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Music in Focus – Shoegaze

Written by on May 11, 2022

Those of you that joined me this morning for “Good Mornin’ SLE” which is broadcast from the SLE Radio studio Mon-Sat between 6am and 8am UK Time, would have heard e talk about Shoegaze music as requested on our Discord by Hippiedriver, (If you want to join us on Discord please find the links on the homepage of SLERADIO.COM). 

Now, this was a tough one for me to discuss because I do have very limited knowledge of this wonderfully crafted music genre, this genre that breaks away from its roots of alternative rock/rock to create a clear and decisive stand against the conformity of music’s fundamentally and well respected “the voice overpowers the instrument (unless in instrumental solo)” belief, meaning the vocals are the predetermined protagonist of any song.

Shoegaze says NO to this conformity and instead proudly says “the voice should be treated as an instrument it should be merged with the guitar and the drums to create a union of sound”, most definitely a non-relinquishing and un-apologetic middle finger to those that try to control the freedom of music.

So, where did it start what’s it all about? 

Now we can head over to Wikipedia and see what it says however, something inside every fibre of my body says the information isn’t quite accurate, Wikipedia states the creation of “Shoegaze” started in the late 1980s – “It emerged in Ireland and the United Kingdom in the late 1980s” (Wikipedia on Shoegaze). The name “Shoegaze” may have been given to the music genre monolith during the late 80s, in fact, the term “Shoegaze” was given to the genre by the press, due to the extreme amount of pedals that were being used by the band members and singers would always be looking down whilst playing their music and reading the lyrics, hence the term “Shoe Gazers” However, “Shoegaze” as it became known as began its humble beginnings in the 1960s (in fact 1963) the fundamental principles that drove “Shoegaze” was to be known back then as “A Wall of Sound” brought to realisation by producer Phil Spector. (Google Phil for more info on his in/famous story).

The “Wall of Sound” production uses layer upon layer of instruments leaving very little room in the mix for anything, very much as shoegaze became more known for its prolific use of layered instrumental, and when we look to the 60s (as we do for many of the musical influences we have today ) we find an extremely popular track back then and even today that used the “Wall of Sound” principle was a song called “Be my Baby” by The Ronettes If you don’t know it or remember it takes a 5-minute pause from here and give it a listen 😉 I’m sure you’ll recognise it.

Multiple instruments, heavily overdubbed, yet maintains a rich thick sound that’s catchy and bouncy, and when listening to it focus on the sound of the vocals against the levels of the instrumental note the use of the vocals. This song for me signals the start of what will become known as “Shoegaze”. Oh, so you think it just sounds like any song from the 60s ok have a listen to Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons – Can’t Take My Eyes off you (as an example) when you listen in you’ll hear that his vocals are key prominent and the instruments are not heavily layered, the sound of the instruments remains light, bright and almost a simple accompaniment for Frankie. Interesting right.

So, the production of this genre began to gain formation in the 1960s, but wait you cry what about the distortion you cant have “Shoegaze” without distortion, heavy distortion, thick distortion, a hypnotic sound modifier that makes the whole world tremble around you with anticipation of the music entering your soul… Absolutely right! Well, here’s the thing and I hope you are ready for this bombshell the 60’s produced one of the biggest bands in the world even today gathering millions of fans around the world, yes The Beatles! I kid you not! In fact, before we go any further give this tune a listen now, then come back to me…

Oh Yes, rich multi-layered, non-prominent vocals and an awesome smorgasbord of distortion, modified and sounds contorted to the will of the creator, the psychedelic sensations that flow through your body as you listen to this track are part of the key feelings that “Shoegaze” brings to you, guiding you through its dream-like state of mind-altering sounds.

So, based on the above explanation of my rationale the name may not have existed until the 80s but the principle and idealism of “Shoegaze” started for me back in the 60s – You beautiful age of music.

As we work through the 70s and music continues to evolve with the use of analogue pitch, and tone modifiers, creating new distortions of sound we continue to edge ever closer to the great divide of the 80s, a decade which championed the different and allowed the wonderful to truly break away from the normal, albeit a little too far sometimes but this is what must happen to find that equal medium, the balance.

Brings us to the third element of “Shoegaze” the dream-like state that it brings to you, and one band from the 80s pre-1985 that remains in my mind as one of the most influential elements of the “Shoegaze” movement and the “Dream Pop” movement that emerged from the New Wave sound I, of course, am speaking about The Cocteau Twins -this track still holds it own in today’s world quite comfortably taken from the 1983 album Head over Heels – Sugar Hiccup;

Have a listen to the album Head over Heels and listen out for one of my favourites from The Cocteau Twins – Five Ten Fiftyfold, its an absolute genius track, full of layers dream-like sounds and an embracement of what it is to delve into the mind of the listener, taking them on a true journey of the unknown within themselves.

A magnificent track and an album that simply defies the years.

I tell you what here it is in case you fancy having a listen :);

As we move on through our journey of ages in pursuit of the genre they call “Shoegaze” we stumble onto quite possibly the most defining moment of “Shoegaze” The Jesus and Mary Chain 1985 – – – -> Just Like Honey

This is where the genre became more prominent and started to get true recognition as a genre. We have followed the journey of “Shoegaze” right back from the 1960s and The Ronettes, The Beatles, onto the 80s with the Cocteau Twins and the Jesus and Mary Chain we draw ever closer to the finale, while all this was happening around us a small band from Dublin, Ireland formed in 1978 were busy trying to burst into the music scene, with their albums falling flat at each hurdle they eventually dropped their label and in 1988 this little known band started making waves. My Bloody Valentine was the name of the band and this was pure “Shoegaze”.

Where did the name “Shoegaze” come from? As already mentioned it was a journalist that branded the name, not as a form of endearment but as a slight on the bands performances, well guess that blew up in their face. I found this excerpt on Wikipedia and felt it was fitting for the end of this segment.

“The term originated in a concert review in Sounds for the newly formed band Moose in which singer Russell Yates read lyrics taped to the floor throughout the gig.[14] The term was picked up by NME, who used it as a reference to the tendency of the bands’ guitarists to stare at their feet—or their effects pedals—while playing, seemingly deep in concentrationMelody Maker preferred calling it “The Scene That Celebrates Itself”, referring to the habit that the bands had of attending gigs of other shoegaze bands, often in Camden, and often playing in each other’s bands.[citation needed]

According to AllMusic: “The shatteringly loud, droning neo-psychedelia the band performed was dubbed shoegaze by the British press because the band members stared at the stage while they performed”.[1] The term was also used by the British music press to describe dream pop bands.[15] Slowdive‘s Simon Scott found the term relevant:

I always thought Robert Smith, when he was in Siouxsie and the Banshees playing guitar [on the 1983’s Nocturne live video], was the coolest as he just stood there and let the music flood out. That anti showmanship was perfect so I never really understood why people began to use “shoegaze” as a negative term. I think if Slowdive didn’t stand there looking at what pedal was about to go on and off we’d have been shite. […] I am glad we were static and concentrated on playing well. Now it is a positive term.[16]

The term was considered a pejorative, especially by a part of the English weekly music press who considered the movement as ineffectual, and it was disliked by many of the groups it purported to describe.[6] Lush‘s singer Miki Berenyi explained:

Shoegazing was originally a slag-off term. My partner [K.J. ‘Moose’ McKillop], who was the guitarist in Moose, claims that it was originally leveled at his band. Apparently the journo was referring to the bank of effects pedals he had strewn across the stage that he had to keep staring at in order to operate. And then it just became a generic term for all those bands that had a big, sweeping, effects-laden sound, but all stood resolutely still on stage.[6]

Ride‘s singer Mark Gardener had another take on his group’s static presentation: “We didn’t want to use the stage as a platform for ego … We presented ourselves as normal people, as a band who wanted their fans to think they could do that too.”[12]

That was plagiarised sorry “borrowed” from Wikipedia. Just to inform you once again…

Do you know any “Shoegaze” bands and hey its making a big comeback since 2010 its on the road again – Ill give you a couple of names to go check out from our very own indie pool of awesome artists;

Koko Ber;

SHEWEE;

and finally this little gem that was created through a collaboration of multiple artists on SLERADIOs Wheel of Collaboration; Class track.

The Sludge Stoners and Pulses.

I hope you enjoyed this brief level up on “Shoegaze” I’m sure there is going to be loads more stuff that I could have written about and mentioned more artists/bands but come on guys id be here all day writing it out.  If you fancy having a go at writing something for SLE Radio let me know on dj_sle@outlook.com.

 


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