Younger Clash readers might be wondering what all the fuss about the return of 1990s shoegaze outfit Slowdive is about. And sure enough, it’s tempting just to dismiss the inquisition with a line like: you had to be there. Or: you wouldn’t get it. Because we’re old, those of us who remember. Our patience isn’t quite what it once was.
But why should any music be locked away, kept from future generations? Granted, a lot of what was happening around the domestic emergence of the Reading five-piece, in tandem with the grunge invasion from the US – a period before Britpop took hold, where guitars could still scream from speakers while possessed by strange melodies – was dross that need never be dredged. Few are crying out for a Moose reformation (sorry, Moose) – though more than some seem keen on a Ride reunion, given Andy Bell’s present calling.
Yet Slowdive, who spilt in 1995 after just six years together, always seemed somehow more… mysterious. Mystical, and magical. Other m-words that imply a sense of being special without, y’know, getting too big for their own boots. They’ve inspired entire tribute albums, films and their accompanying scores, been sampled by Lil B and covered by Beach Fossils.
Perhaps they existed in the shadow of My Bloody Valentine to some, but hindsight being the blessing, and curse, that it is, it’s easy to hear how well their three albums – ‘Just For A Day’ (1991), the majestic ‘Souvlaki’ (another m-word, 1993) and ‘Pygmalion’ (1995) – stand up beside psychedelic revivalists and dream-pop purveyors of the present day. Whisper it, but there’s arguably more detail and depth to these recordings than Kevin Shields and company, also signed to Creation, achieved in the same period.
But don’t just take Clash’s word for the worthiness of Slowdive, as our enthusiasm for the band’s return – they play London’s Village Underground on May 19th and Primavera Sound in Barcelona later the same month – is shared by many. Granted, some of those positively delirious about the band’s return are edging close to a free bus pass these days – but listen to your elders, kids, as every now and then you might bloody well learn something, over the din of all those computer games and legal highs.
One (relative) elder (really) excited about Slowdive’s comeback is Robin Allport, the brains behind the shoegaze-centric club and label, AC30. Being the obvious expert he is on such musical fare, Clash went and asked him for some words. And words, he did send us…
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‘Alison’, from ‘Souvlaki’ (1993)
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1990, I was 17.
I was spending a lot of time in London because my brother was managing a band called The Telescopes, and had a fledgling record label called Cheree Records. I loved The Telescopes – all that anger and noise. They sold out ULU at the beginning of the year topping a bill that included Kitchens Of Distinction. What would I give to see that show again.
I can’t really remember if ‘shoegaze’ was a term that was being used at that point. My Bloody Valentine were riding the small wave of success that came with signing to Creation and releasing ‘Isn’t Anything’. It was 18 months or so before ‘Loveless’, Ride began releasing their EPs on Creation, my brother was releasing EPs by Bark Psychosis and Whipping Boy. Around that time a demo arrived at Cheree by a band called Slowdive. From Reading, three tracks. The first two sounded like lightweight, MBV ‘Strawberry Wine’ period, but the third track, ‘Avalyn’. It was wonderful, slow and beautiful, we played it all the time.
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‘Avalyn, I & II’
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My brother called them and offered them a show at the Camden Falcon, supporting Whipping Boy – the first UK show for Whipping Boy, actually. Slowdive were rubbish that night, to be fair, but that one song, ‘Avalyn’, it just stuck in our heads.
Not long after this, the band signed to Creation, whose roster at the time was ridiculously good: My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Swervedriver, The House Of Love, Teenage Fanclub, The Boo Radleys and so on. By the time their first album came out, following three increasingly well-received EPs (the first including ‘Avalyn’ on the B-side), the whole ‘shoegaze’ scene was at its height, and they were sat firmly on the top of it.
Slowdive’s finest output however, came a long time after this. By 1993 things had moved on. In the UK Suede had arrived, and we were on the brink of Britpop. Slowdive released the incredible ‘Souvlaki’ album to almost complete indifference. And yet this is a record that, after 20 years, still sounds magnificent. It stands huge among the other giants of the early and mid-‘90s, and it’s because of this that Slowdive are still completely relevant today.
‘Pygmalion’ followed in ‘95, sounding like an album by another band; a more sparse, spaced out version of Slowdive. At the time I remember being mildly disappointed on first listen, until the song ‘Blue Skied An’ Clear’ bloomed towards the end of the album, as if the previous songs were just building to that point. Like ‘Souvlaki’ before it, ‘Pygmalion’ just gets better with age, and is easily one of my favourites of the decade. However, the press at the time didn’t think so, and shortly after its release Slowdive were dropped by Creation.
The current burgeoning interest in shoegaze or psych or noise, or whatever you want to call it, harks back to those bands I loved and the whole legacy that came before them. You could draw a line: from the Velvets, 13th Floor Elevators, through Suicide, Can, Hawkwind, straight to Cocteau Twins, The Jesus And Mary Chain; then my era, Spacemen 3, Loop, The Telescopes, Ride, Slowdive, Chapterhouse, Swervedriver; slap bang into the current crop of bands playing the various psych fests worldwide.
But, for me, back in 1991, there were three or four important bands in the original shoegaze scene: Ride, Slowdive, Chapterhouse and Lush. Thankfully, with time and context comes a chance to enjoy it all again.
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‘Morningrise’ (1991), featured on the 2005 reissue of ‘Just For A Day’
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Words: Robin Allport