When I went to see My Bloody Valentine in the late 80’s at The Town And Country Club in London, I had no idea that I was witnessing one of the first proponents of “shoegaze” music. I was aware that the band stood very still and Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher spent most of the gig staring at the floor. Apparently, they were looking at the special effects pedals on the floor in order to create the correct sonics. Previously, I had seen The Cocteau Twins at The Sadlers Wells Theatre and Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde stood very still, staring at a tape recorder if they weren’t gazing at their shoes. The key elements of shoegaze music are indistinct vocals, feedback and distortion played very loudly. My favourite music in this genre includes “Sister Ray” by The Velvet Underground and several great albums by The Cure including “Pornography” and “Disintegration”.
The term “shoegaze” originated in a review of a gig by a band called Moose where the lead singer had taped the lyrics of the songs to the floor. The term was used in a negative way to criticise bands who didn’t move whilst playing or engage with the audience between songs. There was a review of The War On Drugs’ gig at the O2 that Roo and I went to which said that the music was okay but the band really missed the opportunity to play a great gig by not saying anything before playing each song. I thought that was one of the most ridiculous things I’d ever heard. Some of the best concerts I’ve been to have been by Van Morrison who barely lets the applause die down before embarking on a new song. As each song ends, he turns to his band and announces what’s next and they start up immediately. It’s brilliant. I haven’t come to a gig to listen to banter or story telling. Kate Rusby’s between song patter can go on for five minutes. Jackie Leven at The Greys, in Brighton, would tell fifteen minute shaggy dog stories and it really irritated me. Shoegaze music seems to place the music as the main reason that we are all there. Not controversial, surely?
On the other hand, shoegaze music may appear to be of particular appeal to outsiders, to people who find it hard to accept the reality of society. Especially someone who hides behind a curtain of floppy hair and rarely deigns to peek out and view life as it really is. In the same way that the curtain of hair separates shoegazers from the outside world, the volume of the layered guitars can also provide protection.
In the early 2000’s, some American bands referred to their music as “Nu-gaze” to indicate a development of shoegaze that includes more synthesisers and tape loops.
Another development is “Blackgaze” music which is a mixture of “black metal” music and shoegaze. And if you’re wondering what black metal music is, here is Wikipedia’s definition: “Black metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music. Common traits include fast tempos, a shrieking vocal style, heavily distorted guitars played with tremolo picking, raw (lo-fi) recording, unconventional song structures, and an emphasis on atmosphere. Artists often appear in corpse paint and adopt pseudonyms.”
And if you can find any similarity between Hammock and Deafhaven, you’re a better person than me.
There are other associated genres. Sigur Ros are a good example of “Dreampop” which is more concerned with atmosphere than melody. 2009 was deemed to be the Summer of “Chillwave” which has a low-fi dreamy retro-pop sound and Toro Y Moi was in the vanguard of this movement. Other sub-genres include “Vaporwave” (an electronic variant of chillwave) and “Hauntology” (using library music from the pre-1970 era). The list appears to be endless. Giving music a label is simultaneously helpful and confusing.
Bdrmm (apparently pronounced “bedroom”) are a five piece band from Hull and Leeds and they play shoegaze music. I like it. “Bedroom” is reminiscent of early albums by The Cure and The Cocteau Twins. Resident Records, in Brighton, made “Bedroom” their 5th best album of the year and described the album as incorporating elements of “krautrock”, “melodic post punk”, “dream-pop” and “post-rock”. I would describe the album as a mixture of high tempo rock songs and dreamy slow songs but all with heavy reverb on the guitar sound, with vocals down in the mix to create another ghostly instrument rather than take centre stage.
The album is loosely based around a storyline of a disintegrating relationship, (as all the best albums are(?)). The album is their first full length album after the release of an EP in 2018. The reception for this album has been universally positive. It was in the Top 10 albums of the year as listed on the Rough Trade blog (along with Phoebe Bridgers and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever). The review suggested that the album grabs us like “a boa constrictor in a swirling pool of gothic shoegaze, abundant with suffocating jams and life-saving attacks of adrenaline.” The website “TheArtsDesk” describes how the programming of the 10 songs that make up the album ensures that there is “a narrative arc through this collection that encompasses emotional, as well as musical, growth.”
Shyness doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t want to engage with other people – it may simply be an external manifestation of low self esteem. Research into “Music Preference, Social Identity, and Self-Esteem” by Daniel Shepherd of the University of Auckland found a correlation between the reflective and complex music as typified by shoegaze and lower self-liking. Is this correlation or causation and if the latter, which way round is it? Does an inability to communicate mean a person seeks solace in shoegaze music? Conversely, does listening to shoegaze music hinder an individual’s ability to communicate with others? Or does it help? Buy me a pint and we can discuss it.