Shoegaze is a genre of indie rock that came about in the late 1980s in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The term “shoegaze” was used by a British music journalist to describe dream pop bands such as My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive because they stood still onstage with their heads down while playing their tracks.
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 talking about the music itself, let’s get the basics out of the way. Shoegaze is a form of alternative rock that came about in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
It grew 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 no doubt very much a product of its period. The popularity of the loud-soft dynamic and distortion made sense in an era where guitar pedals were just starting to expand beyond distortion pedals and reverb pedals. But don’t let this deter you; it’s more than worth digging into nowadays to satisfy your quest for fresh sounds.
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?
Although the term ‘shoegaze’ is used to describe nine different types of music, it doesn’t really mean anything. Shoegaze is just a word that’s made up. It’s basically a name for an entire genre of music that came out in the 80s and 90s and has been popular ever since.
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 such as reverb, fuzz, and delay pedals.
However, sometimes these things don’t necessarily come together with specific bands or songs—sometimes the effect will work 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
Shoegaze is a rich sound that propels itself with layers of distorted guitars, spacious drums, and vocals produced in spaces large enough to make faint echoes.
The guitars and drums typically create the sounds for these songs, with the vocals serving as an accompaniment or texture more than anything else. While not every shoegaze song follows this exact formula (and some songs don’t fit neatly into any genre), there are some key characteristics which make it easy to identify as a shoegaze song:
- 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 been on a major comeback over the past few years. After a quiet period in the mid-1990s, shoegaze bands are making a giant splash again with old and new fans alike.
As arguably the best-known 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 from that era.
There’s no denying that shoegaze music is a little strange; it’s not a style that appeals to everyone. But at their best, these bands and their music are capable of producing some truly profound moments with an entrancing sound.
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.