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Justine Frischmann

by: Caroline Westbrook - Last updated: 2003-12-22

Justine Frischmann

Justine Frischmann

One of the most colourful characters in the Britpop scene, Justine Frischmann topped the album charts and scored a string of top 20 singles in the mid-90s with her band Elastica – but what happened after the hits dried up? SJ's Caroline Westbrook finds out.

As lead singer of the band Elastica, Justine Frischmann found herself in the spotlight in the mid-90s, not only with the sudden popularity of Britpop but also as the girlfriend of Blur singer Damon Albarn. It’s been nearly 10 years since Frischmann’s band scored their first hit with Line Up, which reached number 20 in February 1994; two more top 20 hits, Connection and Waking Up followed over the next 12 months while their self-titled debut album topped the charts in the same year, becoming the fastest selling debut ever by a British band.

But aside from Connection enjoying a brief revival as the theme song to Dom Joly’s sketch show Trigger Happy TV, little was heard from the band after 1995; their 2000 album The Menace only reached No 24 in the charts and the following year they split for good.

Frischmann was born in 1969, the daughter of a Hungarian father and Russian mother, and comes from a musical background; her great-grandfather was a conductor of orchestras for the Russian Tsar. Her father, a Holocaust survivor, is a structural engineer who worked on a number of famous landmarks including London’s Centre Point off Oxford Street.

Frischmann had a Jewish upbringing in Twickenham, London, and attended the posh St Paul’s School. While studying architecture at University College London, she began playing guitar for fellow Britpoppers Suede (she was dating lead singer Brett Anderson at the time) but left the band in 1992 and formed Elastica with former Suede bandmate Justin Welch.

Following their chart success, the band went off on an extensive tour of the US and Japan and had American record labels clamouring to sign them – but things fell apart when they returned to the UK and were unable to produce the second album that the record company immediately demanded. Band member Annie Holland quit, while a rift developed between Frischmann and the fourth member, Donna Matthews. Rumours of drug addiction encircled the band, and to make matters worse Frischmann broke up with Albarn in 1998, the same weekend as Matthews quit the band.

Eventually Frischmann reformed Elastica for the 2000 album The Menace, and went on tour. That almost healed all the wounds from the first line-up. I think that helped me to make peace with it all and feel that I could move on.” The newly formed band split at the end of 2000 but didn’t actually break the news to anyone until the following September; afterwards Frischmann spent some time living in the Caribbean and New York.

Recently, Frischmann could be seen on BBC Three presenting Dreamspaces, a series on architecture in which she travelled around the world looking at buildings. During this time she was also a judge on the Royal Institute of British Architecture’s Stirling Prize.

These days, Frischmann is back in London, and has been dividing her time between working on new project M.I.A, writing songs, DJ-ing in London clubs and doing a spot of teaching. But she’s not sorry to be out of the limelight.  “It feels good,” she admits, "A lot better. I do feel that I sort of did my bit. So you may very well never hear from me again - doing anything.”