first_imgBy Robin Whelan Shoegaze is one of those terms which evolve intriguingly past their intended meaning. Originally coined to describe the less-than-gripping stage presence of a group of late ‘80s/early ‘90s indie bands like My Bloody Valentine, the Cocteau Twins and the Jesus and Mary Chain, it has now come to denote the sound of these performers rather than just their somnambulant performances. “Shoegaze” as a genre would be far better termed “stargaze”, lumping together as it does bands that produce epic soundscapes: music that twinkles and shimmers, clipped hooks, vocals buried deep in the mix.The mood is important above all else. In that regard, witness anything from My Bloody Valentine’s seminal Loveless. Voted best album of the 1990s by influential American indie site Pitchfork, Loveless is somewhat akin to a drunken stumble through a winter wonderland, or listening to radio static underwater. Each track is coated with a disorienting level of reverb and bandleader Kevin Shields uses his tremolo arm to dizzying, confusing, effect, This is music without shape or form.Few shoegaze bands were as “leftfield” as MBV (there again, how many have ever been?), although the Jesus and Mary Chain did approach their levels of oddness with some of their live feedback workouts. All the same, this was hardly a formula for mega-stardom. Insufficiently catchy to be indie-rock, lacking the chops for prog and just interesting enough to avoid that horrible coffee-table label, “chillout”, here they reside, doomed to a career of commercial failure and cult status.Still, that cult has bred latter-day success for many of the original ‘gazers: MBV leader Kevin Shields has collaborated with The Go! Team, and The Jesus and Mary Chain have recently reformed to no little acclaim (headlining the Coachella Festival accompanied by Scarlett Johansson). Rumours are that My Bloody Valentine themselves will reform soon and cash in.Now, bands like Secret Machines, M83 and Engineers have taken up the shoegaze mantle, while moving in different directions. Secret Machines marry shoegaze to Dark Side of the Moon-like prog and thumping drums; Engineers have the blurry feedback down pat, but harness it to create indie ballads; Anthony Gonzalez of M83, meanwhile, augments the beauty of shoegaze textures with bombastic synth workouts reminiscent of Vangelis. Thankfully, the nu-gazers tend to spend more time staring at the audience than at their tatty Converse.last_img

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