11 Jun 2014

shoegazesampler - A Beginner's Guide to Shoegaze


With the almighty My Bloody Valentine returning with one of the albums of the decade last year, as well as the reuniting of Slowdive earlier this year, 'shoegaze' has been the buzz word for the music press. Bands from the original scene are understandably clad with the term, but it's also haphazardly slapped upon every band that sounds a little bit like they listened to Pale Saints once. So to try and reduce confusion, I compiled Julian Cope style 'sampler' to give everyone a flavour, and a beginners guide of what is known as shoegaze. And whilst these are all what seasoned shoegaze fans would (rightly) say are obvious choices, they're certainly good building blocks to get someone into the genre.

My 'shoegazesampler', a tracklist
  1. Upside Down - The Jesus and Mary Chain
  2. Pearly Dewdrops' Drops - The Cocteau Twins
  3. Pulse - Loop
  4. You Made Me Realise - My Bloody Valentine
  5. Drive Blind - Ride
  6. Catch the Breeze - Slowdive
  7. Mesmerise - Chapterhouse
  8. Sight of You - Pale Saints
  9. Black Metallic - Catherine Wheel
  10. Push - Bleach
  11. Superblast!- Lush
  12. Grey Area - The Badgeman
  13. Flying - The Telescopes
  14. Son of Mustang Ford - Swervedriver
Over the course of these 13 songs, some of them shoegaze, some of them similar genres, I'm going to do my best to do my best at providing a brief overview of the genre known as shoegazing.

1. Upside Down - The Jesus & Mary Chain
Although The Mary Chain probably aren't exactly shoegaze, they made noisy pop records that influenced the likes of MBV and Slowdive to a huge extent - their sound during their early days was laden with feedback, which many of the noisier shoegazing groups later utilised. Upside Down is one of the Mary Chain's debut single, and the only one they released on Creation (before resigning in the late 90's), which means that they have more than just a little in common with the shoegazing scene... and if that wasn't enough, it was their frontman Jim Reid who forwarded Ride's debut demo tape to Alan McGhee whilst they were still unknown Oxfordshire teenagers.

2. Pearly Dewdrops' Drops - The Cocteau 
Again, the Cocteaus aren't strictly a shoegaze band, they fit more into the realms of dream-pop. But a great deal of bands that come later in the list borrow hugely from the gorgeous ethereal textures created by the genius of Robin Guthrie and the beautiful voice of Liz Fraser. Pearly Dewdrops' Drops is on the B-side of the Spanglemaker EP, and is one of 1980's most breathtaking songs... it's not difficult to see why the Scottish trio inspired so many.

3. Pulse - Loop
Loop are a London based psych outfit that came to prominence just before the beginning of the shoegaze era. Alongside the Spacemen 3, their guitar driven psychedelia and Mary Chain-esque levels of feedback are an obvious influence for lots of the bands that went on to form make dreamy shoegaze music. Like Slowdive, they recently reformed but in a much quieter way.

4. You Made Me Realise - My Bloody Valentine
Of course My Bloody Valentine are the best known shoegaze band, and probably rightly so. Loveless is without a shadow of a doubt one of the greatest albums released ever... but before Loveless came a section of C86 style EPs, all lacking in something. You Made Me Realise was the breakthrough single for My Bloody Valentine, and quite arguably one of the greatest songs of all time. It was the record that preceded the debut album, and is therefore probably the most important song in their discography. Although Loveless and the recent M B V are essential listens for anyone wanting to get into shoegaze, or even just music on the whole really.

5. Drive Blind - Ride
For me, however, Ride are the greatest shoegaze band. Whilst the wispy, textural Nowhere doesn't have the genius production Loveless has, yet it has more character, and expresses the euphoric and the forlorn beautifully. Anyway, Drive Blind is off of their self titled EP, which predated the LPs they released subsequently. It's undeniably one of the greatest Ride songs, because of the Day-In-The-Life-esque interlude mid-song. I think it's tracks like this that give me reason to prefer Ride to MBV.



6. Catch the Breeze - Slowdive
Taken from their first album, Catch the Breeze is one of the greatest songs in a great great discography. Starting off slowly, the song comes into it's own at about 2.51 on the album, where it transcends into the greatest minute of shoegazing guitars ever, ever. You'd have to listen to hear just what I mean...

7. Mesmerise - Chapterhouse
Like Slowdive, Chapterhouse hail from Reading. and were the recievers of lots of acclaim during the early nineties. Mesmerise is a non-album single, which features some wonderful guitar tones. The song itself is 291 of the finest seconds known to man, and is one of the stand out songs of the whole era.

8. Sight of You - Pale Saints
Although I think it sounds much better by Ride, The Pale Saints' real zenith is Sight of You, from their debut album The Comforts of Madness. Pale Saints take a lot more of their sound from C86 bands like the early Primals stuff, and Johnny Marr style jangle pop riffs. 

9. Black Metallic - Catherine Wheel
The Thames Valley based band are probably renowned for their less shoegazey work, but Black Metallic is one hell of a song. At over seven minutes, it's the longest on their debut album Ferment, which is generally heralded as one of the five best shoegaze albums. As well as that, the pretty voice of Rob Dickinson - the cousin of Bruce, from Iron Maiden.

10. Push - Bleach
Bleach are another band from East Anglia that made shoegaze music. They were fronted by the female vocalist Salli Carson, who sang in a more punk style than Bilinda or MBV or Rachel of Slowdive. The band sounded darker than most, but also wonderful... Push being the highlight of their first LP Killing Time.

11. Superblast!- Lush 
Although I've never really gotten that into Lush, but they most certainly had an excellent sound going for them, and their shoegazier stuff from the first few records is undeniably good. Superblast! is off of Spooky, the band's debut LP, which is interestingly enough produced by Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins, another of the few British bands on the landmark 4AD label.

12. Grey Area - The Badgeman
The Badgeman are one of the single most underrated artists in the history of music and the eight minute long opener to Ritual Landscape goes some of proving just that. Their sound lies about halfway between the ethereal Slowdive/Cocteaus sound and the Stooges abrasive proto-punk. Although championed by the Arch Drude himself, Julian Cope, The Badgeman and their stunning sound didn't quite make it at the time but are now looked back as an artistic triumph.

13. Flying - The Telescopes
The Telescopes 22122010.jpgSigned to Creation in the early nineties, The Telescopes were a psychedelic band from the same kinda scene as all the above bands. Whilst they bore similarities to Ride and MBV, they had a more cosmic sound to them that was ultimately closer to space-rock than shoegaze. This track is the high point of 1992's self titled second album, and is most certainly a triumph for Stephen Lawrie and co.

14. Son of Mustang Ford - Swervedriver
Whilst they bear little musical similarity to most shoegaze, Swervedriver are more than worthy of a mention because they not only hailed from the same parts of Oxford as Ride, but only got their record deal with Creation when Mark Gardener gave Alan McGhee Swervedriver's demo tape. But in retrospect, Swervedriver's music's a class of it's own. It's similar to Husker Du and Son of Mustang Ford is probably their finest track... Swervedriver may not have made totally shoegazey music, but they were certainly bit part players in the scene.

A spotify playlist of these can be found just here

(written and compiled by Calum Cashin)