Waking Up – The Thrills of Elastica

elastica

I can’t be sure.

I can’t be precise.

I reckon it’s November 1993.

It is certainly 1993.

I’m sure of that.

The November bit is guess work.

I want to say I am stood inside the Sub Club on Jamaica Street, Glasgow.

I should have kept  a diary.

Here is what I know for sure…sat at the bar is Justine Frischmann.

I know it is her because I have seen her face in the N.M.E…and the Melody Maker…and Select…and Vox…and in every other magazine that has even a passing connection with pop music.  She’s everywhere.  You cannot avoid her.  You wouldn’t want to.  She is the sort of person that attracts your attention.  She is articulate, clever, funny and achingly cool.  Hip without the hipster.

A few days ago her band, Elastica, had released their debut single “Stutter” and now they are on a tour of the U.K with Kingmaker.  Most people inside the Sub Club are here to see Kingmaker.  I have little interest in Kingmaker.  I am here, with my best friend Chris, to see Elastica.  We are, for the first time in our miserable little lives, ahead of the game…we have seen the future and it is star shaped.

“Stutter” is a crucial moment in the history and evolution of Britpop.  It is a landmark.  It arrives at roughly the same time as the “Bellyache” E.P from Echobelly, the “Alice” E.P from Sleeper and the first two releases from Salad “Kent” and “Diminished Clothes”.  The dreadfully patronising “female fronted bands” sub-scene had arrived.  Sisters were doing it for themselves.

With a lyric that dealt with the “occasional problem of drunken male impotence” this was clearly, defiantly, a song that wasn’t going to play by the rules.  No faux feminism of the type being hawked by the Spice Girls and their call for young women everywhere to dress up like every male fantasy ever peddled by marketing departments at record labels ever…no “zigazigah” either.  Instead here was a woman in control.  A woman with things to say and who was going to say them no matter how uncomfortable they may make certain people feel.

You’ve had too much wine to stumble up my street

Is there something you lack, when I’m flat on my back?

Is it just that I’m much too much for you?

Funny.

Honest.

Shocking.

Sexual and sexy.

Dig the new breed.


While enrolled at the Bartlett architectural school at ULU in the late 1980’s Justine Frischmann met a boy called Brett.  He wanted to start a band.  She thought that was an excellent idea.  Together with some other boys that is exactly what they did.  They played a few gigs, wrote a few songs and then played a few more gigs…it did not seem like it was going anywhere.  Justine and Brett were in love.  That made things a bit more complicated.  Especially when Justine left the band…and Brett.

Striking out on her own Justine began to assemble a group around her who could bring to life her own pop visions.  Along with another former member of Suede, Justin Welch, Frischmann brought in Annie Holland and Donna Matthews to form Elastica.  Taking their musical inspirations from punk and post-punk they managed to create music that was spiky, angular, angry, fast, funny and deliciously catchy.

For a short while they played under the name “Onk” which, I am sure we can all agree, is the worst name for a band in the history of popular music.

Apart from “Arctic Monkeys”.

They were soon signed to Deceptive which was run by Steve Lamacq and it was on that label that “Stutter” was released.  At this point the Elastica story couldn’t get any Britpoppier if it tried.  A direct link to Suede, Damon Albarn lurking in the shadows, Steve Lamacq whose “Evening Session” was the home of Britpop on the air and songs that were influenced by Wire, the Buzzcocks, Bowie and other glam, punk and post-punk nobility.

It could have been dreadful.

If the songs were no good then the whole thing would have been the perfect embodiment of all the half-truths that critics of the era like to use to ridicule it.  All surface but no feeling.

It wasn’t dreadful though, it was great.


I sidle up to Justine Frischmann in the half-empty Sub Club.

Nobody has a mobile ‘phone and only the anorakiest of the anorak brigade bring cameras to concerts.

There can be no selfie.

Also nobody knew what the Hell a selfie was in 1993.

“Um, you’re Justine from Elastica aren’t you?” I manage to squeak.

I’ve got no idea where this is going.

I don’t have any end game.

I’m not trying to chat her up…she is dating the prettiest boy on the pop block right now.

I’ve seen a famous person and I’ve plunged headlong into an encounter with no thought about my emotional safety.

“Yes.” replies Justine.

“…………..” a dreadful, heavy, almost physical silence fills the space between us, which seems to be growing wider with every passing second.

“Are you looking forward to the gig?” says the pop star, exhibiting kindness and pity to an extent that I really don’t deserve.

“Yeah.  Thanks.” is all I can muster.

Then, for reasons that I don’t understand now and that I certainly didn’t understand then, I leaned in and kissed her on the cheek.

I don’t know.

I don’t know.

I was very young.

I was a bit star struck.

Maybe I thought it was a very “London” thing to do?

When I returned to my friend he looked at me with a mixture of horror, repulsion, pity and contempt.

“What the fuck was that?” he asked.

“Shut up Chris.”

“There’s something wrong with you.” he says.

I don’t reply.

He is right.

There is something wrong with me!


line up

At the start of 1994 Elastica released their second single, “Line Up” and it immediately confirmed the fact that they were a band deserving of your love.  It is a brilliant little sliver of pop.

A lot of people agreed because it reached number 20 in the charts.

It is a bouncy, buoyant, bubbly, blast and blitz of art-school bop that saw kids rushing for the dance floor at indie nights up and down the country whenever they heard Justin start to make those puking noises.

The real joy of “Line Up” though was not to be found in the three minutes and fifteen seconds of the single itself but was, instead, lurking on the B-Side.  There be pop monsters.  Eighty seconds of punky, spunky, chunky naughtiness that would make Russell Brand blush.

“Vaseline” was not a hymn to the moisture insulation properties of this petroleum based lubricant.  It was a filthy little song about those bedroom activities that may, on occasion, require a little extra…goo.

Rude.

Elastica_Connection

“Connection” followed as a single later in the year and, like “Line Up”, it was a massive hit free from any controversy whatsoever.

Let’s move on.

Sorry…what?

Three girl what?

Rumba?

What’s that?

A song.

By Wire?

Hold on, I’ll go and give it a listen.

Back in a sec.

 

 

 

 

Ah.

It does sound quite similar.

Fine.

It’s exactly the same.

“Talent borrows, genius steals.”

Clever old Elastica.


By the time Elastica leave the stage of the Sub Club I am dizzy.

They have played a set that would have lasted for three hours for someone like Bruce Springsteen and condensed it into about thirty-three minutes.  It felt like they played dozens of songs…maybe more.  Maybe they played every song ever.  They just played them all really quickly.  It was a riot of spiky pop glory…like the entire Stock Aitken and Waterman back catalogue being played by a gang of hedgehogs dressed in black.

Justin had bludgeoned his drum kit into submission.

Donna had set the room and possibly the wider environs of Greater Glasgow on fire with her ferocious melody making.

Annie had threatened to put out that fire with her icy cool shenanigans on bass.

Justine had been…a star.  Glamorous in D.M boots, faded black denim jeans and a black t-shirt.  A Hollywood starlet for the indie boys and girls of the nascent Britpop scene.

I fell in love with every single one of them.


justine

“Waking Up” arrived in February of 1995 and was an even bigger hit than what had come before.  It reached number thirteen in the UK charts and was free from any controversy whatsoever.

Let’s move on.

Sorry…what?

No more what?

Heroes?

What’s that?

A song.

By The Stranglers?

Hold on, I’ll go and give it a listen.

Back in a sec.

 

 

Ah.

It does sound quite similar.

Fine.

It’s exactly the same.

“Talent borrows, genius steals.”

Clever old Elastica.

Again!

elasticaelastica

The much anticipated debut album “Elastica” arrived the following month and hit the number one spot in the UK album chart.  By the end of the year it had sold over one million copies.  It also managed to make its way to number sixty-six on the Billboard chart in the USA.

Frankly, it was massive.

It kicked off with “Line Up” and its sneering, near contemptuos, attack on the things and people in the music industry that made Justine feel ill.  It’s the perfect way to start a pop album.  Then it was the seventy-three second hymn to Annie…”Annie” which is the sort of song that makes you feel glad to be alive…guitars are strummed so vigorously that you fear for the instrument and the player, drums are beaten, a bass throbs and Justine does…Justine.

“Connection” was followed by “Car Song” which was a song about the joys of motorway driving.  The views, the tarmac, the service stations, the jams…although I have heard people suggest that the whole thing is a smutty little song about making the beast with two backs in thge confines of a Ford Fiesta.  I find that very hard to believe.  Whatever the true meaning of the song it deserves its place in your top ten for the line “Sometimes I just can’t function, my heart’s spaghetti junction.”  Brilliant.

“Smile” is one hundred seconds long.  It starts with a Ramones-y “1-2-3-4”.  Justine sounds like the cool kid at school that you really wanted to be mates with but who had already figured out that you, and everyone else in a fifty mile radius, were a loser who were not worthy of their time.  Just me?  Fine.

The definition of cool is difficult to get agreement on.  Everyone has their own thoughts on the issue of who, or what, is or isn’t “cool”.  For many years there was no definitive answer to what the gold standard for “cool” was…there was nothing to measure things against.  Then Elastica wrote “Hold Me Now” and Justine Frischmann delivered the coolest vocal in the history of rock and roll.  Bored, snooty, arrogant, obnoxious…it was thrilling.  She could have been singing “Fix You” by Oldplay and it would have sounded cool…that’s how cool she was on that song.

“S.O.F.T” and “Indian Song” were two very different beasts.  When I saw Elastica for a second time at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow it was “S.O.F.T” that had the biggest impact.  It was sexy in a way that the Kings of Leon had wanted to be with the turgid “Sex On Fire” (or whatever the Hell that song was called, I’m not looking for it on Bing).  It had a sleazy, slinky, sassy vibe and I can vividly remember my tummy flipping as I stood in the crowd that night.  “Indian Song” sounds like the sort of thing Suede would have recorded had Justine hung around…that’s a good thing.

The next two songs “Blue” and “All-Nighter” had a combined running time of three minutes and fifty four seconds.  Too many bands forget the joy of this sort of smash and grab pop gubbins.  Melody.  Riff.  Some words.  Biff.  Bang.  Pow.  Ace.  The same trick is repeated after “Waking Up” with “2:1” and “Vaseline” coming in at exactly the same run time…that might not be true, I can’t do sums, but even if it is not true…it feels true.  That’s what matters.

Before we return to the very beginning of the story with “Stutter” at the albums conclusion we are treated to a “proper” song in the shape of “Never Here”…I’m sorry to labour the point and to get hung up on this but, really, the only word is cool.  It has a great melody, a catchy chorus and another icy, too-cool-for-school vocal from Justine.

That was it.

Fifteen songs in about the same number of minutes.

It’s an album that rarely features in discussion about the best of the era…people like me get hung up on “His ‘n’ Hers”, “Definitely Maybe”, “Modern Life is Rubbish”, “Dog Man Star” and the other big hitters but that is terribly unfair.  “Elastica” stands shoulder to shoulder with any of those records.  It suggested a brilliant career was about to be launched…


It is 1996.

I’m with Chris again.

We are stood at the back entrance of the Rothes Halls in Glenrothes.

Glenrothes is a dump.

It is the dictionary definition of nowhere.

Elastica are playing a gig in aid of “Zero Tolerance”, a charity who offer support to victims of domestic violence.

Chris and I don’t have tickets.

We can’t afford them.

Our plan is to wait until someone from the band ventures out of the venue and to accost them…it is our first attempt at blagging.

Look, here comes someone.

For a moment we can’t speak.

Something had happened shortly after the release of “Elastica”, Annie had jumped ship and had been replaced by someone called Sheila.  Here she was ’round the back of the Rothes Halls.

“Sheila!  Any chance you could get us in tonight?”

This isn’t exactly subtle but it is, undoubtedly, direct.

“Yeah.  What are your names?”

Boom!

Mild Mannered Max.

King of the Blag.


Elastica_The_Menace_Cover

A second album wouldn’t arrive until the year 2000.

It was called “The Menace” and, if we have to be honest, it lacked the lustre of the debut.  The journey to “The Menace” had seen both Donna and Annie leave permanently.  Justine had split from Damon.  Her flatmate, Loz from Kingmaker, contributed to a couple of Eno-esque tracks.  The Fall loomed large in the mix…which is fine if you like The Fall and hate songs with actual tunes.

It was a guddle.

A mess.

A last gasp.

It should have been a brilliant career.

What matters is not the end but the fact that Elastica succeeded in releasing one of the best albums of the nineties, unleashed a clutch of dementedly brilliant singles, pushed the idea of women in indie/rock forward and generally showed how much could be achieved just by being cool.

The idea of seeing them back on stage again is probably remote but I know I would be first in line for tickets…

I wonder if Justine remembers that kiss?

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