How Shoegaze Evolved from Grassroots to an Inspiring Subgenre

Abigail Carsner, Staff Writer

Other articles in this series: How Grunge Changed Music Forever, Waves Of Emo Crash Through The Decades

If you go on TikTok and spend 10 minutes on it, you may hear sad indie-type music. It may sound obscure and distorted. It may even freak you out. This freaky, ethereal mixture of alt-rock and indie is called “shoegaze.”

The name “shoegaze” may sound strange but it actually originated from a review of the band “Moose,” in which the singer, Russell Yates, would tape lyrics to songs on the floor of gigs the band played at. Another reference to where this odd name came from was, how guitarists of the genre would stare at their feet because they would have to step on so many effect pedals.

Shoegaze often comes off as quirky and atypical. It is characterized by bent and distorted guitar sounds, along with sad and quiet melodies that are usually undetectable because the instruments used are loud and have long, prolonged riffs. Shoegaze has inspiration from indie, alt-rock, dream pop, and 60s psychedelia which can easily be heard through its atmosphere.

Originating in the late 80s in the UK and Ireland, Shoegaze was pioneered by bands My Blood Valentine, Cocteau Twins, A.R. Kane, and The Jesus and The Mary Chain. Though, My Blood Valentine is the poster child for this genre; being known for their most famous album, “Loveless.”

My Bloody Valentine was formed in Dublin, Ireland in 1983, and consisted of Singer and Guitarist, Kevin Shields, and Colm O Ciosoig on Drums, with Singer and Guitarist, Bilinda Butcher, and Debbie Googe on Bassist joining in 1987. MBV changed their lineup many times, especially in the first couple of years, but finally settled on a different Guitarist and Bassist.

In 1985, they relocated to London, England, and released their debut single, “Geek!” It didn’t do too well in sales but in August of 1988, MBV released their first complete album, “You Made Me Realise.” The album got a decent amount of press, especially from the independent music press. A couple of years later in 1991, they released “Loveless” which peaked at 24 on the UK Albums chart.

Another band that is known in the shoegaze genre is Cocteau Twins. Formed in Grangemouth, Scotland in 1979, Cocteau Twins consisted of Robin Guthrie on Guitar and Will Heggie on Bass, adding singer, Elizabeth Fraser later in 1981. In their earlier years, they were considered gothic rock, but as their sound developed, they became classified as dream pop and shoegaze.

In 1982, they released their debut album “Garlands” which reached number 14 on UK indie charts. They released 6 albums between 1983 and 1990, and in 1990 they released their most famous album “Heaven or Las Vegas.” They released 2 other albums after that before disbanding in 1997 due to two of the band members’ constant arguing.

One other prominent shoegaze band is called “Slowdive.” Formed in Reading, England in 1989 by singer and guitarists, Neil Halstead and Rachell Goswell who were childhood friends. Goswell and Halstead were originally in a band called “Pumpkin Fairies” before that, but that disbanded. The drummer in “Pumpkin Fairies,” Adrian Sell, and his friend, Nick Chaplin who played bass, stayed with Halstead and Goswell. They recruited guitarist, Christian Savill soon after that.

The name “Slowdive” came from a dream Chaplin had, which was chosen without Goswell’s permission. She didn’t like the fact that it was the same name as the a single from her favorite band, “Siouxsie and the Banshees.”

In 1991, Slowdive released their debut album, “Just for a Day.” It peaked at number 32 on the UK charts, though lots of the British Press thought it was “lukewarm” or “premature.” In June of ‘93, Slowdive released their 2nd album, “Souvlaki.” This album also got bad reviews, but it is hailed as a classic in the shoegaze genre. Their 3rd and final album, “Pygmalion” was released in 1995. In this album, the band had experimented with a more electronic sound, rather than the loud, distorted guitars of shoegaze. A week after the release of the album, their record label dropped them and by the end of the year, the band had broken up.

In the late 90s, Shoegaze started to decline due to more britpop bands forming like Oasis and Blur, which offered more vocals and is easier to listen to. Lush, a shoegaze band, changed to the britpop genre with their album, “Lovelife.” This caused many shoegaze fans to stop listening to the band. Even the posterchild of shoegaze, My Bloody Valentine broke up in 1997, which made many shoegaze fans leave the subculture.

Though shoegaze died as a genre, it lived as a legacy; inspiring multiple music genres such as emo, nu gaze, slowcore, blackgaze, and even heavy metal. In the past couple of years, shoegaze has resurfaced on the internet, especially TikTok. Many people are using sounds from My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins, Slowdive, Mazzy Star, and Have a Nice Life.

 Some Shoegaze Bands I Recommend:

Have a Nice Life
Albums: Deathconsciousness (2008) The Unnatural World (2014) Sea of Worry (2019)

Mazzy Star
Albums: She Hangs Brightly (1990) So Tonight That I Might See (1993) Among My Swan (2013) Still (2018)

The Jesus and Mary Chain
Albums: Psychocandy (1985) Darklands (1987) Automatic (1989) Honey’s Dead (1992) Stoned & Dethroned (1994) Munki (1998) Damage and Joy (2017)

Albums: Scar (1989) Spooky (1992) Split (1994) Lovelife (1996)

Starflyer 59
Albums: Silver (1994) Gold (1995) Americana (1997) The Fashion Focus (1998) Everybody Makes Mistakes (1999) Leave Here a Stranger (2001) Old (2003) I Am the Portguese Blues (2004) Talking Voice vs. Sining Voice (2005) My Island (2006) Dial M (2008) The Changing of the Guard (2010) IAMACEO (2013) Slow (2016) Young in My Mind (2019) Vanity (2021)

Albums: Crush (2001) Superdupercrush (2002) Pinkshinyultrablast (2002) Super Crush (2002) Pinkshinyultrablast (2005) Whitenoise Superstar (2007) One Hit Wonder (2008) Crush (2010) Boombox Supernova (2011) All the stars will fall (2012) Deluxer (2015)