The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of Shoegaze

“Hi we’re DIIV and we’re from New York City, this is a song called Human.” At Manchester’s Gorilla, Brooklyn based indie dream-pop outfit DIIV were performing to a sell-out crowd. Known for their jangly dreamy sound, DIIV are a band who aren’t afraid to display their musical influences. From Sonic Youth to Neu!, this is a band that know exactly who they are and what they want to be. All these factors result in DIIV essentially being a shoegaze band. Even though it might not be obvious at first when listening to their two albums, onstage they have copious amounts of pedals that are switched every ten seconds. However, when speaking to members of the audience, they seemed unaware of DIIV’s contribution to the genre. When asked, a girl in her mid-teens said “Isn’t that what them old bands like My Bloody Valentine used to do? The really noisy stuff?” Then a lad a couple years older said “I’ve never even heard of shoegaze.”

Even though some people may not be aware, there quite clearly is a revival. Bands such as Slowdive are back and are experiencing the height of their popularity. Ride’s reunion was so successful, that they had to extend their tour and announce even more dates to keep up with the demand. But what sparked this revival? To work this out, we must start from the beginning.

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, shoegaze was on the rise. Ride, My Bloody Valentine, Lush and Slowdive were gaining massive attention from the music press. Music journalist, and then Melody Maker writer, David Stubbs recalls what he thought of shoegaze at the time. “One of the earliest groups I was into was A.R. Kane. What I liked about them was that they used a lot of feedback and dub elements. It felt like an offshoot of very early [The Jesus &] Mary Chain. I saw them as a real prototype of the whole shoegaze scene. When the term shoegazing was being coined in the early 90s, I did find it very interesting. What I found interesting about the whole thing was the neo-psychedelic aspect of it and how they all seemed to be immersed in their own sound.”

However as time went by and Britpop became more popular, shoegaze began to decline. Even though it is inevitable that a genre dies down, Stubbs thinks it may have been a bit too soon. “It may have been killed off a bit prematurely by Britpop. It’s nice to be reminded that, contrary to what Britpop documentaries say, there was lots of interesting things happening in the 90s.”

One of the biggest and most significant casualties at the time was Reading shoegazers Slowdive. Speaking to bassist Nick Chaplin, he remembers when things started to change for the worst. “We had a period of time where we could do no wrong, but that was very short lived. Once that disappeared, it was hard to get people engaged. We sort of became a band that was a figure of fun.” So with huge backlash against the genre in the 90s, Nick never thought there would be a revival of this scale. “We knew there was an interest out there because Neil [the band’s co-frontman] would get asked all the time about Slowdive when he was doing his solo career. Wherever he went in the world, he was always asked what were the chances of Slowdive getting back together. I think it eventually wore him down and, at the back end 2012, Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona asked Neil if he fancied getting the band back together. Everything just fell into place after that, yet none of us knew how it was going to go. However when we sold out the Village Underground in two minutes, we knew something weird was going on. I think bands like Ride and Lush saw what we did and seemed heartened by it.”

But it’s not just the older bands getting back together that are to thank for the rebirth of the genre, current bands have also played their part. “There are newer bands that are coming out that are name checking bands like us. So maybe their fans are going out and seeking our music. That’s one reason why I think shoegaze has got more popular. It has become a legacy in a way.”

Despite this clear interest in shoegaze, Nick still thinks there is a long way to go. “A big test is going to be when bands such as us, and the others that have come back, start to release new material. We’re kind of in the final stages of getting a new record together, which we’re hoping we will complete over the next few months.”

Someone else currently experiencing the surge of shoegaze reunions first hand is Ride guitarist and vocalist Andy Bell. Also spending time over the years as the bassist of Oasis and Beady Eye, Bell believes that the improvement in equipment is a reason that shoegaze has come back. “Technology has advanced to the stage where we are able to be much better as a live band and realise a lot of the things that we were trying for in the 90s. Quiet vocal harmonies alongside roaring guitars can work much better when you are wearing in-ear monitors for example. I think there is a long way left to run with leftfield guitar music and I hope it continues to develop and spread.”

Since the initial wave and fall of shoegaze, the internet has come along and changed the music industry. Websites such as Pitchfork have become the place to find your new music and, as a publication, they openly love shoegaze. They’ve given My Bloody Valentine two perfect 10s, whilst giving Slowdive and Ride albums both high 9s. This praise on the internet doesn’t stop there. Within music forums, and chat threads such as Reddit, shoegaze has almost acquired a mythical status. A place where people from all around the world can discuss and share these bands whose careers were seemingly cut too short. There is even a Facebook group called ‘Shoegaze, Dream Pop & Nugaze’ that currently has over 26,000 members. Former admin of the group and long-time shoegaze fan Greg Wilson speaks about when he first came across the genre. “As a regular record store rat back in the early 90s, I’d pick up Melody Maker out of England from time to time to learn what was new and noteworthy. They started buzzing about My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Tremolo EP’ as something like a perfect blend of Cocteau Twins and Jesus & Mary Chain. I finally tracked down a copy, and never looked back.” Since then, Wilson has been a fan of shoegaze and has promoted the genre in any way he can. “I launched DKFM Shoegaze Radio in 2011 and joined the ‘Shoegaze, Dream Pop & Nugaze’ group in 2013. I didn’t think there were large Facebook groups dedicated to the scene and the sound, outside of When The Sun Hits blog and The Shoegaze Collective Twitter feed. I joined because I wanted to stay one step ahead of the revival. It’s a great place to learn about up-and-coming artists, which we can play on the station.”

As for the genre itself, Wilson believes that it was only logical that shoegaze became popular once again. “I think there is a natural 25-year cycle for re-exploration of lost music. I also think the renewed embrace of shoegaze and dream pop is a direct rejection of bland, formulaic pop-by-numbers that are so prevalent today.” However as a genre, he thinks that it should start moving forward into unexplored areas of sound. “I think with some of the reunion tours by the founders, and progenitors of ‘the sound’, we may have reached peak shoegaze. I think what’s next is a natural evolution of the sound into new, uncharted territory. When punk bands and rock bands start swiping aspects of the sound, I expect we’ll start to see new and creative hybrids we might never have anticipated.”

A band who have benefited from Wilson’s DKFM Shoegaze Radio and the rise of shoegaze internet groups is Toronto based outfit Indoor Voices. Having recently released their EP Auratic, frontman Jonathan Relph contemplates the rise of shoegaze. “I think the only revival in shoegaze is the attention it’s receiving again, which might help to expose it to a new generation. Maybe it’s popular because the world seems like a really sad and alienating place to be in right now. Maybe the discord of ‘shoegaze’ is an auditory mirror of that. A confused reaction in sound.”

So it seems that a lot has had to happen for shoegaze to come back. However, there was one thing that Nick Chaplin said that may sum up the whole revival. “Back in the 90s, people listened to what the music press told them listen to. But with the decline of the press, people are now no longer dictated by anybody on what music they should listen to. With that freedom, we sort of became cool again”

Liam Egan

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3 thoughts on “The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of Shoegaze”

  1. This was a great article! I totally agree with how you mention that our current social climate is why shoe gaze is doing so well right now. I can’t wait to see where the sound heads to in the future.

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