Thursday, January 21, 2016

Only shallow?

"Who killed shoegaze?", asked Ben Cardew in a recent article for The Quietus. The received wisdom - as endorsed by Neil Taylor's liner notes for Cherry Red's new shoegaze compilation, for instance - is that the finger of blame can be pointed squarely at a music press that loves nothing better than hyping new bands and scenes to the heavens only to then turn on them with equally excessive savagery and mockery.

Needless to say, Cardew disagrees with that narrative. He suggests that, while the capricious nature of the critics was a factor, as was the historical context (it was seen, wrongly, as uninventive in comparison to baggy and was soon eclipsed by both grunge and then Britpop), the most significant factor in the demise of shoegaze was the deluge of second-rate copyists that followed in the wake of My Bloody Valentine, Ride et al, and the creative stagnation that ensued. In falling victim predominantly "to its own circle of ever-diminishing returns", it was no different to most music genres - something Cardew doesn't really acknowledge.

The article was prompted by the fact that 2016 marks the 25th anniversary of the release of Loveless (Cardew refers to 1991 as shoegaze's "imperial year"), but also by the revival of the genre and reformation of some of its leading lights in recent years. It is, essentially, back from beyond the grave. Cardew seems unsure how he feels about this: "you know you’re in a strange situation when bands who have reformed in their late 40s sound considerably more forward-thinking revisiting their glory years than the copyists they have spawned". However, there are some bands and artists who have taken and continue to take the shoegaze blueprint in interesting new or at least distinctive directions. Cardew mentions Deafheaven and Ulrich Schnauss (who I'm hoping to catch in Oxford in March), but to those two you could justifiably add Boards Of Canada (electronica), Deerhunter/Lotus Plaza (indie rock) and SWSL favourites The Besnard Lakes (prog).

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