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25 Years After Its Imperial Phase: Who Killed Shoegaze?
Ben Cardew , January 5th, 2016 10:39

With the release of MBV's Loveless, 1991 marked the high water mark for shoegaze before the music press turned its back with a nose-high snort of derision. Ben Cardew looks over the history of the genre and asks if its decline was simply because the music just got boring

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Whenever the story of shoegazing is told today - when Slowdive reform to headline festivals or Lush announce comeback dates - it typically reads like a story of betrayal. A wave of young bands in thrall to the sound of My Bloody Valentine come barrelling out of Southern England to wild media acclaim, only for the press to turn on their former darlings, consigning them to the inky dustcart of history at the mere sight of Brett from Suede’s ripped cardigan.

It is a story that has found a sympathetic audience among the international brigade of young shoegazing fans who have discovered Slowdive, Ride, Chapterhouse et al via filesharing sites, YouTube and blogs. And there is a grain of truth in it, too: in 1992 - the year of Lush’s debut album and Ride’s monumental Going Blank Again - Melody Maker asked 'Whatever Happened to Shoegazing?' in a funereal cover feature, while Slowdive’s excellent second album Souvlaki, released in May 1993, was slated in the British press. Melody Maker’s Dave Simpson, for one, declared that he would “rather drown choking in a bath full of porridge than ever listen to it again”. Charming.

“By autumn 1992, the honeymoon period shoegaze had enjoyed with the press was well and truly over,” writes Neil Taylor in his liner notes to Cherry Red’s new compilation, Still in a Dream A Story Of Shoegaze 1988-1995. “As bands had progressed, so too egos had spilled over and a few choice words were batted backwards and forwards between them, usually via the gleeful intermediary of the music papers. The press, ever capricious, had also grown bored, its attention distracted by the search for the Next Big Thing.”

We all love the story of the overlooked genius, unappreciated in their time, and it tastes even better when we can cast the media in the role of villain. But, as anyone who was following British indie music in in the early 90s will tell you, this view is far too simplistic. Yes, the opinions of the music press counted for a lot in early 90s Britain. But the general public weren’t blindly turned away from the charms of shoegazing because of journalistic hubris. 

Shoegazing, frankly, got boring, its success in inspiring bands to turn up the effects pedals laying the seed of its own destruction, as the genuine sonic innovation of the early shoegaze acts was subsumed in an easy-to-apply formula of guitar drone and mumbled vocals. Faced with a tsunami of pale shoegaze photocopies muttering about girls over studio feedback, it is little wonder that the sexy, nuanced pop of Suede, Blur, Pulp etc proved a welcome respite for journalists and listeners alike.

The origins of shoegazing can be traced back to the 1980s, as bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain, Cocteau Twins and - especially - My Bloody Valentine reinvented the idea of how a guitar could sound, pairing beauty-and-the-beast sonic innovation with dreamy vocals that shied away from the idea of singer as musical figurehead. The notion of shoegazing as a distinct musical genre started to solidify in 1990, when several of the bands who would go on to become the genre’s leading lights released their first records: Ride’s eponymous EP in January; Swervedriver’s Son of Mustang Ford in July, Chapterhouse’s Freefall in September and Slowdive’s Slowdive EP in November. (Lush’s debut mini-album Scar came out at the end of 1989.)

Shoegazing’s imperial phase followed in 1991, a year that saw My Bloody Valentine release Loveless and Ride bother the UK top 20 with the Today Forever EP. 1991 also saw the second wave of shoegaze loom into view, bands like Moose and Curve who might not have pioneered the genre but whose existence bolstered talk of a shoegazing “scene”. In fact, it was in a review of a Moose gig at London’s ULU that Sounds journalist Andy Hurt first coined the terms “shoegazers”, referring to the band’s habits of staring at their effects pedals during gigs.

If you were looking to persuade neutrals of the merits of shoegazing you could probably stop with the musical output of 1990 and 1991. It is notable, for example, how distinct the big shoegazing bands are from each other sonically: Ride weld big pop hooks to buzzing guitars; Lush are delicate, dreamy and, well, lush; Swervedriver sound like a grunge act in waiting and Slowdive are ambient, sweet and surprisingly beautiful. 

Chapterhouse, meanwhile, surprised me when I revisited their work. I had long dismissed them as shoegaze also rans, all swirl and no soul. But 'Falling Down' - lead track on the Freefall EP - strikes me now as a futuristic rock beast that gleams with the promise of a better world some 25 years on, riding the Ashley's Roachclip break (as sampled by EMF, 2 Live Crew and Bassomatic among many others) and a raucous wah-wah riff. More importantly, perhaps, the song serves as a reminder that shoegazing, for all its love of fuzz and mumbling, could be notably forward-looking, home to other-worldly guitar innovation, drum machines and sampling. You can hear this in the work of My Bloody Valentine, of course, but also in Slowdive’s quasi-electronic ambient glide, Moose’s propulsive drone and Curve’s industrial gothisms.

This seems so obvious a point in 2016 that you wonder how British audiences in the 90s could have dismissed such futuristic endeavour in favour of Britpop’s sentimental charms. Were we, perhaps, so nostalgic for a time when Britain ruled the pop waves that all it took was a hint of Blur’s Kinks-ian melodies for shoegaze to be forgotten? 

There may be a hint of that. But shoegazing also suffered from the musical context in which it was born. It is one of those strange quirks of fate, in fact, that shoegazing probably sounds more futuristic in 2016 than it did in 1991, when the indie world was picking over the impact of records like Primal Scream’s Loaded, The Happy Mondays’ Pills 'n' Thrills & Bellyaches and The Stone Roses’ 'Fools Gold', wildly original guitar records that borrowed from the production techniques of electronic music and rave. In this context shoegazing sounded almost like a throwback, with Chapterhouse being dubbed “My Baggy Valentine” for their use of sampled drums.

The other point easily forgotten in the pick-and-mix, universal musical jukebox of 2016, where listeners can plunder three types of music before lunchtime, is that shoegazing was about far more than just the big acts. In Britain especially, it became popular quickly and this led to the inevitable raft of imitators, bands who aped the obvious traits of the genre with little of its futuristic bent. These bands didn’t just copy shoegazing, they suffocated it, burying it under a wave of mumbly sludge.

Meanwhile, history was waiting in the wings. Nevermind was released in September 1991, with 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' following as a UK single in November. Oasis played their debut gig in August 1991. And Radiohead first released 'Creep' in September 1992. By March 1993, when Suede unleashed their eponymous debut album, shoegazing was to all extents and purposes dead for British audiences.

Internationally, though, it was a different matter. In his liner notes to Still in A Dream American journalist and Springhouse drummer Jack Rabid explains how US audiences were starting to get into shoegazing just as the Brits cooled off. His own band scored a major-label deal in 1991, while acts like Boston’s Drop Nineteens started to forge an American response to the shoegazing sound.

American shoegazing wasn’t without its merits - LA’s Medicine, for example, released several excellent records - but it rarely approached the experimental heights of the British pioneers, seemingly content to ape the genre’s obvious signifiers without branching out a great deal further. What’s more, it faced a UK audience that, by now, was growing sick of fuzz and mutter, as Suede’s promise of dirty sex and David Bowie guitars loomed into view.

American readers might think of this as fickle. But to do so is to overlook the fundamental differences in how audiences in the UK and US experienced shoegazing, thanks largely to the gulf between British and American media in the early 1990s. Britain is a small country geographically, with a hugely influential, publicly funded national media player in the shape of the BBC. America is a vast geographical expanse, dominated by commercial media companies. So while American music fans in the early 90s might have heard Ride on MTV or read about Revolver in a month-old NME, shoegazing was a rare commodity for them.

In Britain quite the opposite was true: even in the pre-internet era it was easy for Britons to hear these bands on Radio 1, to read about them weekly in NME and Melody Maker and to see their videos on Saturday morning TV. It was easy to grow to love them, in other words. But it was also easy to get bored when the innovation seemed to dry up.

Could things have ended otherwise? Could shoegazing have found a way out of its musical morass? Seefeel’s Plainsong EP, released in late 1993, suggests so. Sex-filled it is not. But the three songs within demonstrate a path down which shoegazing could have evolved, combining guitar wash with ambient electronics to form a mid point between the IDM of Autechre and the swoon pop of Slowdive. 

Seefeel would go on to explore this sound further, eventually signing for Warp, while Chapterhouse would enlist Global Communication to remix their 1993 album Blood Music. Slowdive’s 1995 final LP Pygmalion, meanwhile, would take a similar dive into electronics. But it was too little, too late and by then the gig was pretty much up for the shoegazers: Slowdive were dropped by Creation the week after Pygmalion was released and Blood Music was Chapterhouse’s last studio album. 

At that point the idea of shoegazing being rehabilitated some 25 years later would have got you laughed out of the NME offices. And yet this is where we stand in 2016, with Lush the latest act to announce their reformation, hitting terrain already warmed by reunion tours from Ride, Slowdive and Swervedriver, as the slow drip of the shoegazing revival, first hinted at in the early 2000s with the arrival of bands like The Radio Dept. and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, have seen it reach a far wider audience. But has the material they produce been any good?

These reunion tours have been rapturously received and it would be churlish to write off the joy at seeing bands in the flesh that seemed lost to the digital ether. And yet you have to wonder where it will all end: Ride and Slowdive have talked about new material, while Lush actually have a new EP slated for release. The hope is that this will allow these bands to move forward, rather than getting stuck in the groove of lucrative nostalgia. To do so, though, the shoegazing pioneers will have to make sure their new material is considerable stronger than anything released by their endless imitators in the new millennium, who tends to re-hash the old guitar glories of 1991 rather than take shoegazing in any new directions.

There are, admittedly, one or two exceptions to this rule: Deafheaven’s fusion of black metal and shoegazing is a bolder new take, while Ulrich Schnauss’ 2001 and 2003 albums Far Away Trains Passing By and A Strangely Isolated Place take up Seefeel’s mantle of electronic shoegazing, imbuing it with a Christmas fireside warmth. But they are the exceptions to the rule and you’d be hard pressed to claim that shoegazing has done anything but regress since the glory years of 1990 to '91. That’s not necessarily a problem - music can arguably be enjoyable without being progressive - but you know you’re in a strange situation when bands who have reformed in their late 40s sound considerably more forward-thinking revisiting their glory years than the copyists they have spawned. It's therefore perhaps right to be wary of over-romanticising a genre ultimately it fell victim not to the whims of the devious musical press, but to its own circle of ever-diminishing returns.

me
Jan 5, 2016 11:49am

Enjoyed this but would disagree with two fundamental points.

"while Ulrich Schnauss’ 2001 and 2003 albums ... But they are the exceptions to the rule" - conveniently ignoring the fact that Schnauss was part of a 'trend' for shoegaze-tinged electronica which culminated in a Slowdive tribute album around 2002!

Arguably, both post-rock and the Bristol axis of Third Eye Foundation/Flying Saucer Attack were also born out of shoegaze.
Put in that context, the revival of Shoegaze seems more like a completion of the circle.

My biggest problem with this article is that it lets off the '90s music press far too easily. The pissing contest of finding 'the next big thing' is undoubtedly the reason why Melody Maker and NME ended up dying on their arses. The readership frankly got fed up of being told something is great followed the next week by it suddenly being shit. Simpson's agenda-driven bullshit quote looks a nonsense in an era of thoughtful music blogs, real critique and readily available streaming music. At the time however it was all that was available and would influence the music buying habits of it's readership.

Even more sad is that the 90's era of music journalism still seeps its way through into current media - Simpson is still a journo for the Guardian along with a bunch of other NME has-beens; Steve Sutherland a couple of years ago was still arguing that the Godspeed NME cover was a mistake.

Come on The Quietus, give these journeymen the kicking they rightfully deserve.

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Jazz Stoltzer
Jan 5, 2016 12:14pm

In reply to me:

Let's not forget that Steve Sutherland will readily remind you, again, again, and again, who coined the term "The Scene That Celebrates Itself" ("Oh, I did, but it was never meant to catch on, oops").

Shoegaze was surely a transitional movement between 80s alternative guitar pop and ambient drone. Simon Scott formerly of Slowdive has a couple of guitar-heavy shoegazey ambient albums out, as an immediate point of reference, but add in Lawrence English, Barn Owl, and on and on, and this is surely the future of shoegaze to come.

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JulesLt
Jan 5, 2016 1:22pm

My observation is that it died as it started to get interesting - the original wave, like Ride, were pretty easy to digest. Seefeel, later Loop, insides, Disco Inferno, Moonshake, Laika - they were all far more experimental and willing to embrace electronics and the studio.

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feedthecollapse
Jan 5, 2016 1:51pm

kind of killed itself, didn't it? Even barring outside media pressure, it seems like most of the original wave started to move away from the genre as early as 1992 (Ride's Going Blank Again is almost entirely britpop) and then ditched it entirely by about 1995 either by breaking up or releasing something wholly different.

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Eric
Jan 5, 2016 2:06pm

So shoegaze (rightfully) failed by failing to innovate, and thus were rightfully replaced by the retro (read: not at all innovative) Suede, Blur and Oasis? I'm not sure that makes sense. I'd also say that Swervedriver and Moose, at least, continued to make excellent records, and as for how back-to-the-future acts like Ride and Lush might fare, I'd point hopefully to Swervedriver's I Wasn't Born To Lose You, which was released last year and is fantastic.

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PL
Jan 5, 2016 2:52pm

Loop's new record is almost exactly what you're talking about, but you talk about Deafheaven instead, why?

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Ben Cardew
Jan 5, 2016 2:53pm

In reply to Eric:

Yes, basically. Britpop may not have been innovative (on the whole) - but it was something very different to what had gone directly before. Also, Britpop sold itself very much on songs and swagger, rather than sonic innovation (Dog Man Star aside).

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undead
Jan 5, 2016 3:03pm

This is an example of the comments answering the question much better than the article.

The music press was always looking to create scenes, and then destroying them; the writers wanted to be part of something, sometimes as crucial as the music. Then they'd go looking for something else, quickly, from somewhere else. Or there'd be simultaneous scenes so they could compete and form irrelevant rivalries.

It doesn't matter. It's all music. My Bloody Valentine were so much greater than being merely a shoegaze band, that epithet does them a disservice. Ride were brilliant too, they all looked like students which I found endearing but the first couple of LPs and all those EPs were great. 'Loveless' killed shoegaze and it killed music, in some respects. Where could anyone go beyond that? Nobody has touched it since in 25 years; it's something so far out, it's difficult to emulate the other-worldly tunings. Alternative music still mattered for half a decade more, fans thought it could still take over the world but Loveless has never been topped since, no one has come close.

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Steve
Jan 5, 2016 4:03pm

Shoegaze in the US has always been given short shrift, It was a very different movement coming more as an indie / underground development on the experimentation of Sonic Youth and Krautrock (combined with a Cocteau Twins meets Jesus and Mary Chain influence that MBV shared) and as a reaction against male dominated, guitar as phallic symbol, major label-backed grunge. It was absolutely ignored by the press. I recall Jack Rabid telling me he preferred his shoegaze with an English accent. The first bands I recall, Swirlies, Lilys, and Bowery Electric, all continued to experiment with form and genre in ways others, like MBV copyists Medicine, did not.

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lld
Jan 5, 2016 4:51pm

Very much enjoyed the piece. For those willing to invest the time there were some of us in the states that followed the 'shoegaze' scene pretty much as it began and developed. I was fortunate enough to be employed in an indie record store at the time which made knowledge of and access to the records much easier. many of us were deeply touched by all the relevant acts and traveled, often many hours, to see the bands live and in color. good times.

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jeff
Jan 5, 2016 4:51pm

When bands started to make 'shoegaze' music then it died. Most of the My Bloody Valentine copyists were just a pale, pastel shadow of the real thing. And let's not forget My Bloody Valentine only got interesting once they decided Husker Du & the US guitar vanguard of the late 80's were a better blueprint to work from rather than the limp indie pop sound they had.

Shoegaze was a invention of the music press but they didn't form the uninspired bands that were shoegaze. Nobody can argue Ride & Slowdive were poor versions of My Bloody Valentine.

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mmmm bb
Jan 5, 2016 4:59pm

In reply to JulesLt:

Well the bands you mentioned were Post-Rock and not populist while the shoegazers were populist with the rough edge removed.

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David Miller
Jan 5, 2016 5:18pm

As I recall, it was grunge - specifically 'Smells like Teen Spirit' - that killed off shoegazing. I'm sure Britpop came a couple of years later, though I'll concede that Suede were created a stir earlier.

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Susan Hart
Jan 5, 2016 5:20pm

Wait, so Medicine made "excellent" records, yet were merely "aping" MBV ? It's hard to have it both ways when you have a nationalistic agenda

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No Refugee
Jan 5, 2016 6:21pm

In reply to mmmm bb:

WHUT

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Beep Beep
Jan 5, 2016 7:03pm

It was not just the "new" shoegaze that was deemed "bad". ALL shoegaze that ever existed (except, perhaps, MBV) was deemed shit. Unowrthy of being uttered in the same breath as obvious geniuses and paradigms of coolness like The Bluetones. Lush, especially, were praised for having "given up" on it, and starting to play "proper pop" like "Single Girl" and "500".

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Jaded Faded
Jan 5, 2016 7:25pm

Interesting article, and good comments here, but like the genre itself, the answer to the question in the title is a bit "fuzzy," no? Maybe nobody killed it because it wasn't really there to begin with? Of all the music scenes, actual or invented, shoegaze is clearly the most ambiguous and amorphous and ridiculous. As noted in some comments, it is just a fusion of different types of styles, all of which were rapidly evolving both independently/overlapping and concurrently. Shoegaze, and My Bloody Valentine in particular, was not really its own singular thing; they could be far more dream-poppy than dream-pop, far more brutal than a lot of metal and grunge, and just as experimental and drony as anything you could point to for comparison. It really is an invented term and genre, more so than it is already known for, yet, on the other hand a lot of depth and breadth was left out here. Plenty of other "shogaze" that wasn't mentioned here can be found within and outside of that '88-'92 window. What about the Velvets, the Elevators, lots of krautrock, Galaxie 500, Spacemen 3, Catherine Wheel, good amounts of Stereolab, Sigur Ros (and basically all other "so-called" "post-rock,") and Asobi Seksu? Even Wolf Alice from this year has plenty of it going on. Yes, it is true that we need our lovely labels to help us categorize music and bands so that we can actually process it all, but yes, it is also true that shoegaze is just as alive and well today as it was well before its 1990 heyday.

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Skell
Jan 5, 2016 8:03pm

Why it was our very own Mr Shields who killed shoegaze by taking quarter of a century to release that difficult fourth album. I'm sure it would have been much more of a sensation had he pulled it off within a couple of years of Loveless. But no-one gets close to MBV either back then or in their recent outings; and MBV get nowhere near themselves except when they do the 45 minute version of You Made Me Realise....

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The Mayflower Band
Jan 5, 2016 8:37pm

In reply to undead:

Yeah there's truth to that but KS invented his own sound like hendrix. Like Harmony Korine said, "Kids," couldnt be made today. What Alan Mcgee is gonna throw $ around like that? People don't believe in music as much.

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Treblekicker
Jan 5, 2016 8:44pm

As I remember it there was pause where none of the major acts were releasing anything to maintain the momentum. The audience went three ways. If they liked it because it sounded good on drugs they got dance. If they liked it because it was experimental they got post-rock (or dance of course) and if they were along because it was guitar music then they got Britpop. To me the fact that some of this stuff even charted was an achievement. Didn't Brian Eno call "To Here Knows When" one of the vaguest pieces of music ever to make the Top 40?

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Matthew K
Jan 5, 2016 9:59pm

Likewise, Seefeel's 2011 self-title is outstanding - a genuine evolution of their dub/industrial DNA and sounded cutting-edge. Hope they do another with the same line-up.

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jeremy
Jan 5, 2016 10:02pm

In reply to Treblekicker:

the press had turned against shoegaze by 1992... for sure by 93. not sure when this pause in output happened that you speak of- in 1991, not even counting EPs, Loveless and Just For A Day were both released. 1992 saw Curve's Doppelganger, Lush's Spooky and Ride's Going Blank Again. 1993- Chapterhouse's Blood Music, Souvlaki, Curve's 2nd album Cuckoo, 1994- Ride's Carnival of Light, Lush's Split... but the press had already been slagging shoegaze since 92. they didn't even like Slowdive's debut album very much. not that I'd expect them to, but they seemed to like the EPs alright. really fickle. every new band was "OH MY GOD THIS IS THE BEST BAND THAT EVER WAS!" and since none of the shoegaze scene were being larger than life and pompous, they went with bands that were. they wanted flash, they wanted personality, substance didn't matter. just an abuse of journalistic power, and we're better off without them. :-)

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Hans Herrmann
Jan 5, 2016 10:41pm

very interested to ask about the less good groups that ran with the shoegaze sound in the early 1990s... They're fingered in the article but not named. Any suggestions?

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Azza from Aus
Jan 5, 2016 11:00pm

I've always got time for shoegaze genre, considering how MASSIVELY INFLUENTIAL it has come in spite of itself. Your theories on why it faded are correct. The music got boring, MBV went nuts, and Simon Reynolds who started the genre totally killed it in a scathing Melody Maker article, interesting because the 'blissed out' bands like AR Kane and Loop that he vigorously championed are unlistenable, dated junk these days. The author forgets that Swrvedriver continued up until the early 00s, they even toured Australia about 3 years ago and were really great.

But in the greater scheme of thing the shoegazers had the ultimate victory over Brit-Shit rubbish like Oasis and Pulp, and you forget that Spirtualized and Radiohead were essentially shoegazer band.. These days nearly ever trendy guitar band is shoegazer from Animal Collective, War on Drugs, Deerhunter, Brian Joestown Massacre but even all that Bogan rock like the Foo Fighters and even hiphop like Shabaaz Palaces. Even METAL has shoegazer in it these days, Sunn 0 are merely MBV's 'sometimes' with less reverb and then you have all that black metal noise like Nadja and lets not even start contemporary goth bands.

It's horrible to think that utter shite like Oasis and all those rubbish neo-glam/neo-beatles po-crap bands for yobbos on cocaine and New-Labour false economy nationalism destroyed English music as bad as George W Bush destroyed America.

It's no wonder today all you have are Sleaford Mods.

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Mike McCann
Jan 5, 2016 11:28pm

In reply to Susan Hart:

Thank you Susan, exactly the point I would have made. I've never understood how Brad Laner and the rest of the band (let's not forget that Beth was married to Jez from Swervedriver!) continually get the short end of the stick. I'm also surprised that The Boo Radleys didn't warrant so much as a mention in the original article...

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scrummy
Jan 6, 2016 12:16am

what about Revolver though?

good pop tunes and dated in the best possible way.

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Bebop
Jan 6, 2016 1:21am

In reply to Mike McCann:

God I love medicine and it is a fact that their TWO post reunion albums are better than mbv's mbv.. And I celebrated and love mbv.. Can't wait for the lush and for curve to come back. And garbage seemed to do well in 1995 and 1998 with a Scottish girl..

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heather
Jan 6, 2016 1:53am

comments > article

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Dorian
Jan 6, 2016 5:37am

Bring on the Catherine Wheel reunion now! :)

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Jan 6, 2016 12:45pm

was ruined by americans and posh people like everything else

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Deise Boy
Jan 6, 2016 4:08pm

Some of the shoegaze EPs post Isn't Anything did sound cool and new. During 1989, before shoegaze became a term, the likes of the Boo Radleys and Chapterhouse started getting small music press live and singles write ups. I always felt Chapterhouse's 'Feel The Same' was one one of shoegaze's peaks. Also the Kaleidoscope EP by the Boo Radleys. With shoegaze though during it's 18 month or so golden era it was always the EP that was king. The albums when they eventually surfaced tended to disappoint or at least weren't hyped to anything like the same degree as the singles / EPs. The debut LPs from Lush, Curve, Swerveriver and Slowdive all got tepid reviews I recall. A lot of the NME / MM writers almost preferred writing about the bands through Singles Of The Week columns.

I was at the Reading festivals of 91 and 92 and it was bizarre how all the thousands of Ride, Slowdive and Chapterhouse t-shirts from the 91 festival had mostly disappeared the following year.

The Lost Generation bands of 93-95 (Seefeel, Earwig, Papa Sprian, Laika etc.) sort of also signalled the end of shoegaze, and seemed to pick up the torch from the late 80s "blissout" ethos of AR Kane, Loop etc. These bands roughly coincided with 1993's ambient Trance Europe Express/Artificial Intelligence movement and the records made a sometimes intoxicating mix of post Loveless ideas and Orb type athmospherics. Seefeel's "Quique" probably summed up this concoction best but now seems dated compared to a still fresh sounding jungle record of the time. By 1995 there was little more press spotlight on any of these bands. Not forgetting the genius of Disco Inferno of course.

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no Refugee
Jan 6, 2016 5:07pm

FUCK YEAH SOUVLAKI

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oscdrift
Jan 6, 2016 8:48pm

Listened to House of Love's, 'Christine' and 'Love in A Car' the other day........ best of both worlds.

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Ben Cardew
Jan 6, 2016 9:28pm

One thing I meant to say is that this piece started off as a review of the Cherry Red compilation I mention, before it got far too long and turned into something else. I thoroughly recommend listening to the compilation though: it charts the rise and fall of shoegazing brilliantly. And if you're looking for US shoegaze bands who illustrate the points I make, you'll find loads on CD 5.

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rudayday
Jan 6, 2016 9:47pm

Think the LA "The Smell" stuff (Abe Vigoda - "Don't Cry" - and No Age - Fever Dreaming - in particular) found a direction for it as well...particularly merging the grunge stuff with it and making a lo-fi variant.

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fmackay
Jan 6, 2016 11:15pm

My favourite underappreciated shoegazey lp is Everything's Alright Forever by the Boo Radleys, much better than the trying-too-hard Giant Steps, and let's draw a veil over what followed that... Currently listening to live versions of You Made Me Realise on youtube: toe in the water; full immersion.

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Spacious
Jan 7, 2016 12:04am

I'd say that the fact that Shoegaze died, yet still lives is very specifically because it was a "futuristic" form of pop music.

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Yung Brat
Jan 7, 2016 1:09am

At the end where reunions etc are mentioned for the future it does not even mention that MBV already did a reunion tour and released Mbv... ahead of the curve, ending what was started, quite like when they released their albums in the earliest 90s and late 80s. This is where real shoegaze was. '92, '93 "shoegaze?" That was not shoegaze, unless you want to include all that was to come later that evolved from that. Everything evolves. It didn't really die it just went in a different direction, plus the interests of the public come into play, like mentioned in the article. People moved on quickly, as they do with EVERY genre. The public got a glimpse of what we who listen to what was/is playing left of the dial and that's all it was, really. I really don't think what was released after Loveless was quite in the original vain of what shoegaze was supposed to be (like, mostly just a band or a few in a small scene doing something experimental and cool) and this is why interest moved on so quickly to britpop because it was dramatic and mainstream, easier to swallow. Grunge (or what you could consider to be true grunge) died with nirvana as well, a small band from a small scene that was never meant to surface beyond the independent listeners roster. I'd say "those were the days" had I'd been old enough to understand what was going on, but unfortunately I'm too young and didn't get to experience this exciting glitch where the underground surfaced and broke some mainstream ground, only discovered it 15 years too late.

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joe soap
Jan 7, 2016 3:43pm

Common Era by Belong is an absolutely fantastic shoegazey type album-

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joe soap
Jan 7, 2016 3:43pm

Common Era by Belong is an absolutely fantastic shoegazey type album-

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No
Jan 7, 2016 4:59pm

It's retrospectives like this that make me wonder why anybody took the UK music press seriously. Mags like the NME so concerned with being the cool police, how many great album written off because it's no longer cool to care. Packs of adult journalist acting like a gaggle of mean girls, pathetic. Now their legacy lives on with Pitchfork.

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Paul
Jan 7, 2016 6:57pm

Great article, and I agree with the comments re: other bands (Ride included) paling in comparison to MBV. I think other bands just drew the wrong conclusions from what MBV were doing... Seefeel were a rare exception. Over the years I've learned to avoid like the plague any band tagged 'shoegaze'.

Though it frustrated me at the time, I now think it's entirely appropriate that MBV took their time with album three, leaving behind peers and expectations. When I saw them in Montreal in 2014, most of the audience looked like they would have been toddlers when Loveless came out. Impressive that they've found a new audience with a self-released album that isn't even on iTunes.

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somebody
Jan 7, 2016 8:40pm

I listened to Loveless in 1991, to Shot Forth Self Living in 1992 and to Blonder Tongue Audio Baton in 1993 and found them all to be very exciting and beautiful music. If you think they are less groundbreaking than Souvlaki, well, it bored me, when I tried it some ten years ago, and I still find it very boring. In my opinion it does not matter, whether copycat American shoegaze does or does not exist (you can find crappy music anywhere), but that there was substantial music in that field at that time being produced in the US. I want excellent music and not the somewhat condescending recommendation that CD 5 abounds with crappy US shoegaze.
I find the label somewhat difficult anyway, because I could never relate to Verve, Swerve, Ride and a lot of the other UK indie music apart from virtually every release on Too Pure during the early 1990s (th' Faith Healers, were they shoegaze?) and the roster of Clawfist: Gallon Drunk, Breed. On the other hand a lot of great rock concerts I went to at that time were by US bands; the Jesus Lizard, Cows, Boss Hog, Come, Mudhoney, Royal Trux, Grifters, Shellac.
Many thanks to the commenters who mentionend Disco Inferno, never heard of them before. That is adventurous music. I was very lucky to find a copy of the double LP version of The 5 EPs on One Little Indian in my local record shop this afternoon. (I am serious!)
Were 70 Gwen Party shoegaze? At least these two lads made music that was so ground shattering and beautiful that it is embarrassing that their complete recorded output will cost you less than a vinyl version of Souvlaki!

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the very same person
Jan 8, 2016 12:18pm

In reply to somebody:

Plus I think that no matter what genre Disco Inferno can be subsumed under their music is n-times stronger than Souvlaki.
Plus plus since two of my three "shoegaze" entries come from the US, I consider that genre to be American at heart.
Plus plus plus: I find noise pop a better overall category because then you can also include funny music, which shoegaze was only to a barely perceptible degree, if I am not mistaken. But noise pop could aptly embrace both My Bloody Valentine and the utterly wonderful Daisy Chainsaw.

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Jan 10, 2016 12:30am

Oh no, not more frothing about My Bloody Valentine ? They just weren't that good, sorry. Feedback and fuzz is an absolute piece of piss. But just add weed and anything becomes beautiful. Hype over substance and a dollop of youth culture exclusivity for arts students.

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Jan 10, 2016 12:35am

More talk about the press than the music tells you where it's at - namely squeezing as much gravy out of a saturated market.

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James H
Jan 10, 2016 12:32pm

In a country massively hung up on class labelling I think the biggest obstacle to most of these bands was that they were (mostly) middle class in origin and thus doomed to never receive universal backing from a largely middle class music media always desperate to prove itself to be gritty and edgy. I will never sway from my belief that the only reason Oasis broke so big was that the middle class NME and Melody Maker were terrified of being seen to be class snobs so just rode their wave of boorish self-promotion and lad/dad-rock out of stilted fear of not being "down with the kids". Which isn't to say that all of shoegaze was great, of course. But it was certainly a huge advantage to the likes of its peers Stone Roses and Happy Mondays (who the piece mentions) that they were of working class origin. This probably also explains why the genre has endured for longer in the States, where they are free of such class hang-ups. In essence, shoegaze never really stood a chance of longevity in the UK through no fault of its own. The UK music media's "working class is best" mantra and lame courting of the mainstream for the purposes of "eclecticism" are still tremendous obstacles to be overcome. Maybe Jezza Corbyn has some fuzz pedals or a penchant for whispery laptop musings and can save us all.

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James H
Jan 10, 2016 12:39pm

Also I never really saw Swervedriver as shoegaze - they were more grunge/Hendrix (as the author rightly points out) so just got lumped into the scene as they were from Oxford and had guitar pedals. They put out a great LP last year, incidentally, which to me sounds nearer to Teenage Fanclub Byrds-isms than anything they did before. Terrific comeback and seems to have been missed by most.

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Copycats
Jan 10, 2016 4:12pm

The Stones Roses 'Fools Gold' - wildly original guitar record? It just looped the intro to a song by The Souls called 'Listen Now' which featured on Aquarius recently.

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mogi67
Jan 11, 2016 6:14pm

Medicine is more original than almost every band you mentioned. Far more so than the likes of Ride or Chapterhouse. Not sure why you dismissed them so readily. Shot Forth Self Living came out in 92 and it was hardly an afterthought

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jack rabid
Jan 13, 2016 5:40am

In reply to Steve:

i'll stand by that comment, over two decades later. the english bands that dominate this piece (and the box set), as well as some others i loved (pale saints, catherine wheel, house of love, and kitchens of distinction prime among them), i thought were flat out amazing, and i saw/loved/interviewed/got to know them all! but that's not to say i didn't also love whatever american bands i found that i thought were also great, as opposed to merely second-rate copyists like the piece might suggest. you can ask the members of bands like rocketship, alison's halo, scenic, for against, half string, and others (about three dozen or so others like velocity girl and velvet crush and sugar that were also using batteries of guitar effects but in a more american indie pop context) about my fervent support for them back then in real time, plus the multitudes of indie pop groups that were more jangly at the time but spunky. and i was always documenting the GIGANTIC u.s. influence on the british bands, from groups i (and all of us at big takeover magazine) had been covering throughout the mid-80s, principally sonic youth and dinosaur jr., but also for some of the u.k. bands, husker du, and going back further, velvet underground. so it wasn't from any pure abject love of british "accent" -- more a pure love for the current u.k. outbreak of that moment in time. for one thing, the u.k. bands had recording budgets (and ace producers/studios) that most of us U.S. bands of that time could only dream about -- this article says my band (Springhouse we were/are called, we are un-named) signed a major label deal, but it's not strictly true -- we were on a major owned indie with an indie budget that didn't allow u.k. touring for starters, or any other extraneous expense, and were licensed to majors abroad who had no interest in a u.s. indie band. and our budgets were 5-6 times of almost any u.s. band i mention above that i greatly admired at that time, save for sonic youth on dgc. so it wasn't even entirely the u.s.'s fault. some of the reasons are hinted at in this piece. it was a lot harder to get u.s. fans to pay attention to independent bands here, with the media and corporate radio all sewn up by majors, who also spent 10 times more making and promoting their artists' albums

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Gaz
Jan 14, 2016 9:44am

In reply to Azza from Aus:

Ha, brilliant! Rather listen to a fifth-rate shoegaze band than a brit pop band.

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Gaz
Jan 14, 2016 9:48am

In reply to somebody:

Swirlies!

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yerselfissteam
Jan 25, 2016 1:39am

"but you know you’re in a strange situation when bands who have reformed in their late 40s sound considerably more forward-thinking revisiting their glory years than the copyists they have spawned" Who are these bands who have reformed you speak of? Clearly not Ride who are as twee as ever (and Mark Gardener's hat?!) or MBV who sound at best circa 1996. Granted I can't tell Wolf Alice from Taylor Swift in today's sea of musical mediocrity.

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Mr_Clean
Mar 8, 2016 8:10am

I think early house of love - say 1987 - 1990 bridged the noise shoe gaze / "Brit pop" thing perfectly and are often unfairly overlooked. Incredibly influential and amazingly innovative with the geetars. Songs like Christine, Love in a Car etc still stand up today in my opinion.

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matt
Mar 15, 2016 1:22am

complicated business of course. but twas also the era of loaded magazine and "ironic" porn consumption. fantasy football, britpop and bands made of 4 lads were much easy to understand, sell, consume. so to a degree it was killed by lad culture. also, comedy was the new rock and roll.

but the music obv. wasn't all great. so when oasis turned up with the compression turned up to 11, it did sound different and fresher than the limp stuff.

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matt
Mar 15, 2016 1:24am

ps isn't anything is better than loveless

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Bisarrt
Jun 26, 2016 8:08pm

Hindsight being quite illucidating, it is evident that while most can find merit in some of its aspects, Shoegaze gas and always shall remain a discreet musical language. I believe the actual sounds just don't appeal to everyone aurally speaking. I would compare it to certain genres of Jazz in that way. The deeper it got to its element in the developing 1990's phase, the less people it could appeal to by its composition. The more recent "revival" evidences this by the fact that most successful/popular acts have embraced a hybridized, genre-blending approach rather than noisier shoegaze a la Bailter Space, et al. And even now, it's never going to the top of the charts. It'll always be appreciated and enjoyed by a decent segment of the population but I doubt it will ever achieve huge mainstream adulation. And I've made my peace with that over the last 20 years!

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