Jan 29, 2014
If you were into “alternative” music in the late 80s, life presented you with one of two options.
Either you scamped up to Madchester, put on the baggiest clothes you could find and shuffled around the Haçienda dance floor or you hung around in London with a load of like-minded people with terrible haircuts listening to super-fuzzy “guitar effects, and indistinguishable vocal melodies”.
Shoegazing (also known as shoegaze) is a subgenre of alternative rock that emerged from the United Kingdom in the late 1980s by bands such as My Bloody Valentine [actually from Ireland], Slowdive and Ride. It lasted there until the mid-1990s, with a critical pinnacle reached from 1990–91 and a new zenith achieved again from resurgence in the early 2010s. The British music press—particularly NME and Melody Maker—named this style shoegazing because the musicians in these bands stood relatively still during live performances in a detached, introspective, non-confrontational state, hence the idea that they were gazing at their shoes.¹
Sounds, the other major music paper of the time preferred to write of “the scene that celebrates itself”², more navel gazing than shoe gazing perhaps, but certainly a refreshing contrast to the bombastic stage antics of too many bands.
So where would you turn for an introduction to the omphaloskepsic sounds that defined a downcast era? Dukla Prague Away Kit, of course, and a shoegaze top 10 with a number one that, as DPAK says, is “so good as to be beyond mere category”.
But what would you add? You might start with a Merseyside band best known for a one-off cut of chartbusting pop, but who started out very much in a ’gazey vein. This track comes from 1991’s Every Heaven EP and provides early evidence of a sound that would emerge, fully formed, on the band’s magnificent, post-’gaze 1993 opus, Giant Steps.
The Boo Radleys :: The Finest Kiss ⬇ [from box.net]
Omitted from DPAK’s list, to the chagrin of a number of readers, were Oxford’s Ride. When this record was released in 1992 a colleague hailed it as possibly the greatest eight minutes ever stamped into vinyl. Judge for yourselves.
Ride :: Leave Them All Behind ⬇ [iTunes]
Ride’s Andy Bell ended up in Beady Eye, an ignomy that hasn’t befallen any of Catherine Wheel. This may be the smithsocks’ favourite bit of original shoe’. It’s certainly the best to have come out of Great Yarmouth.
Catherine Wheel :: Black Metallic ⬇ [eMusic]
By 1992 the scene had begun to fuzz and fizzle out, replaced in the affections of disaffected indie kids by, first, grunge and then britpop. But what goes around comes around, as the saying goes, and recent years have seen a revival of the sound, often inelegantly referred to as nu gaze. And that brings us to the point of this blog post, a fantastic new six-track release from The Telewire. It’s the finest work yet from the Austin, Texas, musician Stephen Thurman, who writes the songs, plays the instruments, records the lovely sound they make and doesn’t demand a single cent.
The Telewire :: Going Down
Whirr, by contrast are a five- or six-piece (reports vary) from Oakland, California, and this track is from their 2013 debut LP, Pipe Dreams.
Whirr :: Toss
Yes, it seems that the best of new shoe is very much a 21st century american phenomenon. Other oft-cited practioners include New York trio A Place to Bury Strangers. This is from their self-titled 2008 debut.
A Place to Bury Strangers :: I Know I’ll See You
There’s a lot of early Jesus and Mary Chain in the APTBS sound and the East Kilbride band were undoubtedly a major influence on both first-time and revivalist ’gazers. Such as Asobi Seksu, who, as if to prove my point, put their own spin on a 1985 Mary Chain classic.
Asobi Seksu :: Never Understand
And, to finish, just one song from DPAK’s 10, the ultimate shoegaze record and the one by which all others should be judged. Even the video is fuzzy.
My Bloody Valentine :: Soon
Now, what about sockgaze?
Photo: Eight #7; some rights reserved