Shoegaze Evolution

From the Jesus and Mary Chain to Blonde Redhead

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Shoegaze Evolution
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After Punk had introduced people to a revolutionary idea that they don’t need big record labels to make music, a lot of great things started happening. Twee pop, featured in 1986 NME compilation C86, was one of them. Twee pop had a spirit of D.I.Y. defiance, sentiment, simplicity and innocence to it. Pop music lovers around the world didn’t want to dance to some big record label tunes. They wanted to set their own rules and have their own scene. The thought of starting a label and sharing the music you love was in the air. Thanks to Alan McGee, Slaughter Joe, Jeff Travis such labels as Creation Records, Poptones started to pop up.

One of the brightest representatives were the Young Marble Giants. The band had only released one full-length studio album ‘Colossal Youth’ in 1980 but still had quite a noticeable contribution to the scene. By the way, they were one of Kurt Cobain's favorite bands.

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Shoegaze emerged in the UK in the late 1980s as a subgenre of indie rock, alternative rock, and neo-psychedelia. It may be considered a culmination of the whole D.I.Y. culture.

Contrary to other music styles shoegaze had nothing to do with socializing and had a strong romantic antisocial vibe. It had no particular rules, no special way of dressing, etc. It was about simultaneously sitting alone in your bedroom and dreaming. The music was so overwhelmingly beautiful that kids felt the romance they could find at a college party or elsewhere could never measure up to it. They just stayed in their bedrooms and kept their heads in the clouds. The term "shoegazing" was first brought up by the British music press. They made fun of band members who typically lacked stage presence and stood still during live performances. Because of heavy use of effects pedals, performers were often looking down at their shoes during concerts.

Before the Jesus and Mary Chain, there were no real breakthrough bands that represented the style. They released their debut album ‘Psychocandy’ (1985) which combined guitar feedback with traditional pop song structures. This album had significant influence on the forthcoming shoegazing genre and alternative rock in general.

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My Bloody Valentine can also be considered the pioneers of the genre. The band is known for their integration of noise, melody, and different guitar and production techniques into their music. Kevin Shields was a real virtuoso of effects. He created a hurricane of sounds by using “bloom” effect of the Alesis Midiverb II with it's rich and highly diffuse reverb and a smooth decay. Robert Smith (The Cure) cites their album ‘Loveless’ in his top three of all time.

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The Cocteau Twins were one of the most prolific bands of the 1980s. The captivating vocals, dreamy tunes, and unique, luscious romantic guitar sound formed a perfect shoegaze sound of this band. You can barely make out what Elizabeth Fraser, the singer, is saying, but it really doesn't matter.

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Ride were one of the best live bands in the early 90s. They somehow managed to sound very close to their original records in their live performances. Coming before ‘Loveless’ had Ride free from the sonic influence of that album, presenting a very different palate of ideas. Their album 'Nowhere' was a critical and commercial success, reaching #11 in the UK.

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London’s Lush alternated between straight pop and the dream pop. It’s first proper full-length album ‘Spooky’ is also a shoegaze essential. Spooky reached the UK Top 10 and topped the national indie charts.

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The band Chapterhouse began performing alongside the famous Spacemen 3. Their first album, 'Whirlpool' (1991) has been cited as one of the genre's high points but failed to capture a wider market despite reaching #23 in the UK Albums Chart.

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Curve are a blend of shoegaze, dream pop, dance, and industrial. In 2016 Pitchfork Media ranked the album at number 40 on its list of "The 50 Best Shoegaze Albums of All Time", saying: "Curve’s great innovation was marrying densely cloistered electronic rhythms with the approaching onslaught of noise-pop. Prior to their 1992 debut 'Doppelgänger', such a blend didn't exist, but Curve pioneered the sound that eventually became widespread; their own doppelgänger, Garbage, made a mint with this fusion just a few years later.”

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Slowdive’s ‘Souvlaki’ is also an iconic shoegaze album. Early demos for the album were initially rejected by Creation Records boss Alan McGee, but he later decided to give the band full creative control over the album. Slowdive asked Brian Eno to produce the album, and he declined. However, he agreed to do a couple of days of recording with Halstead, and out of these sessions came the tracks 'Sing' and 'Here She Comes.'

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In the early 1990s, shoegazing groups were pushed aside by the American grunge movement, and early Britpop acts such as Suede, forcing the relatively unknown bands to break up or reinvent their style altogether. A renewed interest in shoegaze occurred in the early 2000s when bands such as Maps, Blonde Redhead, My Vitriol, M83, A Place to Bury Strangers, Carnavas and Deerhunter, etc. first emerged across both sides of the Atlantic.

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Over the last years, a lot of shoegaze bands including the Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Swervedriver, Lush, etc. have reformed to tour or record new material.

Do you think this is a shoegaze revival or just nostalgia?

26 comments sorted by best / new / date

    DissonantTimbre
    Part II with Blackgaze please. Alcest and Deafheaven!
    Wiencon
    "Leave them all behind" and "Only shallow" should be heard by everyone, not only Shoegaze fans I hope it's a revival as it was one of the most interesting styles that came up in 90s
    HugoPan
    Absolutely love Shoegaze and Dream Pop. Hopefuly I can release something in that vein soon, but since I sing like shit, this will have to wait. Anyway, even tough I was(and always will be) a metalhead, I always enjoyed these kind of atmospheres that Shoegaze could bring to life. I think that feelings are something very abstract and personal but, to me at least, the most beautiful emotion music can evoke is some kind of happiness mixed with sadness some, kind of nostalgia, and this genre delivers just that. The word 'romantic', used in the article, describes it better. I am a new fan, been listening heavily to the style for just over a year, but it's something you cannot go back since you experienced. Congratulations for the article. Hope to see more in the future.
    mkybrat
    Awesome article! I've been trying to get into shoegaze but didn't really know where to go; this article will definitely help me out. I just discovered Lush a few months ago and 'Spooky' is a fantastic album!
    Spinnerweb
    I'm young so please forgive me if I'm wrong below, but it's what I think: It's interesting that shoegaze bands (and other no-frills bands from that time) are blamed for killing off the 'rock star' in the 90s when they weren't - they were simply reflecting their time and how the kids then felt. Kids of the seventies and eighties were a lot more free, spent more time socializing, and basically thought about sex more. Kids in the 90s grew up with AIDS horror stories, were living at a time when computers and home consoles and stuff were getting way more popular so they could stay indoors more and were a little more introverted, and technology revolutions like the Internet and cellular phones were becoming a little more accessible. It makes sense that they'd be into effects heavy music that was 'strange' and dreamier, and their rock stars were less flamboyant and were dressed more simply.
    ETID666
    Nothing...check out the band nothing, I'm not sure if it's because I'm from the philly area but they are getting a huge buzz, I just saw them open for baroness they killed it live and they are all cool ass dudes
    Humr
    "Tired of Tomorrow" is one of the best albums of the shoegaze revival I've ever heard.
    JohnnySardine
    Robert Smith of The Cure was "shoegazing" before the Jesus and Mary Chain, and My Bloody Valentine.
    Maria_Pro
    "Every music genre has two things in common: 1) No two people agree on its precise boundaries; 2) Artists dislike being labeled as such."
    ZeppelinruleZ
    The Verve's "A Storm in Heaven" is one of the best shoegaze albums if you haven't heard it; such a big sound to it
    R3ap3r_Tokyo
    You can't make out what E. Frazer is singing because she sometimes sings in an imaginary language.
    seventh_angel
    Extremely weird to have an arcticle about shoegaze and absolutely no reference to Spiritualized and their masterpiece of an album Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, especially after a brief mention to Spacemen 3.
    Baby Joel
    that album is so weird to me. i can't get enough of the eponymous track, and broken heart is just absolutely killer, but the rest of the album is so meh to me
    seventh_angel
    Those two + All Of My Thoughts are definitely the best tracks on that album, imo ( title track > All Of My Thoughts > Broken Heart ). The thing about that album is how much of a full experience it feels to listen to it in its entirety. It's one of the rare cases ( to me ) where listening to the whole album makes more sense than listening to the tracks I like the most individually. I can't really explain why, but the whole thing just makes sense in my head. I do get it though, because only half the tracks or so work individually. Funny bit of curiosity: that album is presented as prescription. The whole package of the album is made to resemble medicine and the leaflet, imitating leaflets from pills, talks about how the pill is meant to be consumed when the soul needs to be healed and the possible side effects of it and stuff, it's really fun and well-thought. Anyways, the first time I listened to it, I just laid on the couch with my eyes closed and stayed that way for the whole 70 minutes of it ( yeah it's a long ass album ), and let me tell you, I can't explain why, but it was definitely a different experience than with any other album.
    WhatMade
    Slowdive is slowly becoming one of my favorite bands of all time. Just recently discovered them. Sad I went through so many years of my life without them...
    Anjohl
    The original Emo, before confused it with Goth. Protip: Emo's are particular about how they dress, grooming, and their feelings. They don't have odd hairstyles or xut themselves, that's Goth.
    bonekrusha27
    What about the Petergaze movement?  Some guy in the wal-mart bathroom was telling me about it. 
    R3ap3r_Tokyo
    If you like Shoegaze, you should check this Japanese band : Luminous orange. Their album "songs of innocence" is really great.