The Revival of Shoegaze

Photo by Vlada Stark and julie

By Vlada Stark

Shoegaze is a palpable experience. 

Surging distorted riffs melt with obscured lucid vocals. The ripple of pure sound swells into an echoing downpour. Every element of you, both physical and metaphysical, reverberates as the intensifying wave of warped sound crashes into you. When the music finally ceases, and the euphoric wave disperses, all that is left is the impression of transcendent noise. 

The genre is both an auditory and physical trip. 

History

Surfacing in the late ‘80s in England and Ireland, shoegaze is a culmination of the alternative rock genres of psychedelia, post-punk, and indie. Notable musical influences include Sonic Youth, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Velvet Underground. Shoegaze groups relied deeply on effects such as tremolo, delay  and reverse reverb to produce the otherworldly distortion that is a signature of the genre. Recreating such a manufactured sound live required artists to tediously focus on the effect pedals, forcing them to gaze down at their shoes rather than the live audience for most of the performance. Thus, critics coined the term “shoegaze” to describe the detached still style of live performances 

Albeit a niche genre, acts such as the Cocteau Twins, Slowdive, and Lush gained traction in the early ‘90s as both the musical and social scene of shoegaze expanded past the marine borders of Great Britain. However, the most defining release of ‘90s shoegaze was my bloody valentine’s sophomore album Loveless (1991). The experimental pink haze of dream-like sound that encapsulates the album quickly became scripture. Critics hailed Loveless as one of the best releases of the ‘90s and emerging shoegaze groups cited the album as the blueprint for their own unique aesthetic. Kevin Shields, the vocalist and guitarist of my bloody valentine, meticulously perfected the album to fit his ultimate vision of  “an amazing physical experience, a real transcendent experience.” Although my bloody valentine disbanded shortly after the release of Loveless, the album continues on as a remarkable landmark for all genres of alternative rock. 

Only a few weeks before Loveless’ release, Nirvana’s sophomore album, Nevermind, ushered in a worldwide grunge phenomenon with its release. Almost as rapidly as it rose, shoegaze dissipated as the sludgy sound of grunge took center stage. Still, the influence of shoegaze would continue globally for decades to come.

Revival

Like the distorted waves of the genre’s music, shoegaze has been rippling in and out of popular influence for the past few decades. However, with the rise of shoegaze sub-genres combined with global nostalgia for ‘90s music, shoegaze may just have a prodigal revival. 

Although not a sub-genre, shoegaze’s influence in Japan has remained steady after the fall of the genre in the west. The fuzzy blend of sonic haze and Japan’s jazz-influenced rock cooks an intoxicating mellow flavored sound. Founded in the 2000’s, Coaltar Of The Deepers lays shoegaze as the foundation of their music and constructs each album with a variety of genres. Later groups, such as my dead girlfriend and Uchu Nekoko, can be better defined by the term “Bliss Rock.” Bliss Rock meshes the sister genres of shoegaze and dream-pop to form a lucid style of slow alternative rock. While Japan may be more internationally known for more mild rock, shoegaze’s influence has also crept into heavier genres as heard in CQ’s track “Primal” off their 2016 album, Communication, Cultural, Curiosity Quotient

The merging of heavier genres, such as metal, and the effect-heavy transcendent noise of shoegaze is not unprecedented. Deftones, a nu-metal band known for the extensive influences on their work, played with the distortion of shoegaze in tracks such as “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)” and “Minerva.” However, the unique sound failed to reach a substantive audience until the success of Deafhaven’s 2013 album Sunbather. Sunbather cemented “Blackgaze”, a fusion genre of black metal’s acidic musical elements to shoegaze’s gauzy soundscape. Outside of Deafhaven’s success, blackgaze remains a relatively novel and underground music scene, though the innovativeness of the blackgaze’s parent genres allows for substantial creative evolution. 

Apart from the aforementioned sub-genres, this past decade saw the arrival of even more obscure sub-genres branching from shoegaze’s revival. Doom-gaze, punk-gaze, noise-gaze can all be generally labeled under the umbrella of nu-gaze. Numerous acts such as They Are Gutting a Body of Water, Slow Crush, Glare, etc, are expanding the genre’s limits during this surfacing experimental renaissance. 

An act I have long been following, julie, is an up-and-coming band from Los Angeles, California. Symbolized by the mythical character “Macy,” Alex Brady, Keyan Pourzand, and Dillon Decapua concoct a distinctive atmosphere influenced by shoegaze, twee-indie, and noise-pop. Their first single, “flutter,” is a murky track with an organized yet chaotic structure that instantly draws the listener into craving more of julie’s aesthetic. Their next two singles, “kit” and “starjump”  follow the shoegazey fundamentals of “flutter,” but diverge with noticeable twee-pop influences such as Mad Planets and Henry’s Dress. Pushing daisies, julie’s latest release, is a raw portrait of julie’s potential as an addictive experimental sonic group. 

Thankfully, julie and their community is lovely, and I was able to do julie and fan Q&As. 

Julie Q&A

Your first single, “flutter,” has been blowing up lately! How does it feel to have a growing number of fans? Did you expect julie to thrive so much when you guys first formed?

julie: It’s hard to grasp the scale of how big the song has gotten… feels bizarre & lots of opportunities have arisen from it, but also nothing big has changed in our day-to-day lives just yet. We never expected or even wanted it to get so much attention… all we wanted was at least 1,000 streams so it didn’t look lame on Spotify haha.

Your EP, pushing daisies, was released in August. How was it to create the EP during quarantine? Did the solitude foster or hinder your creativity?

julie: Creating the EP during the pandemic was interesting—writing was nice because everything/everyone was at home so it wasn’t too hard to meet up. We had more time to discover new music + [plus] write on our own since everything was shut down. Recording was basically normal, we just kept masks on the whole time and it was all okay.

Some say that shoegaze is making a comeback, while others say the sound has never left. Which opinion do you agree with? What is it about shoegaze that’s so captivating to younger audiences?

Keyan: I think it definitely is making a comeback. Of course, alternative music, in general, has definitely taken inspiration after the fact, but, locally speaking, we are seeing a lot more talk about the genre itself.

Alex: I think shoegaze is so captivating to younger audiences because of its catchy melodies folded into immersive, distorted guitar-based rhythms. It’s pop-inspired but still feels cool to listen to. It can also be super hypnotic, especially at loud volumes, which I think younger listeners really enjoy.

Are there any contemporary artists you guys have been taking inspiration from sound-wise? julie: Some of our favorite contemp. [contemporary] artists in the local scene who we are definitely inspired by are Momma, Hello Mary, Pretty Sick, They Are Gutting a Body of Water, and MILLY <3.

The character Macy, and the corresponding art, is also a focal point of julie’s aesthetic. Do you have any visual artists you take inspiration from?

Dillon: I take inspiration from a couple visual artists, I was really huge on artists like Yoshitomo Nara and Yoshitoshi ABe in terms of aesthetics and character design. More recently, however, I’ve been into smaller contemporary artists I’ve stumbled upon such as @tyulen_6 and @ochiaishohei.

Keyan: For some of our graphics/posters and other currently unreleased work, we take inspo [inspiration] from late ‘90s & early 2k UX/graphic designers (ex. ps2, dataplay, gundam), as well as cyber aesthetics as a whole.

What are your ambitions for julie. What about your other projects such as xela fella?

Keyan: Ambitions for julie lie purely in growing the band as a collective. Sort of a driving force in creating a world in which the julie aesthetic can live, by means of art and different mediums of design, whether that be industrial/product, game, set, etc,.

Alex: Xela fella has been my solo work since I was about 15, so I always come back to it when I write more personal music that doesn’t really apply to julie. The recent EP was my first time working w [with] a band for xela and I think I’ll continue to write with them when the opportunity arises! But lots of focus on julie for now.

Fan Q&A

What is it about the genre of shoegaze, as well as its revival branches, that appeals to you? Do you have any song recommendations to get into the genre?

Charlie Quintanilla (Instagram @chr1ie): Shoegaze for me carries many of the characteristics that make rock music so enjoyable and takes it to space. Shoegaze can be unforgivably loud and distorted yet maintain an ethereal attitude. Vocals and guitars usually lay in a sea of reverb that leaves enough space for you to think about whatever. It’s the perfect genre for daydreamers in that way. Shoegaze isn’t limited to slow and dreamy sounds, a lot of newer bands like Julie and Narrow Head keep it aggressive and fast-paced, which feels like a youthful way of breathing life into the genre, and it’s my personal favorite style of shoegaze. For people wanting to get into the genre, I’d recommend “Blown a Wish” by my bloody valentine, it’s every bit as dreamy and emotional as it is noisy and busy. Narrow Head’s “Stuttering Stanley” and julie’s “kit” both kind of exemplify the feelings of our generation in lockdown through their own respective take on the genre.

Raphaël Edde (Instagram @rraphaide): One of the main aspects of shoegaze that appeals to me is its variety and how bands take different elements from the genre to form their own original sound while still remaining in shoegaze. People tend to hear the word shoegaze and instantly think my bloody valentine, which is awesome because it is a great band who largely contributed to what the genre is, but people stick to that sound (loud fuzzy guitar, loud drum cymbals, melancholic riff, washed-out/reverbed vocals) when defining the entire genre even though it’s more than just fuzz and delay pedals. For example, some bands take on a heavier/post-hardcore sound, some others are more experimental with influences from industrial to noise music, some stick to the classic mbv sound. The genre is so diverse (as are most genres) that it’s impossible to name all of its branches.

I’d recommend listening to some of the older “classics” to maybe get an idea of what the genre originally sounded like (my bloody valentine, Slowdive) but I personally mostly listen to the newer stuff. “Texas Instruments” by They Are Gutting a Body of Water has been a favorite of mine this past year. They’re a great band and have some cool experimental tracks on their Destiny XL album; definitely worth a listen. Julie is also an amazing band, they don’t have that many releases so I’d say go listen to their entire discography (“daisy pusher” is a personal favorite and their debut single “flutter” is a classic in my eyes). Finally, my all-time favorite band in the genre is called Greet Death (named after an Explosions In The Sky song that you should definitely check out). They’re a heavy shoegaze band with lyrics that make you want to crawl into a hole and stay there forever. “Circles of Hell” is my favorite song of theirs, but here are all of their songs that are worth a listen in my opinion: The ENTIRE New Hell album (particularly “Circles of Hell,” “You’re Gonna Hate What You’ve Done” and “New Hell”), “Cumbersome,” “Sheets of White,” followed by “Bow,” “Valediction,” “Again” and finally “In Heaven.” They’re releasing a new album of which two tracks are already released (‘I Hate Everything’ and ‘Your Love is Alcohol”). They’re great tracks that are worth checking out, but they don’t fit into the shoegaze genre as well as all of their previous releases.

Sen (Instagram @senecca.salameh): When I listen to shoegaze, I often feel indescribable emotions. I love how unique it is. I love how it utilizes such specific aspects that completely transform into something else altogether once combined. I love when I’m able to fall backwards endlessly into music and get lost within it, up to the point of delusion.

To speak on Julie, it’s been a privilege to be able to call them my friends. I’ve watched them grow from the beginning and every time I’m able to see them live…it makes my heart so full. I’m truly proud of them, especially for creating their own sound to which I find incomparable to anything else. My favorite Julie song from the new EP might be “lochness.” I love all of their songs, but if I had to choose it would definitely be that one. Whenever I listen to it, it takes me somewhere else and it feels like I’m standing within the eye of the storm…euphoric.

I’m excited to see where things go from here and I’m even more excited to hear what they come up with. It’s bound to be amazing… you could even call something like that predetermined. 

As for a song rec [recommendations] to get into the genre, I’ve been heavily enjoying “Linda Claire” by Fleshwater (my super cool friend Vlada recommended this song to me.. recognize the name? haha). When I listen to this song, I go somewhere far away and, once again, fall endlessly into the noise that surrounds me. I’m super excited to hear new music from them. A few more I might recommend would be “Jeremy Parker” by Swirlies, or “Too Much Fun” by Starflyer 59, or even “Relay” by Trauma Ray…listen to any of these in your car or your headphones with the volume all the way up. You won’t regret it, I promise. 

see you, 

senecca

Martin Montoya (Instagram @hijosdelcutlo): Admittedly, I had never listened to shoegaze prior to like 2019 when I first discovered Julie on a random day thanks to Spotify recommendations. So, my introduction to shoegaze really has been this sort of new-age revival of it. But something I really love is how well bands have sort of mastered the dreamy sound aspects of the genre. It’s brain-numbing in the best way. With haunting vocals, whirling guitars, and the sound of distant bass drums it all combines to create something almost therapeutic for me. I can just lay down in bed and stare at the ceiling, allowing my mind to drift with the music, creating visuals and daydreams with the music serving as the canvas. It’s also just been very exciting to see new bands spring up, being [a] witness and, in a way, being a part of the revival. I can really see it all breaking into the mainstream, and that would be very exciting.

Some songs I’d recommend: “Estrella Fugaz” by Señor Kino (if you really want that dreamy sound), “Wonder” by Bedroom Eyes (if you’re looking for something more MBV) or “o ar meus pulmões” by sonhos tonam conta (if you want something reminiscent of screamo/emo).

All artists mentioned in the main article and the Q&As have been curated into a playlist for you to experience! 

Listen to “The Revival of Shoegaze “ playlist here

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s