Want Some Shoegaze Artist Recommendations? 5 Songs To Get You Started
This article was written by The Zillennial Zine’s fall editorial intern Celeste MacMurray. Find her on Instagram at @clsmsanchezx. If you would like to share an article with The Zillennial, send us an email at email@example.com.
Otherworldly, dream-like, softly intense—all of these are ways that shoegaze is typically described. The name may be one you’re unfamiliar with as it’s an unusual combination of words, but the genre comes with a long history. If you’re here you’ve probably heard of the genre and want to learn more about it and find more artists to listen to. If that’s the case, we’ve got you covered. Let’s jump right in.
Shoegaze is a genre that developed in the UK in the late 80s and early 90s. It was categorized by its distorted sound, heavily layered instruments and vocals, delay and reverb and lots of experimentation with textures. The guitar, bass and drums are the most important instruments within a shoegaze song and are the main ones you will hear. The vocals in shoegaze are sometimes also deemphasized and drowned out by the instrumental, but not always. Shoegaze was developing around the same time as grunge was as both genres came from metal and alternative roots. The only difference is that shoegaze had a less intense approach to tackling the same themes as grunge while still managing to evoke the same types of visceral emotions.
Now I’m quite sure what your question of the hour might be: why is it called shoegaze? The term “shoegaze” was originally meant to be a derogatory and insulting one coined by British journalists criticizing the genre and its methods. The term aimed to mock bands for their lack of interaction with the crowd and for always staring at the ground, when really that’s what helped them create their art. In order to create the distorted and hazy sounds of the guitars in shoegaze, guitar pedals are widely used to produce them. While artists are playing, they must manipulate the pedals by their feet to create the sounds they’re going for. This requires the artists to look at their feet for a majority of their performance in order to ensure the quality of their sound. Both artists and fans of the genre understand this to be a part of the art and the experience, and neither parties mind it. Shoegaze is recognized and understood to not have loud and explosive performances as that’s exactly the atmosphere its artists and fans are looking for.
Another thing the genre was criticized for by the press was being a “scene that celebrates itself” due to how highly supportive artists and fans were of each other. Everyone just came out to have a good time and enjoy themselves which created such a tight knit community. The scene was also known for being a very positive one and had more female band members than any other at the time.
Many people cite My Bloody Valentine as the band who started shoegaze and really dialed into the sound. While they are definitely a staple within the genre whose influence cannot be denied, the shoegaze sound can actually be traced back to two previous bands: Cocteau Twins and The Jesus and Mary Chain. Both bands had released albums in the early and mid-80s that exemplified the shoegaze sound and predates My Bloody Valentine’s first release in 1988. The Cocteau Twins’ 1983 album Head Over Heels and The Jesus and Mary Chain’s 1985 album Psychocandy are worthy predecessors to the genre’s creation. Later, when My Bloody Valentine released their debut album Isn’t Anything, they perfectly encapsulated and solidified the shoegaze sound. Some other popular bands during this time were Slowdive, Lush, Ride, Catherine Wheel, Pale Saints and Swervedriver to name a few.
If you’ve never heard of shoegaze or any of its iconic bands before, you may be wondering why. Most of it has to do with the genre’s decline towards the end of the 90s due to pushback from the press and record labels. Due to all the criticism the genre was facing from journalists, the genre was starting to wane and bands like Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine were starting to get dropped by their labels. Bands were either faced with two options: disband or transition over into Brit-pop because it was more profitable. Both Brit-pop and grunge had become more popular during the 90s, and by the end of the decade shoegaze faded into obscurity. That, of course, is not where the story ends as the genre faced a revitalization in the 2010s when bands Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine and Lush released new albums after decades of silence. There are new bands that are active now, too, and helping bring back visibility to the genre such as Fleeting Joys, Nothing, Whirr and Ringo Deathstarr.
To get you started on your shoegaze journey, here are five songs you should listen to as you look for your newest favorite band.
“only shallow” – my bloody valentine
“only shallow” is a soft, dreary and anxious track that fills you with dread while also calming the senses because of its beautiful sound. Its verses are unassuming and glide like silk, but when the guitar riff of the chorus kicks in you’re left with a rush of emotions. As a highly instrumental song with repeating verses, this song is shoegaze at its finest from an album that practically defined the genre.
“When the Sun Hits” – Slowdive
This song can only be described as feeling like its title’s apt description: the sun hitting your face and shining on you with all its might. The song carries a hopeful and gentle approach to its tune as it enters a percussive and touching chorus despite the saddening lyrics. Like a warm sunny day, “When the Sun Hits” comforts you with unsaid words just as much as it lights the soul on fire. I like to believe the contrast between the song’s warmth and its lyrics are an attempt to remain positive despite your worst fears or to highlight this idea of burning in the song.
“Sweetness and Light” – Lush
“Sweetness and Light” had me entranced from the very first moment. The vocals are much more subdued than the previous songs we’ve discussed and are instead made to be an instrument just as much as a guitar or bass are. Sometimes vocals aren’t as prominent within a shoegaze song and are either distorted or have added reverb, and this is a perfect example of that. This song has such an ethereal and dreamlike quality to it that you’re sure to feel like you’ve been put under a spell while you’re listening.
“OX4” – Ride
“OX4” can only be described as an artful slowburn that takes its listeners through a musical journey. The beginning of the song is entirely instrumental, meaning it must rely on its musicality, technique and composition to make us feel its emotional prowess—something it does successfully. The build up as the song transitions from quiet and introspective to the distorted crescendo into a floating and communicative piece makes you feel like you’re transforming alongside this track. The song leaves you feeling like you’ve just walked through a long tunnel and are finally making it out on the other side.
“Vertigo Flowers” – NOTHING
If you want shoegaze revival, this is what you’re looking for. In a track discussing anxiety and how overwhelming it can be, Nothing manages to capture the feeling of exhaustion that anxiety can leave you with. The track creates a fleeting feeling in your chest as it maintains a soft delivery of vocals and guitar, but the bridge marks a turning point where this all changes. This is where the guitar riffs start to intensify and shift gears into overdrive. The subtle breakdown leaves the listener grappling for more as they are taken on a wild ride through this emotional landscape.
Have any shoegaze deep cuts that are your favorite? Let us know and tell us about any underrated bands you think deserve the recognition!