A legacy of sonic bliss and exploration: a quick heritage of Shoegaze

Words and phrases by Andy Llloyd Russell

Shoegaze is both a sonic onslaught and a blissful blooming of emotive textures and etherial quality.

Arguably just one of the a lot more polarising genre’s of new music to appear out of the 1980’s / early 1990’s, shoegaze is both of those a sonic onslaught and a blissful blooming of emotive textures and etherial high-quality. I say polarising because I have not come across an additional style of music with this kind of as devoted cult following as shoegaze – that seemingly appeals to a unique sort of, passionate, devoted and borderline obsessive sort lover.

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On the other facet of the table, many individuals just haven’t listened to of or know of the genre, at all, with the mere point out of the genre usually accompanied by an identifiable baffled and blank stare. But the one matter worse than that is a songs supporter or self proclaimed fanatic (we all know just one) that thinks they know shoegaze. Rhetoric together the traces of “yeah I know shoegaze, just definitely loud fuzzy guitars, quiet vocals and heaps of reverb. All sounds the very same”.

Righto pal, do me a favour and go listen to Ride’s Heading Blank Once again and tell me you just cannot hear the vocals all above that record! And there is that passionate fandom I referred to, my bad. 

Originating from the United kingdom and Ireland in the mid-late 1980’s from the trails of neo psychedelia, publish-punk, goth, ambient and no-wave, the sub style of indie and alt rock was born with a instead huge lens of sonic influence. No better example of this can be heard from early pioneers Cocteau Twins and The Jesus and Mary Chain whose respective parameters spanned from etherial, angelic vocals far too abrasive chainsaw like fizzy guitars. Go listen to The Pink Opaque and Psychocandy – equally shoegaze. 

Savoring effortlessly 1 of the shortest lived instances in the mainstream songs landscape at the time the place MTV reigned supreme – only a handful of bands savored a respective sliver of this spotlit pie, and many thanks to Andy McGee – proprietor and founder of Development Records, these bands experienced a collective household much too – a sanctuary in which to securely discover and experiment in – painstakingly crafting their respective signature sonic footprints. 

With the emergence of bands these kinds of as My Bloody Valentine, at first hailing from Eire, Oxford’s Experience, Reading’s Slowdive and Chapterhouse, and London’s Lush (a lot of of which designed up the Thamas Valley scene), shoegaze captivated the feverous interest of the British isles press, who served label this new underground as “the scene that celebrates itself”. Journalists also coined the expression shoegazing, at first meant to ridicule a band member’s stage presence, or in the eyes of the push, a deficiency of. In fact, these masterful sonic landscapers were being gazing at their pedalboards, usually in a glorious foot tapping frenzy turning pedals on and off, the magical dance guiding the walls of distortion, fuzz and opinions awash with modulation, hold off and reverb. This sonic mayhem immediately entranced audiences and this market scene from the British isles turned notable about the earth – inspiring bands throughout the Atlantic, in the US and even more afield. 

Interestingly nevertheless, a lot of shoegaze pioneers located inspiration from their US contemporaries from guitar bands these kinds of as Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr, with My Bloody Valentine songwriter and guitarist Kevin Shields frequently sighting Sonic Youth as a big inspiration. The inspiration from the New York dependent guitar band was arguably the linchpin to stirring Shield’s songwriting in a new course, and transitioning into applying exclusively Fender Jaguar and Jazzmaster guitars, leaning greatly on the use of the tremolo arm – which in switch introduced about Kevin’s signature guitar gliding – anything that turned synonymous with the band’s iconic guitar seem. 


By the early/mid 90’s shoegaze experienced attained its peak in mainstream recognition, but was swiftly overshadowed by the potent affect of grunge and Britpop, which swiftly dominated the airwaves. As the genre appreciated a shorter but wonderful spell in the limelight with successive releases of seminal albums Loveless (1991), Likely Blank All over again (1992) and Souvlaki (1993) from My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Slowdive respectively, shoegaze returned to it’s underground roots and seemingly went dormant. 

However, its influence ongoing to permeate countless more youthful up and coming bands and by the early to mid 2010’s, shoegaze relished a resurgence in reputation,  with a swath of nugaze bands carving out a place for on their own in the midst of the new era of world wide web streaming platforms dominating the way in which new music was becoming consumed. This in flip allowed for an totally new and significantly young viewers to rediscover the trailblazing bands from the genre’s golden period, which inevitably guide to the release of new audio – most notably the 2017 self titled release from Slowdive. 

The legacy of shoegaze is one particular of boldness, hardly ever shying away from sonic exploration and experimentation. Bands constantly pushed boundaries, continually striving for new exciting approaches to lure additional and a lot more seem out of their equipment, making some of the most dense musical compositions in modern music historical past. A relationship of dense instrumental layering with a balanced dose of pop sensibility authorized the genre to lower through the sound of other underground genres of the time and poke its head into the mainstream, be it for even the briefest of times. 

From a musical and generation standpoint, these iconic documents have been laden with misconceptions of how these huge sounds were being (and nevertheless are reached), equally in a studio and in a stay context – with standard assumption of a guitarist necessitating dozens of pedals to get even near to creating a that wall of seem. On the opposite – generally a “less is more” method has proved to wield a lot more exciting and satisfying final results and not have matters come to be bogged down and awash with way too numerous effects. Even just a pair of distortion pedals “stacked” or functioning in series with each and every other on a pedalboard will convey out some thick and lush sounding guitar tones, ample to satisfy even the most discerning of shoegaze fanatics. Increase a sprint of reverb (one thing in reverse is generally a address), a sprinkling of delay and a pinch of modulation and your times of shoegazing will perfectly and  truely be underway. 

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