Anyone following the fortunes of Eric Green’s shoegaze documentary Beautiful Noise couldn’t be blamed for wondering when it would finally see the light of day. Though it was first conceived of a decade ago, the film, which chronicles the rise of a style that has influenced Daft Punk to Deafheaven and the Dum Dum Girls, seems to have been in development even longer. Fans of the genre are likely to find it worth the wait: With numerous interviews from forebears like the Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine, plus footage and memories from acts that followed (including first wave legends like Lush, Ride, Slowdive and the Pale Saints), it functions both as a handy primer for the uninitiated and an artfully-constructed nostalgia trip for acolytes.
We spoke with director Eric Green just a few days after the films screened in Los Angeles (it debuted at the Seattle International Film Festival earlier this year), and three days before its New York debut at Lincoln Center.
What was your earliest exposure to shoegaze, as you remember it? A first song, a first press mention, a first show?
I was up late on a Sunday night watching MTV’s 120 Minutes, and they played “Reverence” by the Jesus and Mary Chain. The way William Reid layers that guitar on that song! I did some detective work, but even growing up in New York, things weren’t always easy. I remember going to St. Mark’s Place, getting CDs at Bleecker Bob’s and Generation Records. Once I got through all the JAMC stuff, it was “Oh! My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Slowdive,” and before you know it, I have a whole shelf full of this stuff. At one point, I couldn’t even find Loveless in Manhattan. I ended up buying a scratched-up used-CD copy. I still have it — I can still see the razor marks on the case.
The film’s been in production for 10 years, and a length like that on any project can often mean a big difference between original intent and the final result. Was there a particular goal that guided you through the creation of Beautiful Noise?
My wife Sarah and I are a filmmaking couple, and it’s been a pretty 50/50 ride. We wanted to stay true to how we saw these people, to present [the story] through their words. Normally, you see a rock documentary and people use really grandiose terms — one of the interesting things about a lot of these groups is about how modest they were. Particularly [the Jesus and Mary Chain's] Jim Reid. I found that very fascinating. It makes them seem more approachable, more human than some pompous rock star. We made some tweaks to the edit and we had many challenges. We didn’t focus on personal lives or drug habits, it was really a music documentary about music.
When you started the film in 2004, it was almost something of a low point in shoegaze — most of the initial bands had long since broken up, and its impact was felt more in post-rock bands like Mogwai, Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Sigur Ros. These days I think I received at least five to 10 press releases every week that mention “shoegaze” explicitly. What’s changed in how shoegaze has been received and valued from your perspective as a fan from then to now?
It’s really fascinating! We experienced the same thing. Even when we were shopping it around to big companies, they’d be all, “I haven’t heard of a lot of these bands, can we focus on one?” I’d say in the last few years, a key change been online availability — people can find this music. The way that U.K. press attacked it the first time around was brutal; now, people just see it as great music. There are favorable writeups, reissues, people doing tribute albums, cover versions, name-dropping acts. Who knows exactly when [the sentiment] turned, but it turned. You could kind of tell — people we interviewed opened up more about those bands [they had been part of]. Some of them got scarred so badly that a lot of bands from that time didn’t want to seen as part of that movement.
I really enjoy the fact that you concentrated on three bands (the Cocteau Twins, the Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine) who weren’t thinking of creating any kind of specific new genre. It wasn’t a codified set of rules they were following, it was more their own decisions and choices that led to something greater.
I knew that those three were basically the seeds that inspired that movement, and there was kind of a common ground amongst all of those bands that had inspired everyone. All three bands were huge pioneers, not just in the way they played music, but in the way they handled themselves on stage, the way they handled or didn’t handle press — you definitely saw a lot of running threads. There were other groups we could have put in there, but three was such a perfect number, and we wanted to have a 90-minute movie, not a five-hour one.