Shoegazing (or shoegaze, initially referred to as "dream pop") is a subgenre of indie and alternative rock that emerged in the United Kingdom in the late 1980s. It is characterized by its ethereal-sounding mixture of obscured vocals, guitar distortion and effects, feedback, and overwhelming volume. The term shoegazing was coined by the British music press to describe the stage presence of a wave of neo-psychedelic groups who stood still during live performances in a detached, introspective, non-confrontational state with their heads down. This was because the heavy use of effects pedals meant the performers were often looking down at the readouts on their pedals during concerts.
Most shoegazing artists drew from the glide guitar template set by My Bloody Valentine on their early EPs and album Isn't Anything from the late 1980s. A loose label given to the shoegazing bands and other affiliated bands in London in the early 1990s was The Scene That Celebrates Itself. In the early 1990s, shoegazing groups were pushed aside by the American grunge movement and early Britpop acts such as Suede, forcing the relatively unknown bands to break up or reinvent their style altogether. In the 2000s, there was renewed interest in the genre among "Nu gaze" bands.
Shoegazing combines ethereal, swirling vocals with layers of distorted, bent, flanged guitars, creating a wash of sound where no instrument is distinguishable from another. According to Allmusic, most bands drew from the music of My Bloody Valentine as a template for the genre. The band's co-founder Kevin Shields stated that the band's choice of pedals never included chorus, flanger or delay effects. His most notable effect was reverse digital reverb, sourced from a Yamaha SPX90 effects unit. Together with the vibrato manipulation and distortion, he created a technique known as "glide guitar". Shields used at least 30 effects pedals, most of which were distortion, graphic equalizers, and tone controls.
The term originated in a concert review in Sounds for the newly formed band Moose in which singer Russell Yates read lyrics taped to the floor throughout the gig. The term was picked up by NME, who used it as a reference to the tendency of the bands' guitarists to stare at their feet--or their effects pedals--while playing, seemingly deep in concentration. Melody Maker preferred calling it "The Scene That Celebrates Itself", referring to the habit that the bands had of attending gigs of other shoegazing bands, often in Camden, and often playing in each other's bands. According to AllMusic: "The shatteringly loud, droning neo-psychedelia the band performed was dubbed shoegaze by the British press because the band members stared at the stage while they performed". According to some, the term was used to describe dream pop bands.
I always thought Robert Smith, when he was in Siouxsie and the Banshees playing guitar [on the 1983's Nocturne live video], 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 shite. [...] I am glad we were static and concentrated on playing well. Now it is a positive term.
The term was also considered pejorative, especially by a part of the English weekly music press who considered the movement as ineffectual, and it was disliked by many of the groups it purported to describe. Lush's singer Miki Berenyi explained: "Shoegazing was originally a slag-off term. My partner [K.J. "Moose" McKillop], who was the guitarist in Moose, claims that it was originally leveled at his band. Apparently the journo was referring to the bank of effects pedals he had strewn across the stage that he had to keep staring at in order to operate. And then it just became a generic term for all those bands that had a big, sweeping, effects-laden sound, but all stood resolutely still on stage".Ride's singer Mark Gardener had another take on his group's static presentation: "We didn't want to use the stage as a platform for ego ... We presented ourselves as normal people, as a band who wanted their fans to think they could do that too."
The most commonly cited precursors to shoegaze are Cocteau Twins, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and My Bloody Valentine, although My Bloody Valentine's Loveless is often referred to as the greatest album the genre has produced. Each band's music bridged the styles of garage rock, 1960s psychedelia and American indie bands like Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth. Other artists that have been identified as direct influences on shoegaze include The Velvet Underground, Hüsker Dü, and The Cure.Siouxsie and the Banshees was also a major influence initially on Cocteau Twins. Slowdive named themselves after a Siouxsie and the Banshees song of the same name and took inspiration from the group at their beginnings. Lush, a shoegaze contemporary, were originally called "The Baby Machines", a line from a Siouxsie lyric.
My Bloody Valentine emerged in the wake of their 1988 breakthrough (with the "You Made Me Realise" single and album Isn't Anything).The Trouser Press Guide to '90s Rock mentions that "A.R. Kane, the London duo ... (who dubbed their music 'dreampop') exerted a profound sonic influence on the legion of trippy shoegazer guitar bands that would emerge a few years later in the UK". Michael Azerrad's book Our Band Could Be Your Life cited an early 1990s Dinosaur Jr. tour of the United Kingdom as a key influence.
Whereas contemporary alternative rock movements of the time period were extremely male-dominated (Britpop, grunge), My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Lush, Cocteau Twins, and many other popular shoegaze acts had at least one prominent female musician who contributed key vocal elements and/or integral writing components to the music. Kevin Shields noted that there were as many women as men in the shoegaze community.
A general description given to shoegaze and other affiliated bands in London in the early 1990s was The Scene That Celebrates Itself. The first stirrings of recognition came when indie writer Steve Lamacq referred to Ride in an NME review as "The House of Love with chainsaws". The shoegaze genre label was quite often misapplied. As key bands such as Slowdive, Chapterhouse and Ride emerged from the Thames Valley, Swervedriver found themselves labelled shoegazers on account of their own Thames Valley origins, despite their more pronounced Hüsker Dü-meets-Stooges stylings.
The coining of the term "The Scene That Celebrates Itself" was in many ways the beginning of the end for the first wave of shoegazers. The bands became perceived by critics as over-privileged, self-indulgent, and middle-class. This perception was in sharp contrast with both the bands who formed the wave of newly commercialized grunge music which was making its way across the Atlantic, as well as those bands who formed the foundation of Britpop, such as Pulp, Oasis, Blur and Suede.Britpop also offered intelligible lyrics, often about the trials and tribulations of working-class life; this was a stark contrast to the "vocals as an instrument" approach of the shoegazers, which often prized the melodic contribution of vocals over their lyrical depth. Lush's final album was an abrupt shift from shoegazing to Britpop, which alienated many fans; the 1996 suicide of their drummer signaled Lush's dissolution. Following a long gap from My Bloody Valentine since Loveless, aside from their 2008 reunion tour, the band released m b v in February 2013. Shields explained their silence by noting, "I never could be bothered to make another record unless I was really excited by it."
Slowdive eventually morphed into the country-infused Mojave 3 and the dream pop Monster Movie, while other shoegaze bands either split or moved in other directions. The use of electronic dance and ambient elements by bands such as Slowdive and Seefeel paved the way for later developments in post-rock and electronica. Several former members of shoegaze bands later moved towards post-rock and the more electronica-based trip hop.Adam Franklin of Swervedriver released lo-fi albums under the moniker Toshack Highway.
While shoegaze briefly flared and then faded out in the UK, the bands of the initial wave had an immense impact on the development of regional underground and college rock scenes in the US. In particular, a Lush and Ride tour of the US in 1991 directly inspired the spawning of American shoegaze groups including Half String and Ozean.. Columnist Emma Sailor of KRUI in Iowa City opines:
The insularity and introversion of British shoegaze was an intention[al] backlash against their country's mainstream. But when the shoegaze sound was exported to America, it arrived unattached from the cultural context that originally prompted its gloomy moods. The result? American indie bands gave shoegaze an entirely new image. Where the sound once was tightly linked with introversion, it was now attached to summery, outward looking songs with a focus on celebrating youth.
About DC-based Velocity Girl's 1991 single "My Forgotten Favorite," Sailor goes on to note, "Could anything be more different -- and yet so similar -- to [Slowdive]? The hazy [production] and dreamy, high pitched female vocals are there, but the outlook is entirely different." Other notable American shoegaze influenced bands of the early- to mid-1990s included Lilys, The Swirlies, The Veldt, and Medicine.
A resurgence of the genre began in the late 1990s (particularly in the United States) and the early 2000s, that helped usher in what is now referred to as the "nu gaze" era. Also various heavy metal acts were inspired by shoegaze, which contributed to the emergence of "post-metal" and "metalgaze" styles. Particularly in the mid-2000s, French black metal acts Alcest and Amesoeurs began incorporating shoegaze elements into their sound, pioneering the blackgaze genre.
The full extent of their pioneering guitar manipulation - responsible for a whole scene of "shoegaze" musical admirers, stand up Ride, Moose, Lush etc., etc., ...
...the recent trend for combining metal's sense of threat with the immersive idyll of shoegazing is undeniable, and only one aspect of the ongoing cross-pollination taking place in extreme music. For his part, r views the 'metalgaze' movement as less entropic than cyclical.