even met Siouxsie because they were all hanging around. They came from that background. That’s why she also used to wear bondage stuff and dog chains and all that sado-masochism leather type gear coming out, you know? Before she was, I think she was just starting, I think she was in the Banshees already, but she was known for appearing basically naked. Her breasts were out, I don’t know how she didn’t get arrested. But she went to these gigs with her breasts out in a leather thing with a whip. The whole gear, man. Very intimidating, very scary. I think she was the first to put that make up on, the famous make up that all punks to this day copy or are influenced by. That black make up around her eyes with the stars and all of that and the eyebrows, that whole Siouxsie look. It came to be out of that Vivienne Westwood place, with the bondage and sado-masochism gear type clothes. It started there and if you look in the interview before she was in the Banshees, she was really insulted by this guy because they were all chauvinist pigs, right? They were total pigs at the time and it served him right for making the Pistols famous and getting himself fired. It fired back on him. The good thing was that the Pistols were just trying to say what they were about, right? They weren’t even trying to swear, but they got really pissed off when he had a go at Siouxsie. He involved Siouxsie. If you look at this footage, it’s really a landmark and it’s really history because it shows where everything came from and how things were with women at the time in a man’s world and how things were in the punk scene. And then also reggae because also what happened was Siouxsie was bombarded with reggae from John. John was a huge reggae follower. I shouldn’t even say follower. He was the one that inspired Virgin Records to sign up Jamaican artists.
He didn’t directly find them. He was hanging out with them every day. They all came round his house. They were playing sounds and systems and big speaker box sound systems. It wasn’t like a job or hunting down these groups. Everyone from Jamaica came over and came by John’s house. He knew all the artists and records and knew them in person. And then Virgin wanted to cash in and John said, Look if you want the real thing, take advice from me. Take some of these artists and make an album from these people. And then you had this great album coming out on Virgin which was the first all-star album, I think in England from like a regular label, not like an indie label, not a Jamaican label, you know? Jamaicans have been doing it forever, combination albums, as you know, so have hip-hop labels, right? More or less. But it never happened in the big Warner Brothers or Sony or none of those. So Virgin, being that we had a bit of a rebellious—Branson, you know, he was quite a frontier runner. He wanted to be different. I think John had a talk with Branson and said, Take these artists. And then the next thing you know, they had this album of all different amazing artists called Frontline, so if you could find the album, it’s the very first album ever. The title I remember is called Frontline and it had a barbed wire on it. It was so strong, the cover as well. It was barbed wire and I think it had like a rasta picture possibly, you know? So basically, Siouxsie was hearing everything whether she wanted to or not. The Clash were fanatics, as you know, they were playing reggae left and right. Don Letts was playing it in the Roxy Club.
Now, the Roxy Club in ’76 was a home for all the punks. I should say, what do you call it, a haven, a getaway. Most of us were banned from going anywhere. We had no place to go. That was sort of the first official club for punks open and every night had a different punk group playing, but there were no punk records yet. People weren’t signed yet, people weren’t really out. We didn’t want to hear any other shit out there, really. There was nothing to aspire to or be inspired by. So Don Letts, who was the ultimate punk-y reggae king at the time, he just played dub and reggae and roots. The real stuff, not Bob Marley and all that, you know? Not Peter Tosh, but heavy, all that stuff that came out of Jamaica. The regular roots stuff. Underground dub stuff. And Siouxsie was there every night, as was Poly Styrene as was Gaye from the Adverts. These were just a few women who used to—Chrissie Hynde, of course. They were all there, among just a handful of girls, but we were free there as women. Totally free. We had no pressure from our boys, you know? So Siouxsie grew up in a very unhostile environment. That’s why she had such a good strong boy band behind her. They weren’t feeling like she’s bossy. They weren’t feeling like she couldn’t rule. She was ruling without people having to be like, She’s ruling. It was like, She rules without being like the tyrant leader, you know? We’re intimidated, you know? The boys that worked with us were equal. So Siouxsie had a lot of freedom there. She was listen to reggae every day in the Roxy Club. We grew up with it, you know? Now the other biggest, hugest thing that is connected to reggae and punk with Siouxsie is Budgie, the drummer. He’s connected of course to The Slits because we had Budgie the drummer of Siouxsie and her husband, right, for years, her life partner. I think know they broke up, but they were together for thirty years, I’m sure. He was our drummer on the Cut album, the legendary Cut album. So Siouxsie, I met her a few years ago again, and she looked fantastic and really on top of it, like a really don’t give a shit anti-system warrior. The true sense of punk, that’s what she was.
That whole tribal drumming was just also in Siouxsie and the Banshees, but it became more tribal in Creature. The Siouxsie and the Banshees drumming had that tribal thing going and so that’s a very sort of, I wouldn’t say reggae, but that rural punk-y reggae. Budgie of course was inspired by The Slits. Doing the whole album with us and gigging and touring with us, then he went in with Siouxsie, so of course it rubbed off. So the whole punk-y reggae thing somehow got in the mix with Siouxsie there as well because she had the ultimate punk-y reggae drummer. I mean, Budgie could play anything. Did you know that Sting was fanatic about him? Sting loved The Slits album Cut and what he said about it was that the drumming, he was fanatic about the drums. A lot of people at the time were raving about the drums. They knew that he had a lot of technique but he had a sensitivity, you know, and a variation about him. He could go from reggae to punk to funk to jazz, you know, all over the place, but still very steady. He was a very sensitive drummer. People heard that through. You didn’t even have to see him to know, you could hear that on the album. So that was the great punk-y reggae connection to Siouxsie. Now Shabba couldn’t be any further away from punk. What happened was later on, the whole punk-y reggae thing was early in the ’70s, early ’80s at the most. So somehow the link between reggae and punk got cut somehow. I mean, I know how, but it’s a long story. But short, it had to do with technology and crack. Crack took over America for a minute and Jamaica as well sadly. It became a huge trend in the ’80s and it swallowed up a lot of the Jamaican artists. It swallowed them, drowned them completely in crack. And also technology took over with these little cheap drum machines. It didn’t really sound like—now when you hear reggae, it sounds fantastic on machines because they’re really able to make crazy sound effects and get really thick crazy sounds. They’ve progressed, so you can make it sound technological like hip-hop and make it sound fat and good or you can make it sound organic now and you don’t even know you if you’re hearing organic or technological because people who are good with computers, especially reggae artists, know how to make it sound organic, too, you know? So that’s the ’90s and now is fine, but the ’80s was a disaster in that way. They were finding themselves. There were a few good things like Slang Tang in 1985. You had a few good artists coming out in Jamaica. People who died already as well, I can’t even think now. There were so many people who came out that were good that died, but the reggae punk thing got cut. There’s still a few hanger ons from the punk scene who joined into the whole early 80s, Yellowman, Sister Nancy, early DJing thing. So there’s still a punk-y reggae connection to that. More from the New York scene and the California scene. But the English pretty much cut. I don’t know why Shabba or why Siouxsie—but Shabba was just very punk-y just by attitude. He didn’t even have any clue about punk, but yet he was more punk than even punks believed they could be. Shabba got a lot of problems for his way of dressing. He came to America with his huge hits and he was famous amongst white and black Americans and the black Americans gave him hell. Absolute hell. They were like, Jamaican boy. Banana boat boy. They were laughing at him and his clothes. What happened was, Shabba had a unique way, it wasn’t just Shabba, it was the Jamaican dancehall scene. The Jamaican dancehall scene evolved. It started in the ’80s and hit in ’91, ’92 especially with this dance Bogle that came out. When Bogle came out, it just exploded. It became a whole culture in Jamaica. Little did they know it had a lot to with punk. It was self-made fashion and style. Self-made, everything made yourself. Selling your own food at the dance, selling your weed at the dance, selling your clothes, selling your art. If not selling, participating. Dancing was huge. There was a hip-hop flavor in there. It is the cousin to dancehall, of course. Shabba was all mixed with hip-hop, but hip-hop, they kind of lost that kind of flavor that Jamaica had which was do your own clothes and don’t give a shit what anyone says. That kind of left the hip-hop scene. Hip-hop had that in the early ’80s with breakdancing, right? And with the graffiti spraying and all that, that was more there. But in the ’90s, someone like Shabba wore the torn up, shredded t-shirts and shirts and clothes and big pants with the crazy colored sneakers and the florescent colors like the punks wore florescent stuff and some studs, which is also very punk rock. Nowhere near hip-hop. Hip-hop wouldn’t go near that. It’s just now that American hip-hop is doing that punk look. It’s just now they’re doing that, the studded belts and all that. But in the ’90s it was like Shabba was ridiculed. I believe that his career went down because of the Americans taking him down like that.
In the late ’80s and the early ’90s when Shabba hit, he had those crazy clothes, you know? And the crazy clothes were really ridiculed by the people. That’s why they even called him Mr. Ugly Man. Now Mr. Ugly Man was a piss take also by Jamaicans because everyone considered him ugly at the time, so everyone could sing Mr. Ugly Man. That still came from the Americans, Mr. Ugly Man, and I mean, how many rappers are ugly? Why is it only Shabba got that? I was there, I live in Brooklyn, Flatbush. I was right there, where Busta Rhymes came from, I was right there. I mean I lived in Brooklyn, Brooklyn College most of my life. Right now I am talking to you from Brooklyn College right there in Flatbush. That’s where Busta Rhymes is from. A lot of people came out of this neighborhood and so I saw what they were saying about Shabba. Now, the Jamaicans loved Shabba at the time, but they don’t care about fame and all that, so the minute Shabba got really famous like Sean Paul or like, you know how Sean Paul got famous…
Shabba lost it with the Jamaicans because they didn’t care about him getting famous with white people or even black people here. They wanted only what, they’re dealing with, you gotta be hard and you gotta give it to them how they like, on their level and Shabba lost his Jamaican following. And when he lost his Jamaican following, it got even worse. So I don’t know how he lost it somehow, but I think it’s to do with when he got so big in America, I don’t know how, because Sean Paul gets away with it somehow and the other guys—Shaggy! Shaggy is the other one. Shaggy gets away with it. People don’t really big him up in Jamaica. Jamaicans don’t really look to him either as like, Oh Shaggy, you know? But none of them are getting it as bad as Shabba at the time. I don’t know why. It’s kind of like the equivalent of MC Hammer, I think. Hammer now, they realize now that he got too much flack and now they even make jokes in the black American community. Everyone’s like, now they want to respect him. They realize that he’s really, really the frontrunner of like Jay-Z, of Puff Daddy, Diddy or whatever. He’s the frontrunner because he turned it into a money-making dynasty, he had that vision of making not just hip-hop records, but being a whole commodity. Dynasty of music, producing, clothes, perfume, the whole thing. Hammer wanted that and he got hammered for it and that’s what happened to Shabba in a way. That was deliberate sabotage, you know? And he’s a Capricorn, born I believe on my day. Both Yellowman and Shabba Ranks are born on the 17th of January. As was Jim Carrey and Mohammad Ali. Shabba might have been on the 15th, I’m not sure, but he celebrated on the 17th and when I asked again, Oh, he’s got his birthday on the 17th, someone said it’s really the 15th. Yellowman, too, and so am I. So we got all of that punk reggae revolution thing going because Yellowman had that edgey thing going, too. He was also a pioneer. If you check up the Yellowman thing, he’s also in a tricky, tricky thing. He also got really huge and people were saying, Wow, he’s a frontrunner and people were saying, Wow, he has a gimmick, he’s the Yellowman, but yet he’s a great song guy, music guy and for some reason he’s wiped off the map, as well. For some reason it keeps happening to these Capricorns, these great frontrunner artists. In the music at least.
I definitely remember I met Siouxsie in 76. Definitely. The first day, obviously not, because we were all just hanging out. she was just another girl to me. But looking at the interview and looking at the history now, I know she wasn’t just another girl. She was my peer and I was only 13, 14 years old. I was busy with The Slits, so I don’t remember, Oh, I met Siouxsie on that day.
My early memory was that she didn’t talk to anyone much. She was pretty cold and pretty like, you know, I’m doing my German thing, I’m doing my sort of Gestapo-type image thing, you know? She just did that all the way. She kept her cool. It was never like a big huge love bath with me and her. Like, let’s get together and talk and have a good old time. It wasn’t like that with hardly any of us at the time. We were all marching the streets, surviving. You know, we were physically every, we never know if we were physically attacked or not. There was a witch hunt going on for the women. If they could have burned us at the stake, they would have. So we got up every day just trying to survive. She had her clique and her crew, I had my clique and my crew with The Slits. Poly Styrene had her crew and then the reggae groups had their crew. Then at one point, one day or another, in a week, probably once a week, we’d all be somewhere together all the time. Hanging out together somewhere, probably going to a coffee shop or something. She probably went a lot of to that famous lesbian club, that’s probably where I seen her a lot. She was hanging out with John a lot and John had his favorite club in London that was taboo at the time, very taboo, because you didn’t have any open gay stuff at the time. So John loved going and luckily because I had my mom and all these punk people who were older than me, I got in somehow, they weren’t checking ID and they didn’t really care because I was a revolutionist. They didn’t give a shit if I had ID or not because I was a frontrunner of changing the world. I got into all these clubs that were over twenty-one when I was fourteen, so I obviously met Siouxsie probably when she was hanging out with John, most likely is when I first met her. We weren’t running in the same circles. You’ve gotta remember back then it was a punk-reggae revolution going on. It’s unexplainable. It was life-threatening. It was us against the world. There was just a handful of us against the world.
We just totally click like as if it was last week I saw her playing in the Roxy. We were looking at some people, who were being a real pain, it was just eye contact and a couple of mutual sentences, like, Yeah. It’s like knowing a lover for 50 years or 40 years. You know exactly what they like, they don’t like. What food they eat, they don’t eat, their attitude, the things that make arguments, the sex they like or not. It’s just like that. It’s like a mutual understanding of like… Oh, you know? I’m sure it must have been and because we respect each other as artists. She respects The Slits and I’m sure she was inspired to a degree. You can hear it in The Banshees. And of course, we loved The Banshees, too.