Styles & Forms | Shoegazing | Rock
Originally coined as a criticism of the bands’ static stage performances – band members were said to stand stock still staring at their shoes – the so-called shoegazers played slow- or medium-paced rock, generally with heavily distorted or heavily reverbed guitars topped by dreamy, melodic and ethereal vocals.
Influenced by the use of distorted guitars by The Jesus & Mary Chain and the otherworldliness of The Cocteau Twins, the shoegazers were primarily a British movement, the most prominent exponent being My Bloody Valentine.
My Bloody Valentine took a long and tortuous path from their debut recording This Is Your Bloody Valentine, released in 1985, to their masterpiece album Loveless in 1991. Starting as a goth band, their distinctive sound began to emerge with the addition of singer Bilinda Butcher and the development of bandleader Kevin Shields’ guitar sound.
Retreating to the recording studio for two years to further refine their sound, spending around £200,000 ($310,000) in studio time and nearly bankrupting their label, Creation, the band’s painstaking attention to sound detail is confirmed by the ‘engineered and assisted by’ credit that runs to 18 different names (including two band members). Centring around Shields’ awesome guitar sounds and the sensual interplay between Shields and Butcher’s airy vocals, Loveless defines the shoegazing sound.
Such was My Bloody Valentine’s hold on the shoegazer style that some bands inspired by Loveless were accused of jumping on the shoegazer bandwagon – Curve in particular suffered from such bad press, although Doppelganger (1992) sees them finding their own take on the Loveless sonic landscape. The Verve emerged from darkest Wigan with a psychedelic take on the shoegazer sound, as heard on A Storm In Heaven (1993).
A rather inward-looking and insular movement, some of the shoegazer bands such as Ride, Chapterhouse, Curve, Slowdive and Lush struggled to develop their sound. Others managed to evolve and reach a wider audience. The shoegazer influence can be heard on Blur’s Leisure (1991), but by the time of Parklife (1994) they had established themselves as forerunners of Britpop. The Verve broke into the mainstream with their massive hit single ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ from Urban Hymns (1997). Similarly, The Boo Radleys’ Everything’s Alright Forever (1992) reveals a debt to the shoegazer sound, but by Wake Up! they were more of a straightforward pop band.
The shoegazer bands’ notoriously static live performances didn’t endear them as live acts and few were able to move in new directions. Even Kevin Shields found it hard to follow up Loveless and My Bloody Valentine still hadn’t recorded a full-length follow-up album when Shields joined Primal Scream as a guitarist on a semi-permanent basis in the late-1990s. The shoegazer’s influence can be heard in trip hop.
‘We try to make the music the personality and keep ourselves quite anonymous.’
Andy Bell, Ride
Several guitars are used to create...
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