For too long, shoegaze was a term of abuse.
Not surprising, really, as it began as a negative description – it was Andy Ross from Food Records’ put-down of Moose, repeated in print in the NME by Steve Lamacq. However, in America and elsewhere in the world, it was seen as merely an adjective, a genre even, and so it continued long after it had been swept away by grunge and then Britpop over here.
Now, however, things have come full circle. A whole new generation of bands are growing up and discovering the delights of shoegaze with an open mind, free of negative connotations. That’s why Sonic Cathedral – the shoegaze club that grew into a label currently gearing up for its 10th single – has every reason to celebrate themselves with this top 10 of shoegaze tracks old and new.
Slowdive – Catch The Breeze
The five-piece from Reading were, for some inexplicable reason, the recipients of the fiercest criticism – Richey Edwards from the Manic Street Preachers once even claimed to hate them “more than Hitler”. Strange, then, that their only crime was to make beautiful records which sound even better now than they did then. This song, to me, sums up everything Sonic Cathedral is about - it’s music that overwhelms the senses.
Ulrich Schnauss – A Letter From Home
This track – from Ulrich’s second album, 2003’s ‘A Strangely Isolated Place’ – has the same effect on me as Slowdive. However, instead of a three-guitar onslaught, this melancholic machine music is just one man from Kiel, northern Germany, and a computer. He’s the perfect example of a contemporary artist taking the inspiration of the original shoegaze bands and transporting it somewhere else entirely. Incredible.
My Bloody Valentine – Slow
Yes, of course 1991’s ‘Loveless’ is the undisputed, otherworldly classic, but this track from MBV’s first release for Creation Records (a 1988 EP that also contained the now notorious ‘You Made Me Realise’) was the one where Kevin Shields discovered the tremolo arm on his Fender Jazzmaster. The result is that woozy, string-bending sound that makes you feel simultaneously superhuman and also a bit seasick.
Japancakes – Touched (Ricardo Tobar Mix)
This was one side of the ninth single on Sonic Cathedral. Japancakes, a post-rock collective from Athens, Georgia, controversially covered the whole of MBV’s ‘Loveless’ last year, but this remix, courtesy of Border Community-signed Chilean electrogazer Tobar, takes Colm O’Ciosoig’s weird 56-second sound collage and turns it into six minutes of Balearic beats. Appropriate, as back in 1990, Andrew Weatherall’s remix of ‘Soon’ was a dancefloor classic.
Ride – Vapour Trail
Ending with a mournful cello, this track closed Ride’s 1990 debut album ‘Nowhere’ in some style. It was proof that, as well as making a lot of noise, Oxford’s very own fab four could also write incredible pop songs, but perhaps one of the best things about this track is Loz Colbert’s drumming. I’ve never heard such musical drumming in a song; when he crashes in with the extra three hits as the song reaches its climax, it’s stunning. Truly, the Keith Moon of shoegaze.
Chapterhouse – Pearl
If Loz Colbert was the Keith Moon, then the John Bonham of shoegaze was, er, John Bonham. Yes, this classic of the genre features the crashing beat from the Zep’s ‘When The Levee Breaks’ behind a glorious tune that can only be described as ‘blissed out’. For extra scene that celebrates itself value, Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell pitches in with backing vocals towards the end.
Engineers – 3 Fact Fader
This is the title track of Engineers’ unreleased second album, which is one of those records destined for ‘great lost album’ status. Their self-titled debut from 2005 was an amazingly well crafted mix of classic shoegaze influences with ‘Spirit Of Eden’-era Talk Talk. Sadly, the second album – produced by Sigur Rós knob-twiddler Ken Thomas – got lost thanks to record company politics.
Bowery Electric – Fear Of Flying
This New York band formed in 1993 and were proof that shoegaze influences were alive and well across the Atlantic. Taking Weatherall’s ‘Soon’ remix as a blueprint, this track is taken from their 1997 album ‘Beat’, released on Chicago’s wonderful Kranky Records, and welds celestial guitar drones to huge hip-hop beats.
Deerhunter – Octet
Ten years after that Bowery Electric album, Kranky are still pushing the boundaries with the likes of Stars Of The Lid and Deerhunter, whose mainman Bradford Cox is someone else who has clearly soaked up the original influences and takes them somewhere else entirely. Deerhunter’s debut ‘Cryptograms’, where this track can be found, plus the accompanying EP ‘Fluorescent Grey’ are incredible records and it’s no surprise that Cox’s solo project, Atlas Sound, was released in the UK by 4AD.
M83 - We Own The Sky (Maps Mix)
Last, but not least, another single on Sonic Cathedral. The original can be found on Anthony Gonzalez’s latest album, the alternative soundtrack to ‘The Breakfast Club’ that is ‘Saturdays=Youth’, but this remix by Maps mainman James Chapman turns the track into something genuinely strange, like My Bloody Valentine gone disco. A fitting finale and proof that there’s plenty of places this music can still go. Gaze on.