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.

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18 Responses to “Paul Lester “investigates” – Whatever happened to Shoegazing? – 12th September 1992”

  1. Littlepixel Says:

    Nice piece Mr Dahomme/Thehomme…
    I recall similar nonsense getting hold of copies of records at the small HMV store hidden in the back of my town’s Debenhams store. This before I discovered the Legendary ‘Alan Fearnley Records’ in the next town along.

    I love Moose’s fair and measured assessment of Ocean Colour Scene’s ouvre in that piece.. ‘Shit Sandwich’ lol…

  2. Jo Metivier Says:

    Chapterhouse. Seriously. I saw them play before they were signed and for about 15 minutes they were really quite good. They were loud, they could play, and they had at least 2 decent songs. OK, maybe one. And come to think of it, that was a cover of Rain by the Beatles.

    See this is exactly why I didn’t like the NME. It tried so hard to be cooler-than-thou and create artificial distinctions to establish stupid hierarchies of taste, and in doing so it ended up treating its readership with contempt by rewriting history all the time and printing things that were just WRONG about bands I liked and linking them to whatever now-so-outdated ‘scene’ it had relentlessly promoted six months ago.

    Um – what was that thing you said about stirring emotions and recollections? :D

  3. phil Says:

    I’m not sure what’s got you so worked up Charlie old mate!

    The ‘scene’ was probably no more than a couple of hundred people who went to the same few gigs.

    Certainly, I danced while self-consciously staring shoeward like a depressive after a soothing hit of thorazine but I don’t remember ‘shoegaze’ as anything I connected with, aspired to, or wanted to rally around, it seemed like a mockery if anything.

    Don’t forget this was the time of Ultra Vivid Scene, Pixies, Sonic Youth’s glory years, Dinosaur jr, Aphex Twin etc…’shoegaze’ is hardly worth a footnote (ho ho)!

    Oh yeah, and your continuing and incomprehensible defence of Ride (the most boring band EVER) is bordering on the manic.

    Maybe you need the thorazine. Or perhaps some early Genesis?

    :) x

  4. kenixfan Says:

    I assumed it was just us Yanks having a hard time finding the stuff that the NME and the Maker raved about! I assumed you could just walk into any HMV in those days and find that stuff?

    In this post from my crap blog, I tried to outline what it was like in 1990 in America to be a shoegazer fan in a world of Sub Pop fans; the fault lines were clear even in 1990 — a good year and half before Nevermind and Loveless were released.

    That said, I never liked Slowdive or Chapterhouse beyond the odd single. And The House of Love was a great band — saw them live in D.C. in early 1990 — and never, ever, a shoegazer act in my mind.

    The Pains of Being Pure At Heart is a band closer to the C-86 vibe than to the shoegazer era, actually. The album was mixed by Archie Moore from Velocity Girl and it really sounds like some lost mid-1980’s Creation masterpiece — before the era of Chapterhouse and their ilk.

  5. phil Says:

    Who were ‘shoegaze’ anyway?

    House Of Love? Definitely not. They were a great rock band who should have filled the gap in the stadiums between Echo and the Bunnymen and Coldplay.

    MBV. Hardly. Ecstasy and Wine was C86 indie with a bit of JAMC fuzz. You Made Me Realise EP is too heavy, too angular, too inventive and just too good to be reduced to that.

    Lush? Nah. Too cheeky. They covered Abba. And it was good.

    Telescopes? Nah. File next to Loop and Spacemen 3. Heavy psyched out repetition and bombast, yes. Shoegaze, no.

    Boo Radleys? Ichabod and I is from this era and is made from the same stuff, it should be ‘shoegaze’ but it’s not. They were different even then.

    So who does that leave? Moose, Chapterhouse, Slowdive and Ride.

    The runts of the litter. The similarity being youth and a desperation to have all the right MM/NME approved reference points in their music – result: blandness.

    I’ve said it before but I think the Brit press hobbles some of these bands. They don’t get time to develop in obscurity. If you look at the above list, compared to the ‘scene’ bands, Spacemen 3 were isolated weirdo outsiders. And the music is all the better for it. Same applies to MBV, or Boo Radleys.

    None of them really, really made it though did they?

    House of Love were the band with the most promise. Like a more intelligent Oasis, they had the songs and the stage presence. Being labelled ‘shoegaze’ must have pissed them off.

  6. patrick Says:

    Poor Guy Chadwick having to keep Terry Bickers happy.

  7. glenn Says:

    The House of Love were just fantasic live. I had the first album in the summer of 1988 so by 1989 when the “butterfly” album came out, I was a huge fan, playing the thing in the store all the time. I think “I Don’t Know Why I Love You” and “Never” got played on alternative radio here for about 5 minutes but I agree with you: they were a stadium band waiting to happen.

    The Boos are *the* great underrated band of that era IMHO.

    Funny you mentioned Lush’s cover of “Hey Hey Helen” as many tracks on The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have a very similar production sheen.

    I had friends who rated Moose and Slowdive highly but I never liked either one. As for Ride: the first two EP’s, most of the first album and later some singles still get played in my house.

    How about Pale Saints? Not shoegazers but of that era. In Ribbons is pretty good and the first album has its moments too — Sight of You is still a great single on par with Shine On by HoL.

    Spacemen 3 were closer to JaMC and to what the Primals became a bit later and the Telescopes were similar. I wouldn’t call any of them shoegazers, really.

    • Peter Latimer Says:

      Agree about the Boo’s. Love the early EPs, that they gathered on the Learning to Walk album, and I still rate their 2nd album Everything’s Alright Forever as my favourite album by anyone ever! Shoegaze flows right through it with equal parts noise and melody.

      • matt catling Says:

        slowdive’s second album souvlaki is my favourite ablum because on the progression of the album and the final nail to the shoegazing coffin and verve early EPs and first album a storm in heaven was a shoegazing album of all time to me becasue on there wall of noise and swirls, it very mesmerizing and it’s seen like shoegazing contuned slightly in 1993

  8. DavidM Says:

    Pale Saints seconded. Though I would give more than faint praise for their Comforts of Madness album. With it they kinda had the woozypop noiseblast thing perfected, pretty much (ie what Boo Radleys were perhaps reaching for at this time, but the final results of which never quite gelled properly)

    And yeah, wow, those early Slowdive and Ride 12″ singles are fondly wrapped up in moments of nostalgia for me.

    btw I call all these bands shoegazing. I don’t care.

  9. DavidM Says:

    Paul Lester “investigates” – whatever happened to Shoegazing in this week’s Sunday Times Culture supplement.

  10. Hairshoes Says:

    It makes me laugh that you are all, with the exception of DavidM, trying to distance the bands you love from the shoegaze genre. Is the genre really important? For me, in the late 80’s early 90’s you had the Manchester scene (Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Charlatans), the shoegaze scene (Ride, Lush, MBV, Pale Saints, Moose etc) and Grunge (Nirvana, Mudhoney, Sonic Youth). It was lazy pigeon-holing by journalists, but it kind of works.

    I liked all the above bands, who have made some of my all time favourite records – I still play the Comforts of Madness regularly to this day, and would argue it’s the best shoegaze album ever made. Yes even better than loveless!

    By the way, I’m not sure what genre The Pains of Being Pure at Heart fall into but I think it’s fitting they sit next to the Pale Saints on my iPod. It’s a contender for album of the year that’s for sure.

  11. […] Paul Lester investigates Shoegazing and David Bennun interviews Plastic Fantastic and my open letter to the readers of this blog […]

  12. Matt Catling Says:

    Hi into the shoegaze stuff,
    even i was a bit young to remember this
    i thought shoegaze was a 1990-1993 thing
    becasue on slowdive, catherine wheel, swervedriver, curve and chapterhouse second albums and verve, revolver and adorable first album

    however i do love bands like pains at being pure at heart, amusement parks on fire and ringo deathstarr, it’s kinda interesting to listening too

  13. NRS3 Says:

    In contrast to most of the shit the US had produced (and still does), shoegaze holds up quite well despite being a “scene”. I had the fortune in this case of being from North Dakota in the US in the sense that the press, marketing and gossip of the entire thing completely passed me by. My other listening choices were country and hair metal. I was probably the only farmboy in North Dakota that listened to The Jazz Butcher, Spaceman 3 and Felt while driving a tractor. So, I listen and buy according to my liking not really being influenced by the press.

  14. Peter Latimer Says:

    Very similar experience to yours with the thrill of those early EPs in 1990 and 1991. At the time it seemed like a great new record was out almost every week, and my student overdraft was getting bigger! In fact many of the first albums were disappointments in comparison to the EPs, Slowdive particularly. I created a “classic EP” tag in a while ago containing many of the classics, or the US mini-albums that combined the EPs,

    I religiously read MM and disliked the term shoegaze to begin with (mainly because it was an NME name) but have long since embraced it as a way of describing my favourite genre of music, even though it is a lazy term really. So strictly MBV were pre shoegaze, but happy to lump them in with Ride, Slowdive, Pale Saints, early Boo Radleys, etc, etc.

  15. […] seems to credit it as much more of a ‘thing’ that I remember it really being at all, although the inkies did milk the joke for all it was worth. It certainly seems to be more of a ‘thing’ now than it was back then. But then, I was drunk […]

  16. Andrew L Says:

    Not quite sure what everyone is getting on about. Ride is definitely a shoegaze band. So are pale saints, so is lush, and so is my fucking bloody valentine. Not sure why everyone is trying to make them seem so different. Maybe back in the day they were not always grouped together, and perhaps this whole scene thing is bullshit, but there are MANY stylistic similarities with all of these groups mentioned here.

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