Sunday, October 09, 2005

Slip Slowly Downwards (Shoegaze Part 1)

A week off, and my burn-out seems to have subsided. Huge thanks to everyone who came out to see Man Man a week ago, as well as the show we did with My Project: Blue, members of Broken Social Scene, The Zoobombs, Kat Burns, and Problem, on the previous Thursday. We had six members of Broken Social Scene on-stage at The Silver Dollar, and Kevin Drew's 1am duet with The Zoobombs was just awesome.

The Group Sounds and Uncut on Friday October 28th at The Social. Note the new date. More details soon.

The long-promised shoegaze retrospective kicks off today. I also have a couple CD reviews waiting in the wings, as well as some new interviews to post. Here we go...


In 2003 a compilation called Feedback To The Future was released on a German label called Mobilé; it attempted to put together a collection of songs from the early '90s shoegaze movement, and wrap them up in very nice packaging. While the accompanying artist information was interesting, and I do like the pink cover, what was most noticeable were the apologies as to why certain bands were left out. Yeah, the legal hassles.

Fuck legality, right?

OK no, I don't agree with that sentiment, but sometimes - when you're dealing in obscurity - I see no reason why rules shouldn't be bent in order to bring to light lost art. This is the reason for the stacks of CDs surrounding me and the dual-deck CD burner crunching through old and obscure discs.

It would be ridiculous to think anyone could give a complete retrospective on a genre; what you'll get here is a large cross-section of music which came before, during, and after shoegaze -- a term still disliked by many who were fans of the sound (including myself). However, as the liner notes to Feedback To The Future said, it helps to put a name to the music.

There was a lot of real crap that came out under the guise of shoegaze -- I am going to try leave most of that out. Much like Madchester - a genre with which it shares some bands and parallels of influence - shoegaze, once defined, became entirely too self-referential and self-serving. It burnt itself out, with most of the bands going on to produce subsequent, sub-par albums through the '90s (see Lush, Ride, and eventually Spiritualized).

Shoegaze got it's name from the live shows put on by My Bloody Valentine, Ride, and a couple other seminal artists in the genre. In each case - whether the result of shyness, musical ineptness, or a consciously adopted attitude - the bands would play, heads down, as the sound of feedback and distortion washed over the crowds. As time wore on, the live shows changed - not so much staring at the ground anymore - but the name stuck. If someone would like to offer an alternative genre title, I'd be all over that, but this is what we have for now: shoegaze.


Tracking the history of a genre is never easy -- you can go back as far as you want. But for the sake of brevity, and my sanity, I'm going to start in the late '70s and early '80s in New York, with Glenn Branca. Yes, I am glossing over the obvious influences of Phil Spector (who coined the production term, "Wall Of Sound"), Brian Eno, The Velvet Underground, Can, Wire, Suicide, and Television. We're starting with Glenn Branca, and more specifically, with The Ascension -- his second album.

Listening to these - Branca's post-Static/Theoretical Girls guitar-based compositions - one can hear echoes of what Kevin Shields would eventually produce as My Bloody Valentine -- intentional or not. Around the time The Ascension was released, Branca solicited the help of guitarist, Thurston Moore. Lee Ranaldo, who was already playing with Branca, would team up with Moore to form Sonic Youth.

Glenn Branca - The Ascension
Glenn Branca - Light Fields (In Consonsance)
My Bloody Valentine - Touched

Moore and Ranaldo began their decades-long collaboration as Sonic Youth, with a clear nod to Branca's idiosyncratic song-writing. Of course, their path took them in a completely different direction; while still noisy, the music they eventually produced was far from shoegaze. It is only on their first, self-titled EP that such a clear line can be drawn to Branca (excluding side-projects, of course).

Sonic Youth - The Good And The Bad
Sonic Youth - I Dreamed I Dream

END PART 1 (Next: The Jesus & Mary Chain, Joy Division, Spacemen 3)