William E Badgley’s new crowdfunded film aims to give punk pioneers The Slits the credit they deserve. NME’s Laura Snapes talks to the director about why the quartet’s legacy is so important.
The punk heritage industry has left few stories untold, but The Slits’ contribution to musical history still feels neglected. Not only did female musicians of the era have to do rather more system smashing than the men, but their innovation went much further than three chords and the truth. These four groundbreaking women were among the first to fuse punk, dub and reggae, singing with joyful confrontation about sex and shoplifting. Listen to 1979’s classic ‘Cut’ and you’ll find its energy and originality hasn’t dimmed a watt, and its influence pounds through records by Sleater-Kinney, Sonic Youth, Gossip and many more.
Following on from the release of guitarist Viv Albertine’s memoir, Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys, last year, The Slits’ belated canonisation continues with a new documentary. Here To Be Heard: The Story Of The Slits is being funded through Kickstarter for release later this year. German-born singer Ari Up instigated proceedings during their 2006/2007 reunion tour, but the film remained incomplete when she died from cancer in 2010. Her bandmates had no idea she was sick, says William E Badgley, the filmmaker who took over. “Ari was so wont to couch things in urgency that the band say that when they read her emails and think back on conversations, it’s really chilling – her saying, ‘We’re running out of time, we must do this now!’”
Up’s broad aims were to counteract what Badgley calls the band’s “totally unacceptable erasure” – the fact that after their initial split in 1982, the precedent they set was forgotten. Badgley grew up in riot grrrl-era Portland, where female musicians were forced to re-break the glass ceiling that The Slits had smashed over a decade earlier because their legacy hadn’t been passed down alongside the likes of ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’.
That legacy is as an “inability to be contained,” he says. “First by gender, then genre. There’s this hunger and thirst that any good artist should have: to keep pushing forward, to not take no for an answer.” Their attitude is evident in his favourite bit of footage: as the band walk around London before a gig, Ari decides to get changed on the street. “It’s incredibly tame by today’s standards, but in a matter of minutes there’s a crowd of people that’s probably 40-strong, gaping that this person would have the audacity to do that.”
Considering The Slits’ trailblazing feminist legacy, Badgley was initially worried about the political implications of a man directing this film. “But it fits into what they keep telling me,” he says. “That it’s not about what’s between your legs but who you are as a person, a heart, an intellect, a creative force. I always knew this project was going to be exciting for young women, but they’ve made it very clear that it’s going to be exciting for young men, too. That’s absolutely how it should be.”