What Is Shoegaze? (plus example bands, albums & songs)

What Is Shoegaze? (plus example bands, albums & songs)

Shoegaze is a genre of music that started as an insult. Well, maybe insult is too harsh, but shoegaze was originally a derogatory term. It was first used in the late 1980s by a British music journalist. Apparently the journalist went to see the band Moose perform and part of his piece describes how the vocalist spent the entire gig staring at the floor, while the guitarist spent all of his time gazing at his shoes.

Once you actually look into shoegaze, you can see why the guitarist spent all evening looking towards his shoes. Because that’s where his effect pedals were, and to create the shoegaze sound, takes a lot of continually changing effect pedals.

What Is Shoegaze?

Shoegaze is a genre of music, but it’s a genre that encompasses so many other genres. For example shoegaze is also known as any of the following; 

  • Dream Pop
  • Space rock
  • Noise Pop
  • Ethereal Wave
  • Neo Psychedelia

It’s used to describe any music that uses obscured vocals and distorted guitars using lots of effects, feedback and all consuming volume. It began in the late 1980s in the UK among certain neo psychedelic groups. The stance of the performers was usually standing motionless as if they weren’t really performing at all. 

So, with artists not engaging with their audiences whilst looking down at their effects pedals it’s easy to see why the term shoegazing became an easy, if somewhat derogatory way to describe such bands.

The music produced by these “shoegaze” bands was a big, sweeping sound full of effects and vocals that were used almost like an instrument. The words weren’t really that important, it was more about the sound which had to engulf you in an almost ethereal way.

Where Did The Term Shoegazing Originate?

A journalist for the British music magazine “Sounds” reviewed a concert by newly formed British band “Moose”. The band’s singer, Russell Yates read lyrics from a sheet of paper taped to the floor on stage all through the gig. The next appearance of the term came from another British magazine “New Musical Express (NME)”. Where it was used to describe the actions of guitarists staring at their shoes, or in actual fact their pedals while playing.

Some artists found the term to be as good a descriptive term as any other. For example Simon Scott (drummer for the band “Slowdive”) said;

”I always thought Robert Smith, when he was in Siouxsie and the Banshees playing guitar, was the coolest as he just stood there and let the music flood out. That anti showmanship was perfect so I never really understood why people began to use “shoegaze” as a negative term. I think if “Slowdive” didn’t stand there looking at what pedal was about to go on and off we’d have been sh*te”. 

Who Are Some Good Examples Of Shoegaze Bands?

Band

The band most tended to be seen as the ultimate example of a shoegaze band were “My Bloody Valentine”. Others tried to emulate their overall sound but there were plenty of other bands that had an impact on the shoegaze scene either directly or indirectly. For example bands like;

  • Cocteau Twins
  • The Jesus And Mary Chain
  • Dinosaur Jr.
  • Slowdive
  • Pale Saints

Were all seen as shoegaze bands of worth, while bands that influenced shoegaze include;

  • The Cure
  • Hüsker Dü
  • Velvet Underground

And even to some extent, Siouxsie And The Banshees, Slowdive named themselves after a Siouxsie song of the same name and the band Lush were originally called “The Baby Machines” which was a line from the lyrics of a Siouxsie song.

Shoegaze, The Friendly Bands

It was all done in a non-competitive, friendly way. With many shoegaze bands turning out to watch other shoegaze bands. Members of one shoegaze band would be playing in other shoegaze bands and all of the bands out partying and drinking together.

Certainly in the London and Thames Valley area during the early 1990s it was so evident, that music journalist Steve Sutherland (Melody Maker) even coined the phrase “the scene that celebrates itself”. Bands that were included in this “scene” included;

  • Lush
  • Moose
  • Chapterhouse
  • See See Rider
  • Stereolab
  • Thousand Yard Stare

And even Blur until they released their single “Popscene”.

What Are Some Good Examples Of Shoegaze Albums?

Some of the best examples of shoegaze albums are all from that short span of time between the late 80s to the early 90s. They include;

  • Treasure – Cocteau Twins
  • Garlands – Cocteau Twins
  • Heaven Or Las Vegas – Cocteau Twins
  • Loveless – My Bloody Valentine
  • Psychocandy – The Jesus And Mary Chain
  • Just For A Day – Slowdive
  • Souvlaki – Slowdive

With Souvlaki once described as “the definitive shoegaze statement”.

What Are Some Good Examples Of Shoegaze Songs?

Some good examples of singles sold under the shoegaze banner include;

Only Shallow – My Bloody Valentine

Just Like Honey – The Jesus And Mary Chain

Lorelei – Cocteau Twins

Alison – Slowdive

De-Luxe – Lush

The Demise Of Shoegaze

Shoegaze was a genre that seemed to slot into place as the punk era faded from obscurity to mainstream acceptance. Influenced in no small part by punk bands like Siouxsie And The Banshees with at least 2 of the bands classified under the banner of shoegaze taking their names from Siouxsie related titles.

All music trends run in stages, the early uprising with obscure artists and unknown bands pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable musically whilst being totally different to what’s come before. Then there’s the new bands hoping to emulate the sound of the obscure, which turns it from obscurity to normality. Which is when the genre starts to wane.

By the early to mid 90s shoegaze was almost over and with the advent of Grunge in the US and Britpop in the UK, shoegaze was a dying art form. Grunge was the obvious extension of shoegaze, a heavier, more, for want of a better word, grungier sound. Whereas Britpop was almost the antithesis of shoegaze.

Clean, clear lyrics, sharp cutting guitars but that’s a story for another day and another article.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is shoegaze a real genre?

Yes, shoegaze is a real genre. It refers to a distorted, ethereal sound with frequent pedal changes for the guitars and vocals that almost become an extension of the music. Bands like My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and the Cocteau Twins are great examples of shoegaze bands.

What’s the difference between dream pop and shoegaze?

The difference between shoegaze and dream pop are subtle but definitely there. Shoegaze tends to be more of a wall of sound that doesn’t let up. Whereas dream pop has more space in between which allows for melodies and countermelodies.

Why is the genre called shoegaze?

The name came about as a somewhat derogatory term by the British music press after watching a singer read lyrics taped on the floor of the stage and guitarists staring at their shoes. Although in reality the guitarists were concentrating on their effect pedals, as a lot of effect pedal changes are needed to create the wall of sound common on shoegaze tracks.

Why is shoegaze so popular?

Like all fringe musical genres, shoegaze became popular because it was different, unlike mainstream music. It features lots of distortion and exploration of sound and was different to anything else available at the time of its conception (late 80s-early 90s).

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