It’s hard to think of a rock subgenre as fondly remembered or as reverentially discussed by its disciples as shoegaze. A short-lived British musical scene that grew out of London and the Home Counties in the late ’80s, the sound — soft vocals submerged in a whirlpool of amorphous, distorted guitars — has been an influence on groups like Deerhunter, the Horrors, Hookworms and M83, and a resurgence of interest in the genre, has led to the reformation of founding groups like Slowdive, who recently enjoyed a successful U.S. tour, and Ride, who will reunite to play live shows and headline festivals later this year.
What is perhaps easily forgotten, in this climate, is that the very term “shoegazing” was originally intended as something close to mockery. The British music press that initially lauded the likes of Ride, Slowdive, Lush, Chapterhouse, Moose and Swervedriver would turn on them when grunge and, later, Britpop hit. The shoegazers were dismissed as insular, self indulgent, middle class, dilettantes. (It wasn’t just journalists taking shots, either: “We will always hate Slowdive more than Hitler,” wrote Richey Edwards of Manic Street Preachers in 1991.)
And yet, the sound has endured. In this oral history, Wondering Sound speaks with the bands and other figures on the margins of “the scene that celebrates itself” to discover from whence this distinctive sound sprung, and why it has stood the test of time.
Shake Appeal are a teenage Oxford band in thrall to the noisier end of the alternative guitar rock emerging from America that would later change their name to Swervedriver. Chapterhouse are a fledgling Reading group who catch their first break when they support drone rockers Spacemen 3. Lush are formed in London by school friends Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson.
Adam Franklin (guitar/vocals, Swervedriver): “If you take the U.S./U.K. guitar scenes of the time as a whole, it was an incredibly exciting period: Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, House of Love, Loop, loads more. Shake Appeal played with My Bloody Valentine in 1986 in a squat in Hackney — they had a song called “Shake Appeal” at the time — and as they developed musically they were hugely inspirational for us.”
Stephen Patman (guitar/vocals, Chapterhouse): We were big fans of Spacemen 3, and when we saw they were playing our local venue in Reading, we arranged with the promoter to support them. It was our third ever gig. We had the feeling they would like us. They asked us to support them on their next tour, their manager started representing us and we recorded a lot of our early songs in the studio they used in Rugby.
Emma Anderson (guitar/vocals, Lush): We started off very influenced by punk. We were named Baby Machines. Our first singer, Meriel [Barham], left and we invested in some new effects pedals such as chorus and delay. We had the guitars turned up and vocals turned down, mostly because of a lack of confidence in our vocal abilities.
The Cocteau Twins release their Blue Bell Knoll album. The Jesus & Mary Chain go top 10 with their Barbed Wire Kisses compilation. My Bloody Valentine release Isn’t Anything. Ride are formed in Oxford by school friends Mark Gardener and Andy Bell.
Robin Guthrie (guitarist/producer, Cocteau Twins): When the shoegazing scene began, I already knew a lot of the people in the bands — because they were the ones who had been right at the front at all of our gigs, staring hard at my FX pedals.
Alan McGee (founder, Creation Records): The Jesus & Mary Chain were hugely influential on My Bloody Valentine and on what became known as the shoegazing scene. I think that MBV changed because of the Mary Chain.
Mark Gardener (guitar/vocals, Ride): Our bassist Steve Queralt worked in a record shop so he’d play us things like My Bloody Valentine, Loop, Sonic Youth and Ultra Vivid Scene as soon as they appeared. He was amazing. I was also a massive Cocteau Twins fan. Robin Guthrie had this whole beautiful sound that had certainly inspired Kevin from the Valentines. I wanted to work out — how do you make those sounds?
Robin Guthrie: The basic idea behind the Cocteau Twins was getting away from just plugging a guitar straight into an amp. Really, even bands like the Sex Pistols and the Ramones were playing their guitars the same way groups had in the ’60s. This new wave had a lot of FX pedals, the same as us, and the vocals were really swamped. Maybe they related to Elizabeth [Fraser]‘s vocals being incomprehensible in the Cocteaus. Maybe they just couldn’t sing.
The Jesus & Mary Chain’s Jim Reid hears a Ride demo tape and mentions it to Alan McGee. McGee pursues Ride and signs them to Creation Records. Mark Gardener gives McGee a demo of his Oxford friends Swervedriver. McGee listens to it in a limo in L.A., loves it and signs them. Lush sign to 4AD and release the Scar mini-album. Life-long friends Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead form Slowdive in Reading.
Mark Gardener: We were on tour supporting the Soup Dragons and were about to sign to Warner Brothers. Alan started coming to all the shows and basically stalking us. He talked to us nonstop — none of us really knew what he was on about but we was obviously really into us, so we signed to Creation.
Adam Franklin: We had one demo cassette left. We were walking down the Harrow Road and we saw J. Mascis and Thurston Moore walking toward us. We thought, “Shit, should we give them our tape?” But we didn’t, we just nodded, and gave it to Mark instead. He gave it to McGee, who loved it and signed us.
Emma Anderson: I sent Robin Guthrie an early Lush demo tape. He really liked it and wanted to get involved.
Robin Guthrie: I thought Lush’s first demo was wonderful. They were very motivated.
Neil Halstead (guitar/vocals, Slowdive): Who were our first influences? The Cocteaus, My Bloody Valentine, Husker Du, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., AR Kane, Jesus & Mary Chain, the Byrds and the Velvet Underground.
Ride quickly become the most successful band on Creation to date when two EPs, Play and Fall, go Top 40.
Mark Gardener: That was amazing for us. With the noise we made… it just never occurred to any of us that it might chart. We were just enjoying being in a room together.
Swervedriver release four EPs on Creation and even appear in the metal charts. Robin Guthrie produces Lush’s Mad Love EP and also Chapterhouse’s first single, “Something More.” Slowdive sign to Creation and release their first EP, Slowdive, to critical acclaim. Moose form in London.
Stephen Patman: We were fans of the Cocteau Twins and had great admiration for Robin. We had a whole swathe of musical influences at that time, but the use of our newly-bought guitar effects on “Something More” was certainly akin to what the Cocteau Twins were doing.
Neil Halstead: We loved Creation Records — early Primal Scream, Teenage Fanclub, My Bloody Valentine, Biff Bang Pow, so we were super excited to be part of the label. We liked to make beautiful music…but we liked a pop song as well.
Melody Maker deputy editor Steve Sutherland takes note of the scene. He believes they regularly attend each other’s gigs and socialize together, and christens it The Scene That Celebrates Itself.
Emma Anderson: I knew Russell from Chapterhouse and I used to go out with Russell from Moose before he was in the band, but that was it, really. It all got very exaggerated.
Neil Halstead: A few of us were mates who supported each other and we were excited about making music that was outside the radio norm. For some reason, the cynical British music press viewed this very suspiciously.
Miki Berenyi (guitar/vocals, Lush): I think the trigger for that phrase was when Howard Gough and Ray Conroy, who managed us, Moose and Chapterhouse, filled in a “favorite tracks” questionnaire for a music paper on behalf of Moose and filled the entire list with their bands and their mates. So instead of poor Moose getting their Charlie Rich and Glenn Campbell influences in, it was all Lush, Ride, Curve and Chapterhouse!
Russell Yates (guitar/vocals, Moose): Er, who was in this scene? Where did it happen?
A Sounds journalist writing as Andy Hurt (real name Andy Ross; he went on to co-found Food Records and sign Blur) reviews Moose at the University of London Union. He describes Russell Yates staring at the stage throughout the gig, and coins the phrase “shoegazing.”
Andy Ross: There was this motley crew of bands who were making music that was all, you know, sonic cathedrals. The Scene That Celebrates Itself hadn’t stuck because it wasn’t catchy. I was at the Moose gig and thought, what do these bands all have in common? They all had their heads down and seemed to be staring at their shoes through the whole gig. I thought: shoegazing! A week later, I met up for lunch with two NME journalists, Steve Lamacq and Simon Williams, and I said, “Look, this scene with Slowdive, and all those other bands — how about we call it shoegazing?” I guess that I opened Pandora’s box…
Russell Yates: We didn’t look out at the audience much at that gig. I suppose that was where Andy’s phrase came from. At the time, I thought it was just a bit of fun.
Stephen Patman: I took it to be playfully derogatory, like “grebo” or “crusty.” It was clearly making fun of the fact that the bands were static on stage while locked to our microphones and dealing with our FX pedals.
Mark Gardener: I always loved the Velvet Underground and the way they just stood stock-still and made loads of noise. I didn’t want to jump about — I was tired of that very overblown U2, Simple Minds posturing rock-ego thing. But we didn’t really care. Anyway, we knew a lot of those journalists used to review our shows without even coming to the gigs, because their names hadn’t been ticked off the guest lists.
Miki Berenyi: The term was coined specifically to dismiss the bands as shit-boring to watch and imply that we couldn’t be bothered to lift our foppish fringes to make the effort to entertain an audience. It was very unfair and mostly untrue.
Robin Guthrie: Shoegazing seemed to arrive fully formed, as a movement with a name. I think that a lot of the shoegazers were fairly shy, introverted people who just didn’t like the spotlight. I could relate to that — I was the same. I never felt part of the scene because I was that bit older, but I never felt ripped off by any of those bands because they might have had all of the FX pedals like us but they also strummed away like motherfuckers, which the Cocteau Twins never did.
Alan McGee: I thought the term “shoegazing” was rubbish. I hate things like that.
Adam Franklin (Swervedriver): Russell Yates’s shoes spawned an entire musical genre! For what it’s worth, they were brothel creepers. He told me that years later, down at the pub.
At the end of the year Ride release their debut album, Nowhere. It enters the U.K. chart at No. 11.
Mark Gardener (Ride): That was amazing for us, especially as it was a record with a lot of darkness. We knew that we had momentum because people who came to our shows would buy our records as soon as they came out. We would enter the charts pretty high but then drop out the following week — the same thing used to happen to The Smiths.
The shoegazing scene becomes a staple of the weekly U.K. music press as Ride, Swervedriver, Chapterhouse, Lush, Moose and Slowdive all release albums, singles or EPs. Increasingly, they are all written about only in terms of their relation to one another.
Mark Gardener: What was the shoegazing sound? Lots of delay, lots of reverb; just a big, resonating sound. Definitely using the whammy bar on the guitar to bend the sound — Kevin Shields from the Valentines was on to that. We loved getting lost in big sounds, trying to put beautiful harmonies against the noise.
Emma Anderson: We all had noisy guitars with buried vocals and some shared influences — Cocteau Twins, House of Love, Jesus & Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine — so I can see why the bands all got grouped under one umbrella. But a lot of the bands were quite different. For me, Ride were more influenced by ’60s guitar music. Slowdive’s slow and atmospheric music had more in common with Brian Eno.
Stephen Patman: There was commonality between us in the use of effects to make guitars create sounds that hadn’t been heard before. But we were, stylistically, very different bands with completely disparate core sounds.
Adam Franklin: We had the most in common with Ride, My Bloody Valentine and Chapterhouse. The great thing about going to see them play in a place like the Falcon in Camden before they had a record out was that you invented sounds in your head because they were so loud and their music was bouncing off the walls. Chapterhouse used to close their set with a song called “Die! Die! Die!” which was a thrash metal/Sonic Youth noise-up. It didn’t make it on to their debut album. Swervedriver were definitely the metal wing of shoegazing. We got single of the week in Kerrang! once!
Mark Gardener: I loved Swervedriver but they were a real Stooges-like grungy band and I never really got them being lumped in with shoegazing. I didn’t see us being bracketed with Moose and Chapterhouse either. I liked Chapterhouse early on but I wasn’t that keen on their records.
Miki Berenyi: It used to really annoy me to get pigeonholed. How would you like it if your girlfriend drew up a list of your similarities or shortcomings compared to other men she has fancied? Or if you cooked dinner for your mates and they had a big discussion about how it compared with other meals that other friends had cooked for them? Listening to some of the comments we heard was tough.
Adam Franklin: I’m not sure we were that happy with Raise at the time but it seems to have aged pretty well. It sounded kinda lumpy to us [at the time] because there were tracks from different sessions on there, and the whole vocals-down thing is astounding in retrospect. But there’s a kind of scorched warpedness to the record that I like, even down to the sleeve imagery — from Douglas Hart’s video for “Sandblasted.” It only struck me recently as an oversight that he was never credited for that.
The impression of shoegazing as a hermetic, insular scene is intensified by reports suggesting that its major players congregate every Thursday night at a West End indie club, Syndrome.
Adam Franklin: Ah, Syndrome! Warm cans of Red Stripe! Our co-manager, Andy, ran the club. Ride played there very early, and I remember Damon from Blur asking me what we had planned for our second album, because they were going to reinvent themselves on theirs. One week Everett True from Melody Maker gave Swervedriver a shitty review and Andy wouldn’t let him in the following week unless he apologized for it. Andy was only kidding but Everett did anyway, which everybody thought was hilarious.
Stephen Patman: We went there now and then but it was no big deal. We would just end up there after a gig as it was one of the few places in Soho where you could get a late drink.
Miki Berenyi: I went there once. I got drinks ponced off me all night and got bored senseless by a bloke on speed talking about tennis. Then Everett True knocked a table of drinks over and lay on the floor sobbing. Fuzz from Silverfish and I tried to get him a cab home, but every time one came along Everett would spring up off the pavement and start staggering all over the place screaming that he was going to throw up, at which point the taxi would swiftly drive away. Fuzz and I threatened to smash his head into the pavement so we could legitimately call an ambulance, at which point Everett got obediently into the next cab.
Mark Gardener: I went a few times but I got into a few problems because I was always getting off my head. It made me realize I wasn’t anonymous. I had a little fling with Miki from Lush which got blown up because we were seen there.
Andy Ross: I met my wife in Syndrome. I actually nicked her from a member of Swervedriver, Adi [Vines]. She also got chatted up there by Kurt Cobain, with his girlfriend sitting next to him. Courtney was not impressed.
Russell Yates: I didn’t used to go to Syndrome. I went to pubs and gigs with my pals.
Three shoegazing bands put out their debut albums. Chapterhouse release Whirlpool, Swervedriver put out Raise and Slowdive release Just for a Day. “Pearl,” the lead single from Whirlpool, features vocals by Slowdive singer Rachel Goswell. After two years spent in 19 different recording studios, My Bloody Valentine finally release their epic Loveless.
Stephen Patman: The album was pretty representative of what we were trying to achieve, although we were all happiest with the B-sides of “Pearl” and “Mesmerise” as we were able to experiment without pressure from our label. Whirlpool went to number 26, which was more than any of us had set our sights on when we formed.
Neil Halstead: We went into the studio with no songs and six weeks later had an album. Perhaps we should have spent a little time writing the songs before we recorded them! We also had this strange hang-up about not wanting to put any of the material from the early EPs on the record. We shot ourselves in the foot, really. It got mixed reviews and probably deserved them.
Adam Franklin: Loveless was great. We opened for My Bloody Valentine at the Town & Country Club when the album came out and they were phenomenal. You could possibly say there was more character and variation on the two preceding EPs because Loveless was just flat-out and relentless in a way, wasn’t it? But that’s what made it such a trip.
Emma Anderson: Loveless is a remarkable record and Kevin certainly is one of a kind, but I wasn’t living my life at the time thinking, “Oh my god — I wish I could make records like that.” MBV were a very different kind of band to Lush in the sense they were very much one person’s vision and very much a studio project. We were first and foremost a band.
Mark Gardener: I always think the Valentines are on their own. Nobody really makes music like them and I have the greatest respect for that. But I am also into melody.
As grunge hits Britain, a media backlash against shoegazing forms. NME journalist David Quantick begins a weekly satirical column, Memoirs of a Shoegazing Gentleman, which purports to be the diary of one Lord Tarquin and depicts shoegazers as effete aristocrats residing at an elite public school. The first column reads as follows:
What ho, old things! Just popped back from a round of fives in the Lower Quad with Russell from Moose! Top-hole shuffle! Russell was ten up on a double shubunkin when he dropped the bally spinnaker! The creams buns are on him next time we pop into Mrs Shoggins’ tea shop in the village! Tonight we’re all off to see Slowdive rehearse in the Bobby Gillespie Memorial Hall and then a game of rounders against Teenage Fanclub Comprehensive where we can laugh at their accents and poor person’s sexual orientations. Quis novis et monatis, as Russell from Chapterhouse is always saying when he isn’t stroking the sea lion.”
David Quantick: I was writing NME‘s [comedy pages] Thrills, which had to be filled up with nonsense every week. I wrote a lot of character columns like The Man and Neville Baker-Street, designed to mock what was going on in rock at the time, and Lord Tarquin was just one of those. I think the poshness came from stealing the title of Siegfried Sassoon‘s autobiography, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Gentleman. I didn’t really care either way about the shoegazers. I didn’t enjoy the music much but I didn’t hate the people. I just had a thing about bands who were derivative or dull, or not Betty Boo. I didn’t really know much about them. Blur were in one early column because I thought they were shoegazers. I think the bands were so new that they enjoyed the mention and the attention — apart from the pompous ones.
Stephen Patman: The column was amusing but it was also slightly perplexing to be publically ridiculed when you are just in some pissant indie band. It wasn’t as though we were Sting. Most of us were from the Home Counties and we were generally middle class but the misconception was that we were somehow from privileged backgrounds. All of our parents were from working-class families and had moved out to the new housing estates built in the early 1970s to struggle into what they thought would be a better life. That is now called middle class. There was a certain bitter irony to being portrayed as Little Lord Fauntleroys.
Emma Anderson: I enjoyed David’s column because it was obviously a piss-take and he was laughing with us and not at us — I think! I suppose Lush were quite middle-class but we were from very atypical families and we never had music lessons or got funded by our parents — we were funded initially by the Enterprise Allowance Scheme.
Mark Gardener: Nobody from Ride went to public school or had privileged backgrounds. We all went to comprehensives. Critics just thought, “Oh, Oxford! The university!” but all of the bands came from around Cowley Road, which was a real multicultural melting pot of Caribbean, Irish and Indian peoples.
Miki Berenyi: Emma and I were definitely middle class but I don’t think anyone from a happy, working-class family would have wanted to experience what we did as children, however privileged they might feel we were from the outside. Moose’s parents came over as teenagers from Ireland and worked hard all of their lives, bringing up their children in a council house in Hatfield. Hardly Brideshead Revisited, is it?
Alan McGee: Was it fair that the bands got pilloried for being middle class and from the Home Counties? Not at all — because nowadays, as far as I can see, every band is middle class except for Kasabian!
Neil Halstead: I have to say, though, that David’s column was absolute genius. It’s just been released in book form — it’s brilliant.
Slowdive tour the U.S. with Blur, who are temporarily perceived as shoegazers because of the hazy production sheen of their first singles “She’s So High” and “There’s No Other Way.” Lush tour the States with Ride.
Mark Gardener: We were living out the Kerouac books that we were reading. Everywhere we went we were blowing people away. Americans were on a more traditional rock ‘n’ roll thing, coming out of that horrible Bon Jovi period, so it was a whole new sound for them.
Miki Berenyi: It was immense fun! We were all very excited about being in America so it was like one long playtime. Ride liked a bit of a smoke. I seem to remember someone getting the munchies one night and eating an entire bottle of vitamin pills. I have a very vivid memory of staying at a motel in the middle of nowhere in Elko, Nevada. It was just a crossroads in the desert. Mark and I went and sat by a railway line and smoked a joint and watched a train come from a dot on the horizon, rattle right past us and disappear all the way over to the other side of the horizon. We made plans to jump on a wagon and become hobo musicians touring the dustbowl. I was pissed off when I later read an interview with Andy [Bell, Ride] saying Ride touring with Lush was “like The Who playing with Petula Clark.” He seemed to be having a ball at the time, but I guess he suddenly felt like the kid who hangs out with the geeks in the summer holidays and suddenly has to explain himself to his cool friends back in school.
Lush’s debut album, Spooky, is widely criticised for being overly defined by the signature sound of its producer, Robin Guthrie.
Emma Anderson: Making Spooky with Robin didn’t go quite as smoothly as doing the EPs with him, mainly due to some issues he had at the time, but it came out well enough. Robin was influential on our sound, sure, but not that much — he didn’t influence the basic essence of the songs at all. The songwriting, playing and singing were all very Lush.
Robin Guthrie: I really like the work I did with Lush and I think those records are magical — although they became a lot better when they went out and played live more. Making Spooky, they had a very definite idea of the sound they wanted. Even so, people said it was too much of a Robin Guthrie production. I became a better producer when I became less of a control freak.
Ride release the “Leave Them All Behind” single and see it go Top 10. Their second album, Going Blank Again, gets to number 5.
Mark Gardener: I had written “Leave Them All Behind” on tour in America and when it went Top 10 it felt like such a victory. It was six minutes long, and so many people were telling us, “Oh, you can’t do that.” Lyrically, it was a statement about the bands emerging trailing in our wake, all with short names and a similar sound to ours. I was saying, “I don’t know who these bands are, I think they’re terrible — see you later!”
Swervedriver tour North America. In Toronto, drummer Graham Bonner leaves the tour bus and doesn’t come back. Shortly afterward, bassist Adi Vines quits the band to form Skyscraper.
Adam Franklin: Graham wasn’t enjoying the tour. We got to the Canadian border and he said he was going for a sandwich. The next thing we knew, the border patrol was on our bus saying, “One of your party has defected.” They had found him wandering in no-man’s land. We left him enough money to get a flight to San Francisco, where his girlfriend was. He ended up joining the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Adi leaving also came out of the blue. We also fired one of our managers on the U.S. tour so we were hemorrhaging members and management at an alarming rate. McGee flew out to try to steady the ship. When we got back to England, Chris Acland from Lush came over to me at Syndrome and offered his services as a temporary drummer, bless him.
Moose release their debut album, XYZ, to tepid reviews. Slowdive hit trouble recording their second album, Souvlaki. After Alan McGee rejects the first tracks that they send him, they recruit the help of Brian Eno.
Neil Halstead: We spent more time writing and recording Souvlaki than any other record. We scrapped the whole of the first session but we had a feeling that we were on the cusp of finding our direction. We were huge fans of Eno so we wrote him a letter asking if we could work with him. It was a big surprise when he agreed. I spent a couple of days with him initially recording guitar pieces that he would treat and manipulate. We chose a couple of the ideas and developed them further for the record.
Alan McGee: They had no songs in the first batch. I liked the Eno stuff, though.
Lush return to America to play the Lollapalooza tour alongside the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Ministry, Soundgarden, the Jesus & Mary Chain and Ice Cube.
Emma Anderson: Our main fear was that the heavy rock audience wouldn’t get us but they seemed to like us. We had a lot of fun. Not everybody was in party mode — the Jesus & Mary Chain didn’t seem to enjoy it, and I don’t think Ice Cube appreciated Miki writing, “Hey, Cube, come and say hi to Lush” on his dressing-room mirror. Miki stage dived into a crowd, hit her head on a seat and had to go off to have stitches, and I put my hand through a pane of glass at the end of tour party in New Orleans. Probably the most rock ‘n’ roll thing that I have ever done.
Suede’s debut album is welcomed with evangelical zeal by the music press and heralds the dawn of the Britpop fightback against grunge. Melody Maker reviews Slowdive’s Souvlaki thus: “This record is a soulless void… I would rather drown choking in a bath of porridge than ever listen to it again.”
Neil Halstead: I don’t recall the reviews for Souvlaki, to be honest. But it was our most successful record commercially.
Chapterhouse release their second and final album, Blood Music. Moose release Honey Bee. Producer Alan Moulder helps remaining Swervedriver members Adam Franklin and Jimmy Hartridge to shape their second album, Meczal Head. All fail to chart.
Adam Franklin: Alan Moulder was like another band member when we made Blood Music. A strong album made in difficult circumstances.
Stephen Patman: Whirlpool was more true to what we set out to achieve than Blood Music. By then the band had become fragmented and we were under a lot of pressure from our label. Interesting that a lot of people say it is their favorite of our two albums.
As Lush prepare to record their second album, Split, 4AD label boss and founder Ivo Watts-Russell suggests they hire Bob Mould of Hüsker Dü/Sugar to produce. Instead, they go with a safe pair of hands, Mike Hedges.
Emma Anderson: I had a conversation with Bob on the phone but he didn’t end up working with us. After Robin Guthrie, it would have been another situation where Lush were being produced by someone from a band with a very distinctive sound. We needed someone more neutral. Ivo thought the fact that Mike had produced the Banshees and the Cure would put him in a good position to work with us, but I think Mike lost interest in us and in the record. We went to mix it in France but it all went horribly wrong and we had to come back to London to mix the whole thing again with Alan Moulder.
Split peaks at number 19 in the U.K. charts. Meanwhile, a Britpop-fixated U.K. media salivates over Blur’s third album, Parklife, as Oasis’s Definitely Maybe becomes the fastest-selling British debut album ever. Shoegazing bands are faring notably less well. By the time of their third album, Carnival of Light, Ride are getting on so badly that it features one side written by Mark Gardener and one by Andy Bell. Slowdive are dropped by their U.S. label, SBK, halfway through an American tour.
Mark Gardener: All the best bands have tensions between the lead singer and the guitarist. It is just inherent. Ride had always written songs by jamming but by now we were both bringing finished songs into the studio so we decided to do a side each.
Neil Halstead: SBK were a major label working with a little indie band from the U.K.. They didn’t really understand the music and they couldn’t get it played on the radio. We would get wheeled into their office and shake hands with folk who were all very nice but who didn’t really know which of their hundreds of bands we were.
Oasis and Creation Records enjoy their second number one album with (What’s The Story) Morning Glory. In stark contrast, Creation drop Swervedriver a week after releasing their third album, Ejector Seat Reservation. The same fate befalls Slowdive a week after the label releases Pygmalion. Slowdive split.
Neil Halstead: Pygmalion was an organic shift toward loop-based music — we were tired of songs and I was listening to Steve Reich, Aphex Twin and LFO. We knew Creation wanted a pop record from us so we were fully expecting the chop.
Adam Franklin: Our U.S. label, A&M, pulled out two-thirds of the way through the recording process and then Creation dropped us a week after it came out. Creation quite literally couldn’t afford us — the way our deal was structured, they had to pay us more and more money in advances and our record sales couldn’t sustain us. After Alan’s terrible experience in L.A. [McGee had a cocaine-induced panic attack on a U.S. flight — Ed. ], it possibly also didn’t help that the title track of the album was about someone having a bad trip on a plane! But my girlfriend Michelle still worked at Creation and I would pop into the offices after the band had left. It always felt like a family, and I still love those people.
The recording of Ride’s fourth and final album, Tarantula, is tense. The band announce their split a week before its release. The record is panned by critics and deleted by Creation a week after it is released.
Mark Gardener: By then we were done. Andy and I had been in each other’s pockets since school and we didn’t want to be with each other or in a studio together. It was like we had been driving a car at full speed, pedal to the floor, for seven or eight years. And we crashed. Why did Alan delete the record after a week? God knows! I still couldn’t even tell you the track listing of that album.
Alan McGee: I didn’t delete the record. Marketing people did.
Lush release their final studio album, Lovelife. Its poppier direction makes it the most successful of their career — but the band split after drummer, Chris Acland, commits suicide in his parents’ home on October 17.
Miki Berenyi (Lush): Chris and I had known each other for a decade, lived together and been out with each other. He was a huge part of my life and now he was gone. Frankly, everything else seemed pretty unimportant.
Swervedriver self-release their fourth and final album, 99th Dream, and then split.
Adam Franklin: We weren’t having fun, quite simply. There were shitty scenes going on in London, bad drugs — ugh. The mojo left us. I recorded an electronic album and then moved to New Jersey, which was great. Was the shoegazing handle a curse or a blessing for our career? A blessing, for sure! Every time an album of ours appears in a “Best Shoegaze of all Time” list, some new kid who has never heard of Swervedriver but has already discovered My Bloody Valentine checks us out. I think that is fantastic.
Emma Anderson: I think time is a great leveler and it does seem that over the past 20 years our music has stood the test of time pretty well, which is very heartening. I still have fans writing to me via Twitter and Facebook saying how much they love the band, which is lovely. I think the term “shoegazing” has lost some of its comical meaning and is now just a word to describe a certain type of music that came out in the ’80s and ’90s. In the U.S., where Lush did reasonably well, shoegazing was never a negative term.
Stephen Patman: Chapterhouse never saw ourselves as belonging to any movement. We were just a band making records alongside other bands making their records. It’s possible “shoegazing” was only ever really a concrete entity within the world of music journalism.
Neil Halstead: Shoegazing was a joke at the time but I love the fact that it is a term that has been reclaimed by people who love a bunch of bands that never got to be in the mainstream.
Miki Berenyi: In a much less politically significant way, reclaiming the term “shoegazing” is like lesbians reclaiming the word “dyke.” It may have been meant as an insult but the snideness isn’t there for a lot of people. It’s just a word.
Mark Gardener: In the end the real test of music is the test of time. I think I was involved in a movement that made some really interesting music — certainly more interesting than all that Britpop stuff that followed it. Britpop was totally style over substance and shoegaze, or whatever you want to call it, was substance over style. When Ride split I thought we’d come to be seen as insignificant, but totally the opposite happened. We’ve had people offering us crazy money to reform for years. We have stood the test of time — and we’ve had the last laugh.