Sunday, 13 May 2012


The Slits and the Raincoats... they had much in common of course. Both formed out of the punk era, and both became irked by the 'girl group' tag which made them sound like novelty acts. Yet both came at things from a place guy groups never would; eschewing heavy riffing, they stitched songs together from skittering polyrhythms, non-standard influences and a love of the unexpected. They even traded a member, for Palmolive swapped her Slits drum stool for one with the Raincoats.

Yet what really made them so perfectly complementary was how very opposite they were to each other. By unwritten law you're supposed to pin all band comparisons to the Beatles and the Stones. In which case the Slits would surely be the Stones. But a better comparison might be Can and Faust, with the Raincoats quite definitely coming in as Can.

While the Slits came out at you, the Raincoats drew you in. The Slits appeared to play the boy's game of rock then subverted it, the Raincoats played their own game from the start. The Slits did the punk thing of wearing their stage clothes on the street, the torn t-shirts, the Union Jack knickers and the tampon ear-rings. The Raincoats did the post-punk thing of wearing their street clothes on the stage. They're about as different from each other and as vital as the sun and the moon...

...there's no point in me telling you any of this really, you might as well play the two YouTube clips below. It's all in there.

As I said much of what I had to say about the Slits after Ari Up's untimely death two years back, let's concentrate on the Raincoats from hereon in. Perhaps the key quote about them is Kurt Cobain's from an America reissue: “When I listen to The Raincoats I feel as if I’m a stowaway in an attic, violating and in the dark. Rather than listening to them I feel like I’m listening in on them. We’re together in the same old house and I have to be completely still or they will hear me spying from above and, if I get caught — everything will be ruined because it’s their thing.” Band member Gina Birch herself commented of the rehearsal-like quality of their gigs: “it was like watching a process, which the audience kind of felt they were privileged to kind of spy in on.”

Their tracks always seemed murmury and understated. I'd try to turn the volume up to catch them, but it just seemed to push them further away. The distant polyrhthyms are like looking at a 3D sculpture from a fixed angle, you feel like you're only getting a limited part of it, and that makes you crane in and pay more attention. In the same interview, Gina also says: “Sometimes, the more secret things are, the more people want to find out about them.” But, above all else, there was never a band for outsiders like the Raincoats. After punk's stridency and sloganising, they were so gloriously unresolved - musically and lyrically.

I saw them one, during their Nineties reformation. They ended up having to soundcheck before the audience, with the gig part starting by Gina saying “err... we're going to start now.” Of course it got less rock and roll from there. They were awkward and geeky. And they were awesome. It was like being in an alternate world where everything made perfect sense from within, only someone opening the door and letting in the outer world could break it. I can quite clearly remember thinking “the sad part is I'll never be able to explain to anyone just how much all this means to me.”
The Slits from the glory days, tearing into 'New Town', Ari as if possessed. (Fast-forward the first minute, which is a scene from 'Jubilee'.)
Two tracks from the second (and best) Raincoats album, 'Odyshape.' The album dates from 1981, so the gig's presumably from a similar time, though no-one in the comments seems to be sure. With a cut between the tracks, there's perhaps a hope the whole gig was filmed and exists somewhere.
...and finally. The Raincoats from 2009, playing the outsider's anthem 'Lola' with the Slits' Viv Albertine.

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