Much like the hazy soundscapes of the genre itself, the exact origins of Shoegaze are hard to pinpoint. Some may claim that the chaotic, feedback-heavy art-rock of the early Velvet Underground records (headed by an uneasy, yet inspiring partnership between Lou Redd and John Cale) lay the foundation of what could be done with pop instrumentation and songwriting. Others may point to The Jesus and Mary Chain’s 1985 masterpiece in pop-like riffs and screeching, disorienting guitars 'Psychocandy' as a true beginning to Shoegaze. However, what can be established about Shoegaze is its genesis in the late 1980’s UK based alternative rock and its continued insistence in being relevant.
2017 will see the release of two new long-awaited albums from two legendary Shoegaze bands: the self-titled Slowdive by Slowdive and Weather Diaries by Ride. Both bands were long separated before suddenly reuniting in the 2010’s and producing new work in a “has been” genre. I say “has been” because Shoegaze has long been associated with a short-term music scene in the 1990’s, curiously named “The Scene That Celebrates Itself”, which, if we are to believe critical reception at the time, lead to a backlash due to its perceived “pretentiousness” and its “self-indulgent” nature. In fact, it is claimed that “Britpop” was born out of a reaction to Shoegaze (and to an extent Grunge), as a way of bringing guitar based pop music back to the standard 1960’s style simplicity of tuneful songs that you could whistle and dance to.
Yet, Shoegaze wouldn’t die. There was something about the experimental use of instruments and vocals to create not songs, but soundscapes that one could use as a canvas to paint a dream-like atmosphere, that continued to appeal to composers and listeners. Shoegaze evolved and adapted to the rise of digital based music in the 2000’s. It can be heard in the vague, drifting synth based riffs of 'Ashes Grammar' by the Philadelphia-based band A Sunny Day in Glasgow, the scattered psychedelic dance beats of M83’s 'Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts' and the warm, fading sounds of commercially-successful 'Teen Dream' by Beach House. Interestingly, these bands are all American based and have redefined the definition of Shoegaze, preferring to adopt the name “Dream Pop” instead. And why not? Dream Pop is a phrase that perfectly captures what Shoegaze was trying to do. Not so much rejecting pop music, more adapting the melodic aspects of pop music that influence a person to move and feel to music, and presenting it in a way that highlights an unconscious space in our lives where we twist and sway to an unstructured array of sounds and memories.
Shoegaze survives and thrives in 2017 because there’s not anything like it in pop music. It doesn’t deal with the easily defined, instead, it presents to you a challenge wherein you must find the melody of the music through a forest of vague lyricism and twisting, yet delicate instrumentation. But when you find that melody, where the raw emotional drive of Shoegaze resides, it is satisfying and awe-inspiring. I look forward to discovering just how Slowdive and Ride will paint their soundscapes and challenge me in their upcoming albums. Long live Shoegaze!
'Slowdive' by Slowdive is released in the UK on 5th May 2017, while 'Weather Diaries' by Ride will be released on 16th June 2017.