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Shoegazing is a subgenre of alternative rock and Alternative Dance that was pioneered and popularised by My Bloody Valentine in the late 1980s-early 1990s. It's basically Psychedelic Rock taken Up to Eleven, with a sound characterised by a huge wall of guitars playing drone-based riffs, breathy Perishing Alt Rock Voice singing, pounding drumming and a mix that builds up everything into a huge wall of sound where the individual instruments blend together. In addition, a danceable undercurrent tends to lie beneath this wall of sound (some bands emphasised this to the point of straddling the line between shoegaze and Madchester). In short, a perfect combination of aggressive and dreamy.
While shoegazing is basically Psychedelic Rock taken Up to Eleven, it was influenced by Dream Pop's emphasis on sound over actual song, and indie Noise Rock bands such as Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., The Jesus and Mary Chain and Velvet Underground.
The name comes from a Sounds review of a Moose concert and was picked up by NME in reference to shoegazing bands' motionless live performances where they mostly stared at their effects pedals (to the right you can see Bilinda Butcher doing exactly that). Ride singer Mark Gardener also attributed the motionlessness to an average presentation, in reaction to the "ego" of famous bands like U2. Melody Maker's nickname for the movement was The Scene That Celebrates Itself, due to shoegazers' habit of moonlighting in each other's bands and attending each other's concerts.
The genre's first release was the EP You Made Me Realise by the Anglo-Irish band My Bloody Valentine in 1988. They are also responsible for the most critically acclaimed and well-regarded shoegazing album, Loveless (1991), which seen as the essential shoegazing album for damn good reason. Other bands in the genre include: Ride, Lush, Chapterhouse, Slowdive, Moose and The Verve, the latter being a fusion of shoegazing, space rock and psychedelic rock. The only problem with these bands is that they suffer from a pretty bad case of Overshadowed by Awesome thanks to the pervasive presence and legendary reputation of the aforementioned My Bloody Valentine.
The shoegazing genre itself was at the forefront of alternative rock in the UK, which in the late 1980s-early 1990s was split between a spacey, psychedelic alt-rock scene which included shoegazing (roughly corresponding to Southern England - the overwhelming majority of shoegazing bands came from the Thames Valley, which probably contributed to the camaraderie between members and the Scene That Celebrates Itself moniker), and a poppier alt-rock scene which included Madchester (roughly corresponding to, surprise surprise, Northern England). While the genre itself was a mostly British thing, there were a few shoegazey bands to emerge out of the USA, like Starflyer 59 and Medicine.
Shoegazing collapsed in the midst of a mid-1990s Hype Backlash, its bands increasingly seen as privileged, self-indulgent middle-class kids with "nothing to say" and being replaced by working-class Britpop bands (who then immediately became filthy rich). MBV went into a hiatus, not releasing anything since 1991 and only resurfacing as a band with a reunion tour in 2008. Lush pulled an abrupt Genre Shift into Britpop to some success and broke up after their drummer killed himself. Slowdive evolved into the folk-rock/DreamPop band Mojave 3. Catherine Wheel went into slowly changing their own style and broke up in 2000. And Ride broke up in 1996 after failed attempts to adapt to Britpop.
In the 2000s the genre saw something of a resurgence with the indie crowd. In 2001 a band called My Vitriol released Finelines which is given credit with starting the shoegaze movement of the 2000s called Nu Gaze (Coined by Som Wardner himself from My Vitriol). Bands such as Silversun Pickups, Asobi Seksu, Blonde Redhead, and The Big Pink were bands that followed this new movement. There were also Darker and Edgier bands that used the shoegazing sound to oppress or disquiet rather than uplift, like Singapore Sling (the first band to make a career out of this "darker" sound), A Place to Bury Strangers, The Horrors, Jesu, Have a Nice Life and The Angelic Process. There are also a few metal bands that have adopted some elements of shoegaze as well (such as Alcest, Deafheaven, Jesu again, arguably Nachtmystium), most of them usually being placed as metalgaze or or just post-metal. Then there are bands such as M83 and A Sunny Day In Glasgow who have aimed towards more electronic experimentation with shoegaze. Yeah, it's been incorporated into almost everything....
The following are some artists that were part of the first wave shoegazers:
- My Bloody Valentine
- Catherine Wheel
- Kitchens of Distinction
- Pale Saints
- The Boo Radleys
- The Verve (one of the few shoegazing bands to not be from the Thames Valley/Southern UK; they were from Wigan, Greater Manchester)
- The Nightblooms
- Starflyer 59 (but only for their first few albums)
- Blur on their first album represent one of the aforementioned bands that straddled the line between Shoegazing and Madchester, but dropped the whole thing with their next album to jump on the Britpop bandwagon. Once they reinvented themselves as a noisy art-rock band, some of their shoegazing influence started to reemerge on Blur and 13.
Second wave or "Nu Gaze" bands:
- Asobi Seksu
- Amusement Parks on Fire
- The Big Pink (before taking it more in a Noise Rock direction)
- Blonde Redhead
- Darker My Love
- LSD and the Search for God (Arguably the most talented and influential of underground Shoegazing acts)
- My Vitriol
- Silversun Pickups (Most commercially successful Shoegazing act)
- The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
- Ringo Deathstarr
- Faunts (blends with Dream Pop)
Darker and Edgier shoegaze bands:
- Singapore Sling
- A Place to Bury Strangers
- The Horrors (Primary Colours era only, Skying fits more with the traditional shoegaze)
- Have A Nice Life
- The Angelic Process
- Alcest (Black Metal, shoegaze and folk) - curiously, lead songwriter Neige claims that he'd never heard of the genre until he read reviews of his own albums comparing them to shoegaze.
- Les Discrets
- Amesouers (arguably)
- You might say "But I know The Verve!", but the thing is, they never completely fit in with the scene and had a bit of a Genre Shift on the way to success.