Have you heard… Elastica?

Elastica are a predominately female British Britpop band who emerged to great critical acclaim in 1993. They were formed by Justine Frischmann after leaving Suede in 1991. Frischmann recruited the rest of the band members: Justin Welch (formerly of garage rock band Spitfire – drums), Annie Holland (bass) and Donna Matthews (guitar).

Elastica gained the media’s attention by playing twenty minute sets full of explosive two minute songs, but grew to become one of the most highly regarded British bands, having released a brilliant debut album. The band had been under the spotlight since their formation because of their numerous highly placed connections (Blur, Suede, etc.), and for a while they even survived being declared part of the New Wave of the New Wave (did anyone else?).

Elastica’s first single was 1993’s “Stutter”, which was a word-of-mouth hit largely due to the promotional efforts of BBC Radio 1 DJ and Deceptive Records label boss Steve Lamacq. In spite of a period of relative quiet, Elastica’s fame grew throughout 1994 as Frischmann’s relationship with Blur’s Damon Albarn made tabloid headlines (he also played occasional guest keyboard for the band, under the anagrams Dan Abnormal and Norman Balda). Elastica’s first LP, Elastica, entered the charts at #1.

In 1995 there was a lawsuit from Wire claiming that many of the band’s melodies were taken from Wire compositions. Notably, Wire’s “I Am the Fly” has a chorus similar to Elastica’s “Line Up”, and the intro synthesizer part in Elastica’s “Connection” (later also repeated on guitar) is lifted from the guitar riff in Wire’s “Three Girl Rhumba” and transposed a semitone. The Stranglers also passed comment that Elastica’s “Waking Up” bore a marked resemblance to their song “No More Heroes”. The band did not deny these accusations and were not ashamed by these similarities, stating that all pop bands have borrowed ideas and all music was eventually recycled.

Elastica were able to garner better American sales than other Britpop bands, replacing SinĂ©ad O’Connor on Lollapalooza in 1995. “Connection” and “Stutter” were huge airplay favorites on modern rock radio in the United States and also both charted Pop. Among their extensive tour schedule the band performed at Glastonbury in 1995, where their set was interrupted by a streaker – George Best look-alike and former Pulp member Antony Genn – who would briefly join the band as a keyboard player in 1997.

After extensive touring, the band began to experience personnel problems. In 1996, bassist Annie Holland left the band, citing repetitive strain injury following excessive touring as her reason for departure. she was replaced firstly by Abby Travis, bassist for Beck, and then in May 1996 by Sheila Chipperfield. Sheila and Donna quickly became firm friends and began writing together. In May 1998, Holland had a change of heart and decided to rejoin the band. This caused more strain on the already shaky Matthews/Frischmann partnership and in 1999 Donna Matthews left the band. There were several line up changes and keyboard players. Various supporting musicians came and went. Their second album was much delayed after several years of recording. There were worrying rumours of entire albums being scrapped and band tensions due to the perfectionism of Frischmann. The “lost years” of the band were often compared to the Stone Roses recording their Second Coming album.

A quickly recorded lo-fi self-titled EP was released in 1999, and the follow-up LP, The Menace, was finally released in 2000 to moderate sales. A less focused effort than their debut, the album nonetheless contained some interesting moments and more electronic songs than before. Their Wire fixation continued; the chorus of “Nothing Stays the Same” was markedly similar to that of Wire’s song “Kidney Bingos,” from their album A Bell Is a Cup…Until It Is Struck.One of the album’s high points was “How He Wrote Elastica Man” featuring Mark E. Smith (of The Fall) on vocals, and a cover of Trio’s 1982 hit “Da Da Da”. A new line up was revealed with two keyboard players replacing Matthews for tour dates.

The band made their long-awaited UK comeback at the Reading Festival in 1999, where they headlined the Radio 1 stage. A largely successful UK tour followed in 2000 to support the release of The Menace, although their festival appearances that year were marred by illness. The band released a final single “The Bytch Don’t Work” on limited edition 7″ and announced their break-up in September 2001.

Elastica’s song “Connection” was used in May 2004 in Garnier television commercials, and was also used as the theme of Trigger Happy TV. The song was the case for a poorly presented plagiarism lawsuit between Wire’s music publisher and Elastica, over the similarity between Wire’s 1977 song “Three Girl Rhumba” and Elastica’s 1995 hit “Connection” (play sample below). The judgement resulted in an out-of-court settlement for which Wire received no compensation.

In May 2004, Matthews’ new band, Klang, released their debut album ‘No Sound Is Heard’. Stylistically it followed on from the quieter moments of ‘The Menace’.

Sheila Chipperfield is now a successful DJ in London and Europe and is also involved in the production of the online music venue www.liveroom.tv.

Elastica’s farewell message:

Believe it or not elastica have been together for almost ten years which is probably as long as any band should be together. I know it’s hard to believe but then we did spend quite a while in the middle dithering and being perfectionists. The band has broken up on extremely good terms with each other. Any personal problems from years ago have been happily put to bed – and I think we all agree that we had an amazing time.

Elastica: Where are they now?

  • Justine Frischmann is living in Colorado and studying visual arts and psychology at Naropa University
  • Donna Matthews is living in south Devon and studying sonic art
  • Mew and Justin Welch are married and living in north Devon
  • Justin plays drums in Beauty School
  • Annie Holland is nowhere to be found
  • Sheila Chipperfield is DJ-ing in London and Europe; her new project is Liveroom tv – “It’s about shamelessly plugging the best new music today, and giving anyone, anywhere access to great live music.”
  • Paul Jones runs the Slogan Records label
  • Dave Bush is studying web design in Wiltshire