| Disco Inferno |
The term “Shoegazing” as a musical style has been referenced several times on this site and elsewhere in recent months. Perhaps it is ripe for a revisit and as a reference point for current bands seeking some fresh inspiration.
Well, if names were anything to go by, this one was on the back foot right from the start. Shoegazing germinated in Britain in the late ‘80s and lasted through to about the mid-‘90s. Its name was coined by less than enthusiastic cynics who were perplexed by the sedate behaviour and perpetual downward gaze of band members during performance. This was largely for two reasons: firstly the music was a lot more introspective and less impetuous than the first wave of grunge sweeping through America at the time. Secondly, the more layered and gentle waves of guitar that characterised it were achieved via a multitude of effects pedals and other devices – these required a regular amount of navigation during performance.
Time does strange things to our collective perception of musical genres. These days many refer to My Bloody Valentine as the leading light amongst the Shoegazers, but at the time this would have been seen as something of an insult. The term was largely reserved for less extraordinary bands such as Ride, Chapterhouse and Lush (none of which I have bothered to feature in the sample tracks). Melody Maker magazine (RIP) referred to these more fashionable and mainstream outfits as “The Scene That Celebrates Itself”, mainly because there was a fairly tight sense of community amongst them and they regularly attended each other’s gigs.
| Bowery Electric |
With the benefit of hindsight, what cements a wider group of bands together in an enduring notion of genre has less to do with prevailing circumstance and behaviour than a more subtle set of aesthetics which guided artists almost subconsciously. Bands such as The Cure, Bauhaus and Cocteau Twins could well be seen as precursors - a branch of British post-punk which focused more on androgyny, romance and a degree of mysticism as fuel for creative advancement.
Shoegazing set about abstracting this sound one step further away from its punk roots, replacing the chugging grind with a more delicate wash of interwoven guitars and a return to more classically-orientated song structures. As always, technology had a role to play in encouraging such changes. Readily affordable digital delay pedals with much longer sampling times gave guitarists the means to create cavernous and cathedral-like soundscapes to enhance the new aesthetic. And in the process vocals got lost in the mix like never before, lyrics becoming a secondary afterthought to a more benign sonic onslaught -singer-songwriters never had it so bad. It could be argued that, in the process, Shoegazing inadvertently gave birth to a more pristine and icy form of new-psychedelia.
| Pale Saints |
No sooner had the Shoegazing blueprint been established than its finer exponents set about morphing and cross-breeding it in different directions. It is these bands that I find the most interesting and enduring: Slowdive’s acknowledgement of an English Folk heritage, Pale Saints’ rereading of blues riffology and hints at American West Coast soundscapes, the funk & dub hybrids of Bark Psychosis and AR Kane (who also coined the term “dreampop”) and of course the deliciously bent post-industrial dirge of My Bloody Valentine.
The above bands form the basis of the sample tracks provided. Although Shoegazing was a largely British phenomenon, I can offer one American outfit as a possible relative – Bowery Electric. Their wall of sound may be more machine-like, abrasive and inherently American at face value, but the balance between sounds and the subsumed nature of the overall result is inherently shoegazer….
…. well, for want of a better term perhaps.