Eventually, other bands began incorporating this sound into their approach, and shoegazing became a popular musical style in its own right. Musicians from all over the world were caught up in the burgeoning movement, including U.S.-based groups like Whirlpool Corporation and Lush.
What is Shoegaze Music?
- Shoegaze music emerged in the UK in the late 80s, around the time groups like My Bloody Valentine, Ride, and Slowdive were putting out their first albums.
- The name originates from a band’s performance style during this period—they stood on stage without moving while playing guitar effects pedals at their feet.
- In addition to being used as a name for a musical genre, “shoegazing” was also used as a pejorative term for indie rock bands who exhibited similar tendencies.
- The term was first used in print by Neil Taylor in Melody Maker on January 2, 1990
A Brief History of Shoegaze Music
Before we get into the music itself, let’s get the basics out of the way. Shoegaze is a form of alternative rock that originated in the late ’80s and early ’90s.It developed primarily in England as a subgenre of dream pop or psychedelic rock, which it has since evolved into. The term “shoegaze” was coined to describe performers who looked as if they were staring at their shoes while performing.
Looking back, shoegaze is undoubtedly a product of its time. The popularity of loud-soft dynamics and distortion made sense at a time when guitar pedals were just beginning to expand beyond distortion and reverb. But don’t let that put you off; it’s more than worth digging into today to satisfy your quest for fresh tones.
Why is it Called Shoegaze?
- Shoegaze is characterized by droning guitars, hypnotic rhythms, and layers of effects-laden vocals.
- The name itself comes from the fact that many of the performers were looking down at their pedal boards while performing live; this was an attempt to get inspiration from the beauty of their stompboxes.
- The term has been used more loosely in the years since to describe bands with similar styles; for example, certain artists’ albums have been referred to as “post-shoegaze” when they utilize similar elements but don’t necessarily fit into this specific subgenre.
What Makes a Song Shoegaze?
It can be very hard to define what makes a song shoegaze, because shoegaze isn’t just one thing, but there are usually some characteristics that make it seem like you’re listening to a certain style of music.
Sometimes, especially when you think about what defines a certain type of music, it can feel like any band could be described as shoegaze because they use guitar effects like reverb, fuzz, and delay pedals.
However, sometimes these things aren’t necessarily associated with certain bands or songs-sometimes the effect works just fine on its own, without the rest of the instruments in your band doing anything at all.
There are also some other common things that make up shoegaze:
- The use of dynamics (or changes in volume)
- The use of long distorted guitar riffs
- Many parts where everything feels hushed
- Long instrumental sections with many sound effects (like noise and flangers)
Characteristics of Shoegaze Music
The guitars and drums typically create the sounds for these songs, with the vocals serving more as an accompaniment or texture. While not every shoegaze song follows this exact formula (and some songs don’t fit neatly into any genre), there are some key characteristics that make it easy to identify a song as shoegaze:
- The use of effects pedals (usually made by a company called “Boss”) to create sonic textures on guitar
- The unusual use of arpeggio patterns on guitar—a chord progression where instead of playing all notes at once, you play one note after another (like strumming across the strings)
- A laid-back drum beat—usually slow tempo or played with brushes
- Distorted guitar sounds that may include wah pedals or phasers
Shoegaze has made a huge comeback in the last few years. After a quiet period in the mid-1990s, shoegaze bands are making a big splash with old and new fans alike.
As arguably the most famous shoegaze band, My Bloody Valentine’s fourth album, Loveless, remains the gold standard of their sound – and arguably the sound of all squeaky-clean guitar bands of the era.
And as the genre continues to evolve and spread, perhaps new artists will find a way to move beyond the past and create something even better than what we’ve heard before.