Raucous and subversive, the legacy of first all-female punk band, The Slits, is reflected upon in a new documentary ‘Here to be Heard’. A seminal band, they supported on The Clash’s White Riot tour in 1977, going onto release the iconic debut album Cut, complete with empowering, muddy, bare-chested cover. Their career saw them shock people of their time with the supposedly absurd question of what it meant to be ‘Typical Girls’ – also the name of their most disruptive single. Now, right on the surge of yet another societal wave of female outcry, we are reminded of a band who literally put their lives on the line in their commitment to self-expression.
If you are not blessed enough to have read Slits’ guitarist, Viv Albertine’s, brilliantly honest and vulnerable autobiography, you may need to cast your mind back to the mid-70s to realise just how progressive they really were, both in their music and their message. The first band to mix punk, funk and rock, with a live energy that “made the Sex Pistols look like choir boys” (News of the World), they also fought ferociously for their music and their lives to be played out on their own terms. With drummer, Palmolive, quoted as saying, “If men don’t like us to be free, that’s their problem,” they created a shift in perspective that was completely outside the remit of most people’s thinking at the time, and even now if you care to dig an inch below the surface. The News of the World refused to even use the band’s name, on account of it being so “vulgar,” with such opposition to the establishment proving The Slits to be DIY in its purest sense – and in turn a space was created for women that literally never existed before.
The viewing of ‘Here to be Heard’ is a chance to revisit this time and understand the daily grind of The Slits fighting for their voice, but also a chance to consider what’s changed and what hasn’t. In 1979, journalists refused to believe The Slits themselves wrote ‘Cut’, claiming it must have been their producer Dennis Bovell. Yet this is something even Björk is not free from in the 2010s. Meanwhile, The Slits’ problems with sexual assault and rape* are sadly mirrored in the music industry today, something covered by BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme last year as well as being highlighted recently by Chvrches, White Lung, and just this month in Bristol, Witch Fever.
This screening and its Q&A session are an opportunity for people, irrespective of gender, to reflect on the worthy question of what it takes to be a female artist, both then and now.
*not included in the documentary
The screening takes place at Everyman Cinema on the 9th May, with the film including interviews with the band, Don Letts (former manager and punk documentarian), Vivien Goldman (NYU Punk professor), Paul Cook (Sex Pistols) and many others.
Viv Albertine’s ‘Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys’ is the best thing that was ever written and is available from all book shops everywhere.
Check out the trailer here: