British punk singer Ari Up (born Arianna Forster), who formed the influential band the Slits when she was only 14 years old, has passed away at the age of 48. According to stepfather
target="_blank">John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols and the recently reunited Public Image Ltd.), Up succumbed to an undisclosed “serious illness” on Wednesday (October 20).
Though the history of British punk is dominated by the social nose-thumbing of the Sex Pistols and the political rabble-rousing of the Clash, the Slits were right up there in terms of influence. Consisting of Up, Palmolive (who later formed the Raincoats), Kate Korus and Suzy Gutsy (who were later replaced by Viv Albertine and Tessa Pollitt), the all-female group struggled to penetrate the boys’ club that made up the early punk scene.
Their debut album Cut was released in 1979 and became a minor hit in the U.K. because of its music, which still sounds strange, abrasive and thrilling today, and its iconic cover, which featured three of the band members wearing loincloths and covered in mud. The teenage Up was elevated to star status, and she became one of the first female punk icons.
The Slits also helped expand and manipulate punk’s sound, combining boot-stomping savagery with looser guitar grooves, reggae rhythms and snotty lyrics. Subsequent albums stretched even further into reggae territory; by the time their last album Return of the Giant Slits came out, they were essentially a dub act.
When the Slits broke up in 1981, Ari Up began traveling the world; she eventually settled in Kingston, Jamaica. Along the way, she experimented with a handful of other musical projects, including the short-lived post-punk outfit the New Age Steppers and a few solo albums both under her own name and as Madussa.
Ari briefly reformed the Slits in 2006 with Pollitt, and their tour was hungrily embraced by the indie rock community; in 2007, the group opened for Sonic Youth in Brooklyn. Since then, Up had been appearing on other people’s albums (including dub legend Lee “Scratch” Perry).