ROCK / They're just old fashioned Grrrls

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
PEOPLE HAVE packed into the Astoria 2's dim basement to see the latest future of rock 'n' roll: Elastica, four androgynous, arrogant young punks with a snappy name, currently snarling from the covers of every style mag. With one raved-about single ('Stutter'), an appearance on The Word and supermodels everywhere trying to look like Sid Vicious, Elastica's timing seems as sharp as their Reservoir Dogs suits.

Suddenly someone says, 'Where are all the young people?' and the limits of this NME-sponsored insurrection come into focus: most people here are old enough to remember punk the first time round. S*M*A*S*H, the support band, are cripplingly retro, chopping out tinny 1977 guitar riffs and trying to rile the audience ('give us some abuse . . . go on'). The singer shouts, 'You believe what I've said / You're out of your head.' Exactly.

Fortunately, Elastica aren't as obviously nostalgic, playing a cunning mix of speedy guitar pop and clanging post-punk. They keep songs short and sharp, with stops, starts, odd tempos and choruses that can sound like the Vapors' 'Turning Japanese'. Singer Justine Frischmann coos and spits in a flat, penetrating voice - Deborah Harry one minute, a Riot Grrrl the next - and the spotlight doesn't leave her angular good looks, even between songs. The rest of the band catch the attention too, guitarist Donna Matthews squeezing out acidic showers of notes over rough and rumbling bass and drums.

But fierceness and confidence - 'Stutter' laughs at brewer's droop; another is called 'Rock 'n' Roll is Dead' - can't disguise Elastica's old-fashioned quality. They can grind like the Stranglers; they can sting like the Voidoids; but this choice of influences - caustic not ambient - is their only surprise.

The International Dance Awards, dance music's Brits-style self-celebration at the Hammersmith Apollo, should be closer to the musical future. Dance records fill the charts and excite the pundits more than rock. But the Apollo makes a poor showcase - not so much a disco inferno as a cold, all-seated rock arena, with a warm-up tape playing well below club volume. The evening's comperes are wooden, nervous, joking poorly. And first performer The Prodigy quickly demonstrates two problems: his furious hard-core techno isn't furious enough to be cutting edge and, although it's meant for dancing to, no one is.

Then we get a long string of uninspired PAs to muted backing tapes, with even the exuberant Apache Indian reduced to a small figure on a big stage. The comperes mess up artists' names and mix up awards. Winners give uninspiring thanks to engineers and A & R men. After an hour the young audience - all dressed up but sitting glumly before ranks of bouncers - is starting to laugh derisively and shout 'get off'.

Then, finally, someone turns the volume up, and Juliet Roberts shouts in a big soul voice: 'This is the dance awards, so why don't we dance?' A few brave individuals get up, then small clumps, then a crowd. Piano chords start to crash, beats thump, and a wave of brassy singers - M People, Gabrielle, D:Ream - swamps the stage.

Old-style soul carries the day: Dina Carroll and M People win most of the awards to huge applause, while techno nominees like Orbital and The Aphex Twin - dance music's more adventurous edge, and offshoots of the 1988 house explosion that gave dance music its current momentum - win nothing. The finale could be from The Blues Brothers, 20 singers fighting for microphones. But the corridors are thick with people leaving early.

Comments