When The Slits formed in London in 1976 they couldn’t have been any more a-Typical of the punk scene at the time — which was a lot more reductive than the history books let on. Early UK punk, while being a snotty glue bag of protest and breakneck riffs, was mostly just lads playing sped-up rock’n’roll.
While the punk cliche went something like, “here’s three riffs, now start a band”, The Slits barely even knew one chord before they joined The Clash on tour. By the time they released their debut album Cut in 1979, punk had officially been killed — some say by the time the Sex Pistols’ first record came out, and definitely by the time the Pistols imploded on stage in San Francisco in 1978, with John Lydon sneering, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”
The post-punk scene is a whole other volume of zines, texts and documentaries, but The Slits will always be a very sturdy branch on that family tree. The band — formed by teenagers Ari-Up (John Lydon’s stepdaughter), Palmolive, Tessa Pollitt and Viv Albertine — skipped down their own leftfield path, sticking their fingers up at macho riffing for a spacey, dubbed-out template, all scratchy guitars, echoes and metallic Foley sound effects. The Slits were ramshackle mischief-makers rather than full-on anarchists, given an extra jolt from Ari-Up chanting and trilling in a half-German accent like an aristocrat on two bottles of Riesling.
Typical Girls was the band’s calling card — a list of gender stereotypes that are still hanging around like a bad smell. Among Ari’s chants are that Typical Girls “Don’t create… don’t rebel/have intuition… can’t decide”, and “Typical girls get upset too quickly/ Typical girls can’t control themselves/ Typical girls are so confusing”, along with the straight-up face-palm question, “Who invented the typical girl?”
The inherent rage in the song is offset by a backdrop that veers between bouncy ska and a minimal, infectious piano riff that hasn’t got old after 39 years — and the video of the girls prancing around a park bandstand in front of a load of empty deck chairs is just an added dollop of charm.
After Cut, The Slits went further down the avant-garde experimental route, releasing a set of dog-rough demos hatched before Cut, then Return of the Giant Slits, before splitting in 1982. Ari and Tessa reformed the band in 2005, and played two belter gigs in Dublin’s Crawdaddy before Ari sadly died in 2010, with a reputation as one of the most singular frontwomen of all time still intact. Stick Typical Girls on your playlist for International Women’s Day…