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The Soundcheck Guide To Shoegaze

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

My Bloody Valentine's 1991 album 'Loveless' is regarded by many as the masterpiece of the shoegaze genre My Bloody Valentine's 1991 album "Loveless" is regarded by many as the masterpiece of the shoegaze genre (Courtesy of the artist)

The musical genre known as "shoegaze" already starts with one strike against it: the term doesn't even remotely do justice to the sound, so it's misused, and misunderstood. When the term was coined by the British press in the late-1980's, the artists playing this type of music weren't so much gazing at their navels as deftly manipulating palettes of guitar effects pedals to create ethereal, other-worldly sounds -- usually at maximum volume.

With the recent resurrection of genre pioneers like My Bloody Valentine and its American counterpart, Medicine, we present The Soundcheck Guide To Shoegaze

This segment originally aired on March 19, 2014.

Shoegaze: A Very Brief Introduction

Flavorwire senior editor Tom Hawking guides Soundcheck host John Schaefer through the dense undergrowth of early-'90s shoegaze music, pointing out highs and lows, and talking about the resurgence of the genre in the last few years. 

Read Tom Hawking's thoughts about these and other shoegaze tracks at Flavorwire.



My Bloody Valentine, "Soft As Snow (But Warm Inside)" from My Bloody Valentine (1988)

Tom Hawking:You can't really discuss shoegaze without them. Loveless is a masterpiece (and m b v is pretty good, too), but it was Isn't Anything pretty much laid the template for the genre. (Although, weirdly, a lot of the stuff that came after didn't sound a great deal like it.


Ride, "Polar Bear" from Nowhere (1990)

T.H.: You can definitely see the influence of MBV here, though — the guitar sound, especially. It's a shame that Andy Bell ended up in Oasis.


Chapterhouse, "Breather" from Whirlpool (1991)

T.H.: Kinda underrated band from the original shoegaze era who never really had a huge amount of success, which is strange, as their sound is as prototypically shoegaze as you can get.


Pale Saints, "A Thousand Stars Burst Open" from In Ribbons (1992)

T.H.: You couldn't really get a more grandiose title, but the song itself is surprisingly pretty — if shoegaze is about a balance between dark sounds and pretty melodies, then the darkness here is more atmospheric than the distortion and hostility of MBV etc.


Medicine, "Aruca" from Shot Forth Self Living (1992)

T.H.: They often get called the "American My Bloody Valentine," and you can see why – they get similarly outlandish sounds from their guitars, and this song strikes a very MBV-ish balance between noise and melody. Guitarist Jim Putnam went on to form Radar Bros, who are one of my fave bands of the 1990s.




Slowdive, "Souvlaki Space Station" from Outside Your Room (1993)

T.H.: The title is kinda absurd, and the song does exemplify the genre's tendency to disappear up its own ass at times.



Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, "Belong" from Belong (2011)



Tom Hawking

Comments [4]

Simon from London, UK

Isn't Anything defined the shoegaze template even though nothing else in the genre sounds like it... or, MBV only really went Shoegazer with Tremolo/Loveless?

Souvlaki Space Station is possibly the definitive song of the genre... if you think it's a lowpoint, chances are shoegazing is not for you!

As far as "nu-gaze", surely Sigur Ros deserve a mention? Glasvegas also deserve a nod for bringing the sound home.

The best way to define shoegazer is probably "the sound you get when The Jesus & Mary Chain and Cocteau Twins have musical babies". Shouldn't work at all, but somehow it does!

May. 25 2015 10:54 AM
james from jersey

Was excited when I heard the promo for this segment at the top of the show and stayed tuned in to listen because I could not wait to hear your piece on my favorite genre. Was pretty disappointed as I listened to the segment mostly because your "expert" Tom did not seem to even like the music he was presenting and had to call some friends to find out "what's new?". I did not learn anything I did not already know and with insulting references to Hitler and Nerds you lost me. You both spent more time poking fun at a Slowdive album name than examining the music which is brilliant, certainly not a low point in the movement. Who amongst your listeners not familiar with the genre will ever go out and buy a Slowdive album after your treatment of the band. For anyone who is a fan of the genre, you insulted them, for anyone you were hoping to reach to introduce the genre, you turned them off. Please find someone who knows more about the genre and has a positive view of the movement before your next "Soundcheck Guide To ..."

May. 17 2014 07:03 AM
justin from brooklyn

no mention of the cocteau twins? if you're going to reach anyone with shoegaze i think they're critical to mention....not just loud my bloody valentine and their influenced followups. i'm a big fan of most of the bands mentioned...but it's kinda of like talking about pop and forgetting michael jackson.

never the less, I'm always happy when my lifelong favorite genre gets a nod.

May. 15 2014 10:04 PM

Where did you find this expert? His knowledge seems to extend no further than a Wikipedia page. Anyone who thinks that Slowdive is the low-point of shoegaze is a certifiable moron. Or this just plain sexism? You should be ashamed John. This is your low-point.

Mar. 28 2014 12:55 PM

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