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Why Justine Frischmann is the only good thing about Britpop

When we look back at British music in the 1990s, the most immediate feature we’re met with is Britpop and the perennial derby between Blur and Oasis. But then, when you scratch a little at the shiny exterior and find out what is beneath the surface, you see that you’re also met with an overly cringe genre of music. Like the cultural phenomenon of grunge that came before it, it initially spawned in the most organic of environments, driven by original and brilliant artistry, before the mainstream, record labels and wannabees cottoned on and turned the genre into a laughable parody of itself.

One would argue that with Blur and Oasis, and forgoing the off-stage antics and run-ins, at face value, a lot of their work was brilliant. Maybe this is more the case with Blur. However, it is certain that Oasis’ first two studio outings are also era-defining classics before they went on their run of Sgt. Pepper-lite albums. Of course, The Charlatans, Suede and Pulp also have valuable contributions to the genre and the decade’s haul of great music.

It was all the extraneous material that came off the back of Blur and Oasis, that makes the era now seem like a rudimentary movement where misogyny and lad-culture prevailed, forsaking thought for feeling. In addition to its negative social implications, the wave of bands that Suede, Pulp also helped to inspire, were just plain terrible.

It is worth noting at this point that Pulp and Suede often get lumped in with the whole Britpop movement, although they came before and were artistically very different from Oasis and Blur’s mid-’90s supremacy. One could also wager that Blur had a lot more in common with the Pulp and Suede corner of the genre, which is true for the most part; however, ‘Country House’ et al, in 2021, are equally as primordial as ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’.

All that remains of Britpop now, is the dated concept of a band rivalry and a whole host of bands who play at Butlin’s Minehead every year. Yeah, dads love them, but dads of a different generation also used to love Rush, so that’s not indicative of anything. Dodgy, Embrace, Mansun, Menswear, Gene, you get the picture. 

However, a good thing Britpop did do, was give us a band called Elastica, and their brilliant frontwoman Justine Frischmann. Formed in 1992, and like a lot of other bands, they were lumped in under the tag of Britpop. Although, their music encompassed new-wave, punk and post-punk, a stylistic divergence to the uber-masculine three-chord peacocking that Britpop has become known for. 

Frischmann is an interesting character. She met Brett Anderson in 1988 while studying at University College London, and they soon became a couple. Why are you telling me about her dalliance with this unknown man you may ask? Well, for those who don’t know, Anderson is the frontman of Suede, a band that he, Frischmann and friend Mat Osman would form not long after meeting in 1989. 

In fact, in the 2019 Suede documentary ‘The Insatiable Ones’, Anderson cites her as a huge influence on the band’s first album, and when you listen, it is clear. Frischmann and Anderson would break up whilst she was still a member of Suede, and she would leave him for none other than Blur frontman Damon Albarn. The depression from this colours Suede’s debut, and is particularly noticeable on ‘She’s Not Dead’ and ‘Pantomime Horse’.

It would be reductive to label Frischmann as purely Britpop’s resident heartbreaker, as she is so much more than that — she is a true artist. Elastica’s music was an arty nod to the likes of Wire and XTC, and contained in it an essence of the hedonistic and artfully liberated Weimar Germany. Ice-cool and insouciant, Elastica paved the way for the likes of Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party. Many direct parallels can be drawn between the former and Elastica. Unlike the rest of her contemporaries, Frischmann has kept a relatively low profile in the days after Elastica, and she is now somewhat of a revisionist on that heady time.

After the band ended in 2001, she retired from the music industry and pursued a career as a visual artist. It is here she has flourished, finding it a refreshing departure, she has totally reinvented herself. In a 2016 interview with the Guardian, she spoke about the prestigious Volta art fair and described how her circumstances have changed. She said: “I did a short film for Volta and the guy opened by saying: ‘I have to let you know, I’m a real fan.’ I thought, ‘Oh, he means Elastica’, and it turned out he was talking about the paintings. It’s great.”

Frischmann’s life since Elastica has been a tour de force in how to reinvent oneself. It turns out that she always wanted to be an artist, just her parents convinced her teenage self to enrol at university as they cast doubt on the economic validity of being an artist. The fact that she was always interested in visual arts explains why Elastica were one of the ’90s most aesthetically refreshing bands, with one eye always firmly fixed on the ocular. 

Although she claimed to have completely finished with music, in 2003, she wrote her friend M.I.A.’s iconic single ‘Galang’. However this sojourn into music would be brief, and in 2005 she moved to Colorado’s arts capital Boulder, where she studied painting at Naropa University — a far cry away from the hedonistic Britpop heroine she once was. 

“I’ve always been a fan of the States,” she told the Guardian. “We did a lot of touring here and I loved the land, I have a kind of pagan part of me.” She explained: “Being on the bus early morning, travelling across America and seeing this incredible ancient landscape was really inspiring. I grew up in the city: I know London has its parks but you never get away from the sound of the traffic.”

Since 2008, she has resided with her scientist husband in the North Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area. Her love of tranquillity has played a huge part in informing her work. The vision that Frischmann cuts these days may come as a surprise, but when you take in all that has been hitherto discussed, you’ll see that she has always been an anxious, artistic type. 

These days, Frischmann has become the woman and artist she was always destined to be. The ’90s was a hectic time for everyone involved, and to remain somewhat intact with perhaps more credibility than she did then, is a mean feat. 

She opined: “I got to go all over the world and have a real snapshot of the planet in ’95, ’96, and I got to meet a lot of my heroes. One of the most valuable lessons was to realise that success isn’t necessarily enriching or enlivening. We live in a culture where there’s so much emphasis on celebrity and we all grow up feeling like being famous must be really great.” One of the most valuable lessons was to realise that success isn’t necessarily enriching or enlivening. Let that sink in. Have either of the Gallagher brothers or Damon Albarn ever delivered such a pertinent take on life?

This speaks volumes about Frischmann’s character, and the lessons we can take from that one line are innumerable. It’s always worth checking out her efforts in Elastica, but why not heed her true self and have a look at some of her intensely cerebral visual artworks?

Listen to Frischmann talk about her pre-art life, below.

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