Every now and then, I stumble upon past treasures that have been hidden under the layers of time. Lately, I discovered Justine Frischmann’s name, in a Guardian interview with Damon Albarn.
I’m not sure if it’s because I grew up in the 90’s but something about the decade conjures up a cringey feeling for me; setting the rise of grunge aside, dare I mention the whole Oasis VS Blur rivalry, John Major, the Spice Girls and the new feminism, Peter Andre, the fashion…. *shudders*
But it seems Justine, and her band Elastica, must have missed my young radar at the time. When I think of women of the nineties I think Courtney Love, Gwen Stefani, Janet Jackson… riot grrls and tomboy style, whilst still pulling off red lipstick.
And then there’s Justine…
Having dated Brett Anderson and founded what would later be a hugely popular band called Suede, which she then left in the early 90’s to start a new band called Elastica. With help from a Radio 1 DJ, and her relationship with singer of Blur, Damon Albarn, Elastica became the fastest selling British debut in history, and was also nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 1995.
Justine was a female the 90s embraced, not vice versa. She had a cool confidence that didn’t ask for attention or show off. For a decade that arguably gave feminism it’s rebirth after the 60’s burn-your-bras lash-out to a constrictive society , to the 90s ‘girl power’ mini skirt midriff explosion; Justine mostly wore black, boyish clothes and didn’t need those previous cliché’s to show she was equal to her male competitors, whilst treading on their record sales.
She had parts of a ‘ladette’ personality in the way she speaks, swearing and ignoring any ladylike etiquette, she didn’t wear make up and had greasy hair but was still seen as sexy:
In response to Liam Gallagher’s “I wouldn’t kick that Justine out of bed”, in midst of the noisy Blur and Oasis spats she was quoted:
“What a sad cunt. I mean, I’d think he was being ironic if he wasn’t so fucking thick!”
And on her short hair? “I had long hair for years. Then I split with a boyfriend and cut it all off. It was a liberating thing’ cause he really loved my long hair.”
Surely this would have deterred men, but it didn’t.
Elastica’s music is alternative rock singed by britpop, with no songs over 4 minutes. Justine claimed she had always liked humor in music, which explains some of her rude lyrics (eg. Vaseline, Your Arse My Place) and her departure from Suede and their “long and indulgent…no fun” anthems. (Smith, A. 2002. Elastica Limits)
Eventually, after the exhaustive touring in the US, tensions grew in Elastica; bassist Annie Holland accused Justine of being “not human”, whilst guitarist Donna Matthews and drummer Justin Welch fell out bitterly from becoming romantically involved with one another, with Justine doing much of the cleaning up.
Then rumors began to circulate Elastica were getting mixed up in heroin, which Justine admits later was true, whereas Damon Albarn, although shamelessly blatant in some Blur lyrics, has never openly reflected upon this particular period of his life with Justine.
After the end of the 90s, it was released to also be the end for Elastica. The movement and hype of the decade had also moved on, like all decades seem to, as if they all have a time limit and an expiry, a life cycle, to reflect the culture and lifestyle of that era, to then move on to the next.
Which in effect causes as previously mentioned; a layering of different times, on top of one another, concealing different faces and their life’s once famously known, hiding in particular here, musical gems.
After the confirmation of Elastica’s retirement there is little news of Justine’s presence in music. The last piece of news released about Justine is about her visual art exhibit in America, where she moved to after the 90s and her split with Albarn, she later met and married her teacher, a science University professor.
After years of hearing the song ‘Tender’ by Blur and now discovering Justine, this has led me to uncover a whole new light to the song as Albarn had written it after their split, which has made it increasingly more poignant for me – a girl who usually turns her nose up to 90 indie bands such as Blur.
Instead of formerly thinking of it as a crowd-pleaser song, it now evokes new feelings for me when I listen to it; some of heart ache and vulnerability, but mostly of a new chapter in life, from not looking back and finding peace. It’s as though the song has quietly opened up and revealed it’s depth, something, surprisingly, I never expected a Blur song to do to me. And something I had never expected to come from the 90s…
The first time I heard Warpaint was when I was hungover; slouched over on the sofa, with the sun beaming through the window. I was flicking through the music channels, probably still in my pyjamas, when I caught the last half of the music video for ‘Undertow’. It immediately clicked with me – I added ‘Warpaint” to my music list. (My music list being a note on my iPhone of all the bands/musicians I want/need to check out.)
So about a month later I had ordered the album, without hearing anything else from Warpaint (or my hangover thank god.)
I had read Last.Fm’s description for the band; half scrunching my nose up as they labeled Warpaint ‘psychedelic’. From what I had heard, (and this was only Undertow) I would definitely not class their sound of something between Jimi Hendrix’s guitar solo’s with Jeffeson’s Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ vocals. But now I don’t think this is what Last.Fm meant;
Warpaint’s music is like a pool of genres, weaving in and out and drifting beneath or through their floaty distortion. Whereas ‘Bees’ reminded me of Joy Division’s undertone of a heavy building bass – Masjesty almost had sprinkles of psy-trance’s electronic effects over a post-punk rhythm. There’s some ties to grunge also, in a Best Coast kind of way, but with an evolved maturity. (That’s not a dig, I love the simplicity of Best Coast’s lyrics and chords – Bethany from Best Coast describes there sound as teenage girls hanging at the beach in the 90s, but wearing a 50s bikini – I couldn’t think of a better summary than that!)
And when asked, Warpaint describe their sound as just being influenced by different genres of music, not stating one label. Not many bands can say this and have me actually agree with them.
But my attempt at a Bethany illustration; Warpaint sound like girls that hang round in metal bars, drinking beer and putting Pink Floyd on the jukebox.