The introduction and the first Wave:
During the Madchester scene in 1990, there was a flourish of British indie rock or dream pop bands in London & South East. Bands like RIDE, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Chapterhouse, Swervedriver, Lush, Curve, Revolver, Catherine Wheel, The Telescopes, Bleach, Moose, Adorable, Blur (leisure era), The House Of Love, Pale Saints, Boo Radleys and even bands like the Verve from the northern part of England were becoming known as music a genre called shoegaze or shoegazing. The shoegazing sound was about kids in their late teens, many shy like myself, performing with their guitar looking down at their shoes with their FX pedals set to kill. Fuzz/distortion, chorus/flanger, tremolo, tone of delay from tape to digital and a shit load of reverb helped to make that unique sound that encapsulated the era. There’s an influence in the shoegazing from the likes of the C86/indie pop bands like The Smiths, 14 Iced bears, The Mighty Lemon Drops, The Jesus and Mary Chain with the gothic sound of the Cocteau Twins, Bauhaus with the drone/psych/space rock side of LoOp and Spacemen 3 mixed in and indie rock bands from the U.S such as Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, Husker Du and Galaxie 500. Also early albums like “Isn’t Anything” by My Bloody Valentine were poured into the melting pot and to help create the sound of shoegaze. The band Moose was one of the first bands that got tagged as shoegaze in the early 1990’s, bands like RIDE, Lush, Chapterhouse, Slowdive , Swervedriver soon joined them and many more were featured in the NME and Melody maker and also on the indie chart throughout the early nineties.
Grunge and The fade away of the first wave of shoegaze:
In U.S around late 1991 the Grunge scene, led by Nirvana, became mainstream and swept the world with the changing attitude towards indie, punk, heavy metal music as alternative rock became global. This helped to push Shoegaze further as bands like My Bloody Valentine released their second album “Loveless” which became their most influential album up to date and was the infamous album of creation records at that time. 1992 was seen to be a golden age of shoegaze due to so many of the scene’s classic albums were released in the first six months. During the second half of 1992, American hard rock bands Pearl Jam and the Stone Temple Pilots were becoming huge in the grunge/Seattle scene and the pre Britpop scene of blur and suede were making turning Britain towards the dominant Britpop era. However in 1992 bands like Drop Nineteens (who were like Pixies big in the UK), Lilys, Medicine, Swirlies, Velocity Girl were bringing their U.S version of shoegazing from the states to our shores since band like Ride & Lush had toured the states and had spread their influence. Even some of the earlier bands like band of Susans, Mercury Rev, The Black Tambourine and the Belltower ( the band even relocated to London UK for a while) were adding shoegaze elements their sound, most of the shoegaze bands in the U.S were more about the DIY ethos and a few of the bands were releasing singles on Slumberland records.
In mid 1993, shoegaze was about to fade away. The last few albums such as Souvlaki by Slowdive and A Storm in Heaven by Verve gave a final epitaph to the genres gravestone. A year later in the UK, Britpop was taking over and grunge was fading out. Since Kurt Cobain’s death, most of the shoegaze bands were either shifting their sound into more crisp and jangly Britpop-esque tunes or disbanding due to sales plummeting. Slowdive’s third album Pygmalion (a classic album and in many ways, a shift from shoegaze to a post rock sound) had been taken over by bands like Oasis vs Blur and the Britpop “anthems”. Not every indie band in the UK wanted to be Britpop, mid to late 90’s bands like Cable (who were on signed infectious records home of Ash), Prolapse, AC Acoustics, Quickspace Supersport had shoegaze/noise pop elements in their music. Bands such as Mogwai began to carry the torch as they showed signs of shoegaze elements in their post rock sound alongside acts such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, they subsequently influenced a crop of post rock and shoegaze influenced bands throughout the 21st century.
There and Now:
In the early 2000’s the shoegaze genre made a slight comeback from the underground with bands like My Vitriol (another band who were signed to Infectious Records and coined the term Nu-gaze), Amusement Parks on Fire, Deerhunter, Pains of being Pure at Heart, Longview, Sciflyer, A Place To Bury Strangers. Later came the electronic musicians like M83, Sway and MAPS. Even the Neo Psych/Garage rock revival bands like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Warlocks, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Longwave and The Dandy Warhols had the shoegaze sound, mixing in with what they were doing at that time and that continues through today. Record labels Like Sonic Cathedral, Northern Star Records, Club AC30, Rocket Girl, Fortuna pop records etc are putting out the best shoegaze to psych to indie pop out there. Internet Radio stations have been key in putting the focus back on to the shoegaze music scene in recent years. Stations and shows such as DKFM shoegaze radio, Primal radio, shows like Ola’s Kool Kitchen, The Reverb on ICR FM, Wall of Sound etc have a impact of the shoegaze scene from the early stages to the newer and upcoming band in that scene today. Today Band like Spectres, Blindness (Debbie Smiths new band), 93MillionMilesFromTheSun, Daniel Land, Presents for Sally, Ummagma, The Manhattan Love Suicide, One Unique Signal, Fleeting Joy, Ringo Deathstarr, Flyying Colours, The KVB, Deep Cut (mat flint from revolver), PinkShinyUltraBlast, St Deluxe, The Cherry Wave, Fever Dream, Happy Families, Dead Rabbits and many more are bringing another wave of high quality records to the shoegaze scene today. Even the first of wave of shoegaze band like My Bloody Valentine, Chapterhouse, Slowdive, Ride, The House of Love, Swervedriver, Moose, Bleach, The Telescopes all made comebacks. Even bands like Loop and The Jesus and Mary Chain were back on the scene and those bands that brought the first wave of shoegaze to the original fans are now delivering the goods to the newer fans of the genre that missed out the first time around. People like myself, are getting together to celebrate the scene in the 21st Century
Words by Matt Catling