As some of you know, I curate a Dreampop music group on Facebook and I do notice that the term “dreampop” in itself, seems to be a confusing one. It is often mixed up, associated or even so much as equalled to the term “shoegaze”. I guess the confusion is understandable, and if we look back at the times the term was coined, it makes sense. But things have moved on quite a bit since then: both shoegaze and dreampop have gone through immense revivals in the last decade, and gradually things have developed in different directions from its original starting point. And this is exactly what happened to the term dreampop. I will attempt to shed some light on this below.
According to wikipedia, “dreampop is a subgenre of alternative rock and neo-psychedelia that developed in the 1980s. The style is typified by a preoccupation with atmosphere and texture as much as melody.”
The name dreampop, seems to have been coined in the late 1980s by Alex Ayuli to describe the music of his band A.R. Kane, and later adopted by music-critic Simon Reynolds to describe the English shoegaze scene: “(dreampop) celebrates rapturous and transcendent experiences, often using druggy and mystical imagery“. In the 1990s, dreampop and shoegaze seemed interchangeable, but originated and were used in different zones of the planet, dreampop being the term for shoegaze in America. Reynolds as well as Rolling Stone magazine described dreampop as originating with the early 1980s work of Cocteau Twins and their contemporaries. PopMatters noted an evolutionary line from gothic rock to dreampop. In the first half of the 90’s some dreampop/ shoegaze acts like My Bloody Valentine, Chapterhouse and Curve, were already drawn to dance-beats and electronic influences and began implementing element like samples and sequenced rhythms. Most bands in that scene, however, stuck to their guitar-based sound.
When shoegaze fizzled out in the UK, it had influenced some bands in the US who carried the torch a bit longer at the end of the 90’s (Airiel, BJM etc.) and set some kind a sub-scene there. Despite the fact that this off-spring, more or less, bled dry as well, it planted the seeds for the revival that we have been witnessing for the last 10 years or so. Since the revival, shoegaze/dreampop didn’t seem to rekindle in the UK, apart from the old bands reuniting like Lush, Ride and Slowdive. This time around, the genre did quite well in continental Europe, Australia and namely the US, specifically catching on in California with its heritage of psychedelic music and sunshine pop, and it slowly started blending in nicely with surf and (neo)jangle-pop into the contemporary dreampop sound that is now a popular niche in indie music.
At the moment, Dreampop seems to be a catch-all term for dreamy indiepop that certainly isn’t bound to “guitar-only” anymore: it has become a type of indie-hybrid that’s flirts with 70’s and 80’s pop and in which electropop, sophistipop, nu-disco go hand-in-hand with the ethereal soundscapes, washes of reverberated guitar, and gossamer vocals. Literally anything goes these days! Recently, bands like Wild Nothing and Japanese Breakfast even started introducing instruments like, for instance, the saxophone into their songs: something which, I can assure you, was unthinkable back in the heydays of shoegaze. The new dreampop, or chill wave/ glo-fi, as it is sometimes called, is therefore quite different from its former, original state and also different from shoegaze which, as a genre stayed mainly dominated by the guitar effect pedal wall of noise, and uses little or no other non-guitar electronics (although boundaries are often as hazy as the sound itself).
The new dreampop scene is dominated by bigger bands like Wild Nothing, Craft Spells and DIIV but also seems to have quite a few sub-categories like neo-jangle (Real Estate, Hazel English), surf-sunshine-pop oriented (Beach Fossils, Surf Rock is Dead) psych-pop influenced ( Death of Pop, Hoops), electro-pop based (Alvvays, Small Black, Brothertiger, Frankie Rose) or retro-inspired (Carrol, Rosemary Fairweather, Men I Trust) or just general dreamy indie (JaySom, Winter). Possibilities seem to be endless here, but in the end, the idea serves a similar purpose: lift us up to drift off on our iridescent clouds to a land of eternal summers and look down with a smile on the grey grind of life below.