Artist Profile

elastica, formed in 1992 by ex-Suede Justine Frischmann and drummer Justin Welch, was a band that combined great pop hooks with a knowing sense of art-punk, for a supposed coolness that made fans go apeshit in America and England in their heyday. Unfortunately, the band later became more known for Justine’s dazzling array of boyfriends (most notably Damon Albarn), a few cases of direct plagiarism, and a crash and burn ending in 2001 than their musical output.

According to Frischmann, who said she had just felt like "the token girl playing guitar in back" in Suede, Elastica was started while sitting in a record executive’s office after quitting her former band. From this meeting, she started jamming with her new boyfriend Albarn on bass—perhaps a cause of her split from Suede, as she dumped Brett Anderson for his rival Albarn—and Welch in June 1992. Annie Holland, who supposedly had never played bass before until auditioning for the band, joined three weeks into the month, and in August, an ad in Melody Maker went out for a second guitarist. The ad, which asked for a guitarist influenced by The Fall, The Stranglers, and Wire, became a prophecy of sorts for the band.

That guitar player would end up being Donna Matthews, and throughout 1993, Elastica would end up cutting several demos, including stops at EMI and John Peel. The band remained famous, largely because of Frischmann’s association with Britain’s hottest new star, Albarn. Elastica supported several bands on tour—including Blur and Pulp—for the remainder of the year.In 1994, though, Elastica started picking up steam, as several singles were released—"Line Up," "Stutter," and "Connection," which ended up being the band’s biggest hit, as it broke even the Holy Grail for Britpoppers, the United States. Just before the release of Elastica in March 1995, Elastica was sued by Wire for nicking the guitar riff to "Three Girl Rhumba" on "Connection," and by The Stranglers for taking the chords on "No More Heroes" on future single "Waking Up." While the band settled out of court, it did not appear to mar their success, especially stateside, where they ended up joining the Lollapalooza tour, and touring North America nearly four times.

The band’s infatuation with clipped, art-punk anthems a la Wire; furious, androgynous sexual energy via the Buzzcocks; and the New Wave crunch of Blondie, The Cars and The Stranglers was now incredibly apparent to anyone who picked up the album, which became the UK’s biggest selling debut since Oasis’ Definitely Maybe. However, between five years of the releases of Elastica and The Menace, their second (and last) album, the band appeared to come apart at the seams.Frischmann and Albarn broke up in late 1998, a fact significant for a few reasons: nearly all Elastica interviews afterwards, said Frischmann, ended up being questionnaires about living with Albarn. Albarn himself also appeared to sneer at Elastica, later saying that Justine "didn’t appear to be grateful for her success," hinting at the fact that Elastica may have been nothing without their connection to Albarn. The break-up did have a very obvious influence on the two, as Blur’s heartbreak opus 13 is really quite amusing when compared to The Menace’s succinct lyrics about, well, fucking.

Over the course of those five years, the band went through a bit of an identity crisis. Donna Matthews quit, re-joined, and quit the band, and bassist Annie Holland quit and re-joined as well. In the end, Dave Bush from The Fall joined the band on keyboards, in addition to Paul "Shag" Jones on guitar, and Mew on additional keyboards. With a new, glossier sound, Elastica released The 6-Track EP in 1999. Band hero Mark E. Smith sang on a few tracks, but overall, the EP indicated a very noticeable shift for the band. As evident on The Menace, the band appeared to pull themselves away from the poppier and more radio-friendly Elastica, and into full-fledged Wire- and New Wave-isms.

The Menace, like Elastica, abounds with hooks and instantly catchy vocals. However, the band appears to become more fascinated with chaos and piling noise into their songs, as the only obvious single "Mad Dog" still abounds in industrial-like fringes. The record appears to pillage from each of Wire’s benchmark first three records, even legally borrowing the riff from "Lowdown" on one of the tracks. The Menace takes Pink Flag’s subtle punk insinuations, favoring detail as much as energy; Chairs Missing’s spacey art-house rock; and, most surprisingly, 154's synthpop experiments, as the band features not one, but two, synth near-instrumentals.

It looked to be a bright future for the band that closed their album with a cover of Trio’s "Da Da Da." However, after touring with Primal Scream in 2000—and, apparently, featuring Frischmann saddling up with the now-"revolting ... slogan spouting, fashion model, pop star" Bobby Gillespie—the band ended after a year of non-activity, and the discontinuation of their once-smash debut. Elastica, we hardly knew ye.

Quick Facts:

Members: Justine Frischmann, Justin Welch, Annie Holland, Dave Bush, Mew, Paul "Shag" Jones

Location: London

Style: New Wave, Post-post-punk

Labels Appeared On: Geffen, Atlantic, Deceptive Bluff

Essential: Elastica (1995)

By: Sam Bloch
Published on: 2003-09-01
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