Paul Lester “investigates” – Whatever happened to Shoegazing? – 12th September 1992
April 8, 2009
Clearly it’s less of an investigation and more of an excuse to let Moose promote their new single by distancing themselves from their past, but that aside, I feel a bit of a rant coming on.
It’s a funny thing how occasionally this blog stirs passions and personal recollections about things I’d long since forgotten. I’m aware that there are some (most) people that read this blog who know a lot more about the history of these things and can express them a lot better than I can, however, I was there and this is my personal take on shoegaze.
Back in the day…way back 1988 or so, it was the early ‘proto-shoegaze’ bands that really got their hooks in me. Sure we’d all grown up with The Smiths and The Fall and other Peel favourites but these weren’t new bands, they weren’t undiscovered bands and crucially, a lot of them I didn’t really like them that much. However with burgeoning maturity [cough], a growing confidence and money from summer/Saturday jobs I found myself blowing meagre wages on more and more of the latest music press raves.
These days it’s hard to try and impress how difficult it was to find out about, let alone hear, ‘indie’ music, if you lived in a small market town like I did. Even if you knew what you wanted, and you had the money to afford it, you still had to order it out of a tiny Our Price stacked to the gills with CD’s of Dire Straights, U2, Sting etc… There was no flicking through heaps of tantalizing vinyl, no studying the artwork and turning your fingers lustily across the records cardboard stock. Buying records in those days was just an alternative form of gambling.
You’d walk into Our Price on Saturday. You’d endure the withering stare of some fool, a few years older than you, who thought they were fucking cool because they worked in a record shop. You’d write down your order on a little bit of paper, say thank you and leave. You’d go back after about a week, be intimidated all over again but with luck, you’d pick up a copy of a record which you’d never even seen the cover of before. You’d take it home with mounting anticipation. You’d put it on, close your eyes and wait. You’d wait for the sound of “1,000 volcano’s erupting over 10,000 vestal virgins” that you’d read about; the sound of “skipping naked through cornfields on the first day of summer” that you’d been promised. You’d hear the needle crackling, here it comes…and you’d think… “God that sounds shit”.
Yeah…nine times out of ten the record would be total shit. But you played it to death anyway because you only had a few records and it had just cost you £6.99. Sometimes you grew to like it but you never quite loved it. But then, just occasionally, you did. Sometimes what came back through the speakers made up for every single dud you’d bought up to that point. And as depressing and uncool as it sounds today, for me, some of those records were Ride’s first EP’s.
There had been others before Ride obviously. Some have stood the test of time, some haven’t, The Stone Roses & The Eight Legged Groove Machine. But it was that trilogy of EP’s Ride released in 1990 that really got under my skin. For a while nothing could touch Ride. I knew the lineage. The Mary Chain to My Bloody Valentine to Ride. Each band aping the one before it but in some intangible way, moving things forward, being original. Many scoffed but the fact is Ride made ‘noise’ palatable to me where JAMC and MBV had failed. Sure I’d kinda liked those other ‘cooler’ bands but I hadn’t loved them. Ride I loved and I wasn’t the only one. They had better tunes, better cheekbones and perfect hair. They were everything I wanted to be and Taste almost broke the Top 10, which back then was quite extraordinary. And while we were still inthrall to Ride, Slowdive overlapped these releases with a clutch of similar yet different EP’s which were just as engaging. Then, Chaperhouse – then, as I remember it – all hell broke loose and there were 1,000’s of bands all trying to do what Ride/Slowdive did but successively diluting the quality.
I hate ‘scenes’. I don’t mind broad genres of music, they’re helpful, but scenes serve no one in the long run. The bands that really stand out, who are doing something original, attract imitators. Very quickly there’s a whole bunch of bands that all seem to be doing the same thing. It feels exciting at the beginning. It feels like someone’s bottled youth. The bandwagon begins. Journalists scrabble to cover the new movement. New bands align themselves to this new exciting scene in a brazen attempt to get noticed and kick start their career. The more ferocious the scene becomes, the uncooler it gets. The original bands distance themselves from the sound that’s brought them their success then typically struggle to sell as many records as they used to. The third, fourth and fifth generation imitators can no longer look to anyone to copy and their records have all the substance of the froth from the top of a milkshake. The scene has imploded. The snide bitching begins. That once cool scene moniker becomes a term of abuse. You’ve passed from teenager to twenty something. You feel let down, disappointed. It’s a new feeling. Odd. Strange. You still love those records that were once so cool yet are now so derided. Future cynicism germinates.
So it was the summer of 1991 that Melody Maker invented the The Scene That Celebrates Itself – their own version, which never really caught on – of NME’s Shoegaze, which did. Originally a term of celebration, by the end of 1992 it was all over. And the mud remains slung to this day.
All of which is a flabby, over long preamble to try and justify why I hate the fact that Ride get called Shoegaze. To me Shoegaze is a term of abuse for all those shit also-ran bands. Catherine Wheel? Yeah sure. Chapterhouse? Definitely. Ocean Colour Scene before they jumped on the next bandwagon, abso-fucking-lutely! But My Bloody Valentine, The House of Love, Lush, Ride? FUCK NO! Apparently I’m wrong. Ride were definitely Shoegaze. Simon Price has told me so and well…that’s that isn’t it? Thing is I can’t see how you retrospectively apply a scene to bands who were around a long time before the scene existed. I know, I know…I’m *so* naive.
So what did happen to Shoegazing? Well the truth is it didn’t die but became [yawn] nu-gaze. I’m not sure when the revival – jokingly predicted to start in 1995 – did start exactly but it’s been mutating and evolving in its own quiet way for years now, as this 2005-present Last.Fm list of forum post attests.
This morning, quite unrelated to this I was sent a link to a youtube video. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. Or ears. It’s like the last 19 years didn’t happen. This was released in February 2009 – and in case there’s any doubt – this IS Shoegaze. If you like this go buy those first 3 Ride EP’s kids. Or failing that, Ecstasy & Wine by My Bloody Valentine.
Update 13th April: Thanks to comment left by David M who highlighted this modern day article by Paul Lester on the same topic. Still don’t agree with much of it but at least Moose aren’t plugging a single.