With guitar-based music on the rise, esoteric genres are making a comeback
The Santa Clara
February 15, 2018
Denim on denim, synthesizers and keyboards in pop songs, a strong emotional connection between frat boys and Hall & Oates—all the signs are there. The 80’s and 90’s are back.
And shoegaze is too.
But what the hell is shoegaze? I wasn’t sure either—and it seems that’s the way shoegazers like it. The genre’s main players are notoriously opposed to publicity, preferring to focus on their music rather than their image. The term shoegaze is a reference to the usual position of the musicians during their shows – staring down at their guitars and the dozens of effects pedals that make the shoegaze sound possible. To the average audience member, the musicians might seem to be just staring down at their shoes.
Still, somehow shoegaze’s influence is everywhere. Major organizations such as Vice, the Guardian, and the Independent have all be examining the revival of shoegaze and the rise of shoegaze-influences music in modern rock. Award-winning bands today such as The 1975 and Tame Impala feature stylistic choices in their music that are influenced by shoegaze.
“It lurks in the crunch of every distortion pedal, the drone of every fuzzy guitar riff, the hues of every mumbled melody,” music and culture writer Alexandra Pollard said in the Guardian.
The genre is known for its signature “wall of sound,” where no instrument or vocal track is particularly prominent, as pioneered by sound engineer and convicted murderer Phil Spector in the 60s and revived during the rise and fall of shoegaze in the late 80s and early 90s. “This music is, above all else, a place to explore the outer limits of guitar texture,” according to music publication Pitchfork. To create their unique sound, shoegaze artists use a wide range of effects pedals, both in the studio and at live shows. Combined with a general air of what could be either shyness or aloofness, these pedals make shoegaze an essential genre for today’s musically inclined audience.
It can be difficult for a new listener to get into the genre. After all, shoegaze is intentionally shy and obscure. For a dedicated listener, however, a background in shoegaze can unlock an entirely new understanding of how modern rock got its sound.
Here are a few good places to start listening:
1.The Jesus and Mary Chain – “Just Like Honey”
While not necessarily considered shoegaze, The Jesus and Mary Chain was hugely influential on the genre’s formation. They pioneered the use of massive walls of pedals to create unique sounds and textures in their music.
“Just Like Honey” is their biggest hit. Its slow tempo and crunchy guitar over simple drums is clearly influenced by the goth movement of the 80s (think Joy Division or The Cure).
2. Moose – “Love On The Dole”
This one is a bit soft-rock god Mac Demarco-esque, or what some might call “chillwave” music. “Love On The Dole” is similar to “Just Like Honey” in that it shares the other track’s fuzzy guitar and subtle vocals, but is unique in its feature of an acoustic guitar and a funky drum beat.
To me, “Love on the Dole” invokes images of lazy afternoons with your friends listening to relaxing music, maybe next to a lake somewhere.
3. My Bloody Valentine – “Only Shallow”
My Bloody Valentine is probably the best example of the “wall of sound” concept. Their sound is a bit more grungy. “Only Shallow,” one of their bigger hits, opens with quick drum fill and a roaring mass of distorted guitar.
More musically interesting (and not linked in this article due to its lack of mass appeal) is the band’s live rendition of their song “You Made Me Realise.” During My Bloody Valentine’s reunion tour in 2008, which included an appearance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, the band introduced what they call the “holocaust” version of “You Made Me Realise” as an ending to their set. This version has a 10 to 30+ minute outro that crescendos into a wall of pure noise that can reach up to 130 decibels.
The Internet has made subgenres of music easily accessible to those who seek them out. Hopefully, this shift in the distribution of music will allow more success for genres outside the realm of pop to develop international cult followings.
Contact Ethan Beberness at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.