Suede and Elastica

This week I’ve been reading The Last Party, John Harris’s take on Britpop, Blair and the demise of English Rock, together with the July issue of Mojo.

I thought I’d given up on music mags, as every time I’ve read one in recent years I’ve felt something akin to déjà vu, with the same old acts cropping up again and again, saying much the same things again and again – while far too many of the newer acts look like geography teachers for my liking.

Suede ad

Suede certainly didn’t resemble geography teachers. And they didn’t resemble the grunge acts that were ruling the alternative roost of the early 1990s either. Suede might have had longish hair but unlike the Seattle bands, they deemed it a good idea to actually wash it more than once every coupla months. And there was as much chance as singer Brett Anderson donning a plaid shirt as me sending a donation to Richard Branson on his private island to help him out during his current financial difficulties.

Live shows saw Brett sashaying around the stage, skelping his thighs and his skinny ass as he did so, that lank fringe of his swaying foppishly back and forth across with metronome regularity, while singing in that arch voice of his about beautiful losers and the underside of the city – or as the band put it on the deadwax of Metal Mickey: ‘All the Love and Poison of London’.

A year earlier A&R departments wouldn’t cross the street to see them but in 1992, the band speedily found themselves the darlings of the British rock press which now included magazines like Q, Vox and Select. Few independent guitar acts had created this level of hype since the early days of The Smiths and The Jesus and Mary Chain. For one front cover in Spring 1992, Melody Maker declared them the best new band in Britain. They had yet to release any music, although when sleaze tinged glam pop debut The Drowners hit record shops the hype machine only accelerated.

The track demonstrated a band with big ambitions, consequently pissing off many indie purists (I’ve just reached the point in The Last Party, where an indie purist accosts Alan McGee and calls him a ‘turncoat cunt’, before spitting on him for selling off just under half of Creation to Sony). These musical puritans must have cursed the rise of Suede, meaning less room in their music paper of choice for Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and other acts with terrible haircuts and even worse music.

NME’s Christmas 1992 issue was reputedly their biggest seller in a decade. On the cover Brett Anderson posed as Sid Vicious, an idea explored around the same time by the artist Gavin Turk in his life-size waxwork Pop, where Turk poses as Vicious singing My Way in The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle. Which came first? I’m not sure but if I had to guess I’d go for the NME cover.

Brett as Sid and Gavin as Sid

Anderson had a way with a quote. Twenty years earlier, David Bowie had informed Melody Maker that he was ‘gay, and always have been.’ Brett Anderson now explained in the same paper that: ‘I see myself as a bisexual man who’s never had a homosexual experience.’ This struck some as a big deal at the time.

Brett’s father was a Lisztomaniac who even named Brett’s sister Blondine after Franz Liszt’s daughter. His mum an art school graduate. The young Brett caught up with The Sex Pistols in secondary school during the 1980s. And then he developed a taste for Crass and The Exploited, which is a bit like discovering that pre-Britain’s Got Talent, Susan Boyle had been obsessed with, well, Crass and The Exploited.

His musical tastes improved with age, his affections switching primarily to Bowie and The Smiths. As Suede established themselves, their sound reflected these influences, although I thought there was as much Human Menagerie era Cockney Rebel as 1970s Bowie. Brett soon got to meet his heroes, although the encounter with Morrissey soured almost instantly. Anderson complained that Morrissey’s shyness was boring rather than charming and claimed Moz was like ‘some kind of useless teenager’.

The useless teenager volleyed back, decrying Suede as a band ‘with all reference points so tightly packed that it consequently leaves no room whatsoever for originality, should any be lurking.’ His tirade concluded by stating that Anderson would ‘never forgive God for not making him Angie Bowie.’ Oouch, but it was a putdown that raised the question as to why then had he chosen to cover The Insatiable Ones (one of the B-sides of The Drowners) live?

Controversies continued. Stuart Maconie at Select featured Anderson on one front cover with a Union Jack superimposed in the background – a decision guaranteed to get the knickers of most British indie types in a collective twist. A stooshie ensued with some seeing this as a dangerous right-wing statement, while others argued that the time was right to reclaim the flag and that you could be proud of being British without wanting a return to the days of the Raj. Either way, it was a decision that had nothing to do with Anderson.

From the moment Bernard Butler’s guitar took off and soared like Concorde, second single Metal Mickey was clearly going to consolidate Suede’s reputation. Like their stage image, the single’s packaging also showed the benefits of a coherent aesthetic. The first single had featured famous 1960s model Veruschka von Lehndorff on its cover, a trompe-l’œil suit painted on to her body and facial hair stippled on to her face. This time around Anderson chose an intriguing photo he’d found while browsing in a second-hand bookstore. Like The Smiths again, Suede were dead against the idea of any record company imposing their ideas over the band’s vision. The ideas for these sleeves came from Anderson and the boys, albeit a pair of graphic designers, Peter Barrett and Andrew Biscomb, were brought in to execute the finished product.

Suede 3 Singles

The Metal Mickey video saw the reappearance of the sleeve star of The Drowners – okay, somebody else dressing as the Veruschka figure but with a better pimp hat – who rescues a pretty thing from the drudgery of her dead-end job at a meat processing plant, whisking her off to the seedy glamour of a neon lit Soho.

Released on Nude Records in November 1992, here is Metal Mickey:

And now for an act featuring two former members of Suede, Justine Frischmann – who had gone out with Brett Anderson and had played guitar in the band – and Justin Welch, who was their first drummer, although not for long.

Justine decided to react against the music and lyrics of that band.

‘I was sick of the whole “love and poison of London” thing,’ she told Harris in The Last Party.

Elastica Singles

And unlike Suede, their aesthetic was minimalist DIY. Just take a look at the video for debut 45 Stutter.

White background, magazine pages scattered across the floor. Justine out in front, flanked by Donna Matthews and Annie Holland, with drummer Justin at the back. The band mime and a handheld camera captures them in a single take. A perfect match for the music with those crunching power chords, crisp drumming and Jean-Jacques Burnel bass. And didn’t Justine look effortlessly cool as she sings about her frustration at the failures of some guy in the bedroom.

From November 1993, this is Stutter, the third single release on the Deceptive label:

The album Suede charted at #1 in the UK Albums Chart, shifting 100,000 copies on the day of its release. It went on to win the then prestigious Mercury Music Prize, while Elastica also hit #1 becoming one of the fastest selling debuts in British musical history. Soon Suede’s rivals at the time Blur released Modern Life Is Rubbish, which I loved while Pulp were also about to make a hard won and well deserved breakthrough with His ‘n’ Hers.

For the first time since the late 1970s/ early ‘80s heyday of The Jam, The Specials and Dexy’s, my tastes were pretty much in line with what was looking like the new mainstream.

This wasn’t to last too long.

Justine Frischmann Three Paintings

Today Justine is based in California where she works as an abstract artist, utilising a wide range of materials from the traditional (oil paint) to the new (repurposed photography and fluorescent spray enamel).

‘I really enjoy the synthetic, Pop-look of fluorescents, and the magical, almost mystical way they seem to light up a surface,’ she told In the Make website. ‘They only came into existence in the latter part of the 20th century and for me, they are one of the best things about our toxic, synthetic times. Medieval artists used gold leaf to light up a surface; we have fluoro!’ Above are her paintings Lambent 89, Lambent 80 and Lambent 83.

Justine was shortlisted for the 2012 Marmite Prize although she didn’t win – presumably her work completely divided the opinions of the judges. She has no plans to reform Elastica which hopefully rules out any temptation to ever appear at some ‘90s Rewind style weekender at Butlin’s Minehead along with Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin.

Fingers crossed.

For more on Justine: