Shoegaze: The Most Important Fad Ever to Rise

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When the Irish group My Bloody Valentine released their You Made Me Realise EP in 1988, they introduced a new take on the well-defined post-punk style. The opening track, “You Made Me Realise,” gave listeners the first taste of shoegaze; a disgusting, massively distorted noise used to write a melodic, beautiful pop song. The shoegaze style is perplexing and mesmerizing, and as a result, it has become one of the most unique—and, almost paradoxically, one of the most difficult to define—genres of the modern era. What’s important to know about shoegaze is that it defines both a style and a movement, and must therefore be defined with respect to each of its aspects. In a word, shoegaze can be defined as an attempt to distort an idea in order to achieve a deeper effect of understanding. This may sound like a futile and paradoxical attempt, but this phenomenon is ever-present among today’s youth, from a new obsession with the grainy effect of VHS to the surface noise of vinyl—there is almost a kind of nostalgia associated with low-fidelity and low-quality art.

Take, for example, My Bloody Valentine’s quintessential shoegaze album Loveless. The album cover is an accurate representation of shoegaze, albeit in the form of a picture; when given enough attention, it’s clear that the image is a guitar, but distorted with shades of pink and red in such a way that it gives the guitar a new definition entirely. Upon listening to this album, it is soon clear to the listener that My Bloody Valentine is not concerned with writing powerful songs with moving lyrics; instead, they are much more focused on the sound of the music which they are making. The distortion and mash-up of meditative sounds which they bring to the table are exactly what make this album and the genre in its entirety so enticing.

The fact that shoegaze seems to be based on internal contradictions is exactly what makes it such a unique genre to many fans; the distortion and fuzz work counter-intuitively in order to create a clearer and deeper understanding of the songs, and the hard-hitting and massive noises work to create a calm, low-tempo, relaxing setting.

Shoegaze as a movement emerged in the late 1980’s in the United Kingdom. Much like grunge music in the United States, many argue that bands are only truly “shoegaze” if they emerged from this same group of post-post-punk bands; the groups that emerged from this phenomenal new sound didn’t choose to self-identify as shoegaze, rather the term was forced upon them by eager journalists to describe their fixation with effects pedals and detached performance style.

The bonus of not being able to define shoegaze is that every new band which emerged interpreted the genre in their own unique way. For example, English band Ride, on their debut album Nowhere, took a more high-energy influence, while English group Slowdive took a more gentle-sounding route. Compare Ride’s “Seagull” and Slowdive’s “Alison”; stylistically, these two songs can hardly be more different, but what unites them is the lackadaisical, non-conforming underlying tone which defined shoegaze as a musical style.

Unfortunately, shoegaze fell nearly as quickly as it started, and there are many theories as to why this happened. Many attribute the downfall of shoegaze to the rise of grunge in the United States and the more marketable Britpop in the United Kingdom, which both rose to such levels of popularity which shoegaze could not reach—this made shoegaze easily categorized as dated and out of style. However, the spirit of shoegaze is alive and well in some music scenes; for example, the Japanese shoegaze scene melds post-rock with more traditional shoegaze sounds, and bands like Clams from Osaka have clear shoegaze influences in their music. Take their song “P-NUT BUTTER irony,” for example; the similarities between Loveless and this new style of music are clear. With bands like this on the rise, it is hoped that the spirit of shoegaze will never die, and that bands will continue to experiment with sounds and distortion in unique and curious ways.

Image source: wikimedia