I think we can all identify with at least one of the people this picture, if not both.
Over this week I’ve been pretty dismissive of Damon Albarn’s contribution to Elastica’s fortunes (or should I say ALARM NO BAND’s contribution). It’s true that they certainly wouldn’t have got as much publicity without him, bumping them onto magazine covers for the sake of a good headline. Plenty of otherwise unremarkable bands surfed on the wave of Britpop made by Blur and Oasis, but Elastica were so entwined with Blur (and Suede) that the benefits sometimes turned into uncomfortable problems — namely the Feminism Issue.
“If Elastica were REAL feminists why did they need help from MEN?”
PROBLEMATIC. You don’t need a degree in Theoretical Bullshit to spot the flaws in this statement. Quite aside from the ridiculousness of the term ‘real feminist’, ALL bands need ‘help’ from SOMEONE to succeed. Take my old punk band — we managed ourselves, we drove ourselves to gigs, we built and soundproofed our own rehearsal space, we created our own website, merchandise and publicity. But we still needed the singer’s dad to come and rescue us when our car broke down in Manchester, and we still needed our brilliant friends who fed us curry, let us sleep on their floors, helped carry our amps and took photos of us, and we still needed an audience to come to our gigs. How exactly did gender come into any of that?
Where gender *does* come into play is giving a kick up the arse to a fourteen-year-old girl, who has been conditioned by society to doubt her ability and ambition from an early age. I joked about Elastica’s Achievable Goals earlier on, but I can’t emphasise enough the galvanising effect of seeing someone just like yourself becoming a rock star. Put down that copy of Just Seventeen. Pluck up the courage to go down to Guitar Centre in Harrow. Ask to try out the Fender Telecaster in the window. Ignore the huddle of smirking boys and bash out the “Waking Up” riff until they shut the fuck up. Justine wouldn’t have taken any of their shit and neither will you.
I’ve had some of the best times of my life playing a guitar on stage, all because of Elastica showing me it was possible.
Huge thanks to Hendrik for letting me indulge my teenage self this week! It’s been terrific fun.
I met Donna once!
In 2004 her band Klang were plugging their album No Sound Is Heard at the now-defunct Infinity, a tiny venue in Mayfair. I only heard about it because I was ‘doing the door’ at a gig the week before. I went along, on my own — no-one else cared! Sob! Though that’s probably for the best, given the embarrassing mess I turned into.
Elastica had thoroughly, actually, PROPERLY split up for three years by this point, and Donna was off the substances and had Found Religion. Good for her! Surely that meant she would have to be NICE to a pathetic stalker like me and not tell me to bugger off?
There was no stage at Infinity so I was literally three feet away from her, absolutely starstruck. Somehow I managed to pluck up the courage to go and say hi after the set had finished.
"Hi… Donna! That was great!"
“Er…. I’m a big Elastica fan!”
“You lot all inspired me to pick up a guitar! I’m in a band too now!”
[CRINGE ALERT at this point I gave Donna a flyer of our upcoming gig at the Dublin Castle, oh god]
“Hmm. Well do you want to help me carry this amp out to the van? It’s bloody heavy.”
“YES OF COURSE!!!!”
Cue a series of text messages sent by me to various friends, reading “aaaaaargh i carried donna’s amp aaaaargh”.
I decided to half-arsedly ‘collect’ Elastica members from that point on, although the nearest I got was following up on a rumour that temp-bassist Sheila Chipperfield worked in the guitar section of the Virgin Megastore on Tottenham Court Road: I tailed a poor unwitting employee who had vaguely the right hairdo for about half an hour before giving up.
To date I have not collected any more Elastica members HOWEVER I did have brief glimmer of hope when a Twitter account purporting to be Justine followed me back on Twitter. Alas it was a (very convincing) fake! Always look for the blue tick, guys :(
No Sound Is Heard is very sparse, musically — the Public Image Ltd to Elastica’s Pistols. Donna’s vocals are awkward-sounding, one-note-per-syllable jobs and the whole thing was clearly recorded in an empty bin on purpose. “Teach Me” is probably the highlight, but if it’s still too slow and cautious for you then a quick perusal of Youtube turfs up some of Klang’s grungier (i.e. better) stuff, that was released on their 2003 EP L.O.V.E.
Donna is now a VICAR! Hurray!
Reading 2000 was almost as disappointing as the release of The Menace. I met up with the other two* members of the Elastica Yahoo Group down the front of the barriers. This year the band had been promoted to the main stage, but that meant they were on in the middle of the windy, overcast afternoon. Plenty of disinterested punters were hanging about but no-one was drunk or dancing. You can’t crowdsurf when you can see space all the way up to the front.
Also by now I was a seasoned gig-goer (at least 10 different bands!) and had a job, a boyfriend, a phone, and a higher sense of critical discernment. It was always going to be tough measuring up to 1999, and to amp up my expectations even more I’d also seen Elastica play an great set at the Kentish Town Forum a few months earlier (plenty of surfing done there: this time it was Kirsty giving me the leg up).
It’s so sad to see a band you love play a shit gig, and this truly was shit. Justine was wearing an awful pink golfing visor and had lost her voice (their appearance at sister-festival Leeds the next day was cancelled). The wind and dodgy festival sound meant no-one could hear anything, and they made a point of playing all the crappy versions of the new songs. The low point was 'My Sex' (BY FAR the worst Elastica song ever) where Justine and Mew took turns to read out miserable poetry from a sheets of A4 paper. UNACCEPTABLE. Still, they weren’t quite as bad as Blink 182’s set that weekend! There’s a bright side to everything.
So although I was sad when Elastica split up for good shortly thereafter, my main feelings were those of relief. The old dog had been taken outside and shot before it crapped all over the kitchen floor yet again.
Elastica released a final limited edition 7”
fuck-you farewell single in the shape of “The Bitch Don’t Work”. I resented this as I didn’t have a record player and this meant I had to listen to it downstairs on the record player in the living room. Luckily I was a Grown Up by this point and thus wasn’t worried about Mum hearing the word ‘bitch’ on a record.
"The Bitch Don’t Work" is short, bratty and ugly, but its B-side "No Good" (the video above) is a great bit of disco-punk. I especially love Annie’s bass on the intro, and how about halfway through the guitar line completely gives up on the riff and starts lashing out in all directions like a confused octopus.
*A lovely lesbian couple from Northampton! There were a good few hundred Elastica Yahoo Group members but we assumed we were the only ones in attendance at Reading because we were the only people to bother making a banner for the ‘competition’. The internet was different back then.
The final track on The Menace is also not cringeworthy and deserves a post — it’s a straightforward cover version of Trio’s “Da Da Da”.
I’d loved the original since I was small, not least because I could make the exact same bop-IP-bop-bop-bop-IP-bop-bop noise on Mum’s tiny Casio. The same keyboard let you sample your own voice and play a whole octave of swear words or belches. Brilliant.
Elastica’s version has the same pops and bips (yay) but misses out most of the German words (boo). Unsurprising there is also a crunchy guitar wig-out on top. It’s rather jolly!
Wait a minute… Who’s that listed on the credits?
Additional keyboards: Norman Balda
OH GOD NOT AGAIN
After all that hedonism of 1999, the release of The Menace the following year brought me down with a bump. The tracks I’d heard before on the EP were now shorn of their grubby charm. Half the new tracks were hippy chanting about giving up drugs (“Image Change”, “The Way I Like It”) and the other half were so excruciatingly embarrassing (“Your Arse My Place”, “My Sex”) that I couldn’t bear to listen to them. I still can’t get more than 30 seconds into either of those so I don’t expect you to either. It seems my favourite band were fallible after all. SADFACE.
Luckily least-worst track “Mad Dog” was neither cringe-inducing nor mystic bollocks and thus was chosen for the lead-off single. Directed by the as-yet-unknown Maya Arulpragasam, the accompanying video was an attempt to plug the album in the US (lol etc).
Brace yourselves, for it contains DANCING. Not only do we have two awesome girls jacking away at their street moves, we get Justine bopping her socks off in a Wisconsin basketball strip! She looks so much better after kicking the smack, doesn’t she? Good for you, Justine!
(Read Part 1 first!)
I had heard of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion before, because Mark and Lard had done a parody of them on their Shirehorses album (Frank Spencer Blues… etc). The real JSBE were a chore to be endured, especially as they were an hour late (due to temporarily splitting up backstage) and I was thirsty AND needed a wee. But I stood squashed up on the barrier for their whole set, to make sure I had a good spot for Elastica afterwards.
The cornish pasty I’d eaten at the station seemed like a long time ago. Bless her, Mum had given me a lift to West Drayton and a tenner for the train ticket and ‘dinner’. My remaining coins had been swallowed up by the payphone in just under 10 seconds, enough for me to say “I’m here!” and Dan to say “What?” and me to say “I’m at the station!” and Dan to say “What?” and me to say “Is this Dan?” and for Dan to say “Yes? Your number’s not showing up in my phone”, and then the bips. Calling mobiles was bloody expensive.
I was staying over at Kirsty’s house on the Thursday evening, watching telly and bumming around like usual. The summer of 1999 had been a great one so far: cementing friendships with a close-knit group consisting of girls our age and a few boys from the year above. Unlike Kirsty, I didn’t have a Saturday job so I had no money and no phone, but that was ok, as at least I had a bank card with which to mine my savings for valuable beer money. Kirsty had something else that I didn’t have — a boyfriend, Nick, who she was on the phone to.
"Course I still can’t go. It’s Dad’s birthday thing tomorrow and I’m on shift on Saturday innit. Weren’t you listening?"
Nick and some of the others from our group were at the Reading Festival, getting progressively sloshed around a campfire made of empty beer cans and some damp firewood bought for £5 a bundle. He was using up his valuable pay-as-you-go minutes persuading Kirsty to ditch her plans, hop on the train and join them. The bank holiday was going to be pretty dull without the boys around.
"Why are they already there if there’s no bands playing tonight?"
“Shh I can’t hear, the reception’s shit. Say that again Nick? What? Hey Kat, Nick says Elastica are playing tomorrow.”
"Generator" is the final track on the EP. It’s a short ‘n’ stupid Stranglers pastiche, right down to the raggedy arpeggios and Cornwell-esque snarling. As Elastica songs go it’s pretty damn classic. I can confirm that it sounds great when bouncing up and down on a bed to it.
The Menace Re-record Awfulness Level: TERRIBLE. The mix is all wrong: the guitar is too bright and not fuzzy enough. Justine shoves in an extra rhyme about an alligator (NO) and you can clearly hear that they are saying ‘spastic generator’ instead of ‘space-dead generator’, which I thought was a much better line. I could imagine Lister from Red Dwarf reluctantly cleaning the nozzle on a space dead generator. ‘Spastic generator’ just sounds daft! And kinda offensive, but Elastica already had a B-side called “Spastica” so that boat has sailed. I guess stupidity was the point here.
I doubt I’d care about the tiny differences between the EP tracks and the re-records if the better versions hadn’t been released in the first place. Would that have made The Menace any more palatable though? Tomorrow we’ll mop up the rest of the album — and I go to my first Elastica gig…