Shoegazing or Shoegaze is a sub-genre of British alternative rock music. It has a strongly characteristic sound, and predates the Britpop and U.S. grunge waves of the 1990s.
It’s known as the Holocaust, but it’s greeted like the rapture. A sound engineer says it sounds “pretty similar to a jet taking off,” and it has the decibel readings to prove it (roughly 130). “The sound moved my face,” blogged Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox. “My balls retracted.”
That sound is the live rendition of “You Made Me Realise,” the signature track with which My Bloody Valentine, reformed after 13 years of silence, has been ending each of its reunion-tour sets–a cacophonous, hypnotic, fill-the-void version built from a multi-octave sea of bent tones.
This sonic gut-check has become part of the mythology of My Bloody Valentine, and of the shoegaze sound itself.
Considered by some to have started with the release of "Upside Down / Vegetable Man" by The Jesus and Mary Chain
, shoegaze was a response to the mostly-soulless and synthesizer-ruled music that had taken over the airwaves and the club scene
in Britain by the middle of the 1980s. The formula was fairly simple, and generally adhered to with a passion: multiple guitar
leads, heavily distorted
, used to create a "wall of sound." Wailing, continuous guitar music with the two (or more) guitars trading off the actual melody between them; lots and lots of guitar effects, but usually no keyboard
s. The term itself arose from a perceived tendency on the part of the musicians of these bands to avoid traditional rock 'n roll behavior on stage: no thrashing, no jumping around, no running about. They tended just to sit in one place and belt out the music. The singers as well as the guitarists; musicians claim the press coined the term, apparently, after watching a show by the band Moose
in which the lead guitar player, K.J. "Moose" McKillop
, spent the whole time staring down at the stage floor. He claims, annoyed at the term, that it was because he had a positively massive array of effects pedals which he had to keep his eyes on in order to properly operate. However, the term would stick; the press itself used the term to describe a show by Moose
in which the lead singer had taped lyric sheets to the stage and kept 'staring at his shoes' throughout the performance.
The shoegaze genre was originally titled "the scene that celebrates itself" in recognition of how often the musicians tended to turn up at each others' shows. "Shoegaze," though, passes the brevity test for a label much more easily. In fact, "the scene that celebrates itself" is a better description of the performance characteristics of this genre than it is a label. The band members, in addition to spending time at other bands' gigs, seem to be spending a great deal of their time and concentration listening to their own output even while on stage performing. If you watch video of Curve you can see Toni Halliday, in between bouts of withdrawn sexy cool (cough, sorry) singing with her attention almost visibly on the sound coming from the band.
There were a massive number of bands which fit this label. The musical style, helped along by early U.S. visitors Dinosaur Jr. whose vocals have been termed 'laconic,' shoegaze tended to emphasize the vocals as an instrument rather than a vehicle for lyrics. Lyrics for shoegaze songs are sometimes impenetrable, sometimes incomprehensible, and sometimes both at once, but the vocal tones are used to complement the guitar wail, usually to great effect.
Shoegaze persisted until around the mid-nineties, at which point grunge and britpop slammed in and essentially took over the scene.
Some random bands considered to be shoegaze:
Precursors to shoegaze: The Cocteau Twins, The Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine
Shoegazers: Moose, Chapterhouse, Lush, Ride, Curve
...and dozens more.