When casting the mind back to Britain’s 90s alternative rock scene, Britpop is at the forefront of our collective cultural memory. The decade is synonymous with the lager drinking lads of bands such as Oasis and Blur, battling it out for number one on the cover of NME.
However, the late 80s and early 90s also saw the conception, rise and demise of a new genre of alternative rock – shoegaze. Named after the participating band members’ sultry swaying on stage, it was a sadly short-lived musical scene that emerged from London and the Home Counties before being quickly stifled. At first praised by the British music press, the feeling of celebration didn’t last, as the bands (such as Ride, Swervedriver, My Bloody Valentine, Catherine Wheel and Slowdive) were overshadowed by the popularity of US grunge and later the aforementioned Britpop phenomenon. Dubbed “The Scene That Celebrates Itself”, shoegaze was often dismissed by others at the time as pretentious, self indulgent and insular, and many shoegaze bands, including Slowdive, were dropped from their labels in the mid-90s.
Known for their lucid and creamy vocals combined with disjointed twangs and clangs of guitar, Slowdive have gained an impressive cult following since their split in 1995. Credited as a creative inspiration to The Horrors, M83 and Timber Timbre to name but a few, their influence, and the influence of the shoegazer movement as a whole, can be seen across the contemporary musical landscape, and has led to a resurgence of interest in the genre.
Better late than never, Slowdive are finally receiving the level of appreciation their music deserves. This new found popularity has enabled their reformation, and they have played a number of shows in recent years. They are said to be working on a new studio album, ready for release in July, and their first in 20 years.
Crack takes a look back over their musical career to see how it all started.
Avalyn 1From Slowdive (1990)
In 1989, fresh faced teenagers and best friends Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead formed Slowdive along with drummer Adrian Sell and bassist Nick Chaplin. An ad was put out for a female guitarist to join, but the only person to answer was Christian Savill. With their plan for a more equal gender dynamic scrapped, the band quickly signed to infamous indie label Creation. Their first self-titled EP was released in 1990 and received immediate critical acclaim.
Avalyn 1 is a prime example of Slowdive’s idiosyncrasy showing just how creatively forward-thinking the band could be. NME praised this record highly, writing: “Slowdive have banished the barrier restricting creativity… When they really relax, Slowdive can make Cocteau Twins sound like Mudhoney.”
MorningriseFrom Morningrise (1991)
After a change of drummer, Slowdive released two EPs in 1991, Morningrise and Holding Our Breath. The shoegazing scene was becoming a staple of the UK music press as other bands such as Ride, Chapterhouse, Moose, Lush and Swervedriver were all releasing music around the same time. Increasingly, they were being written about in comparison to one another, and lumped in together due to their shared influences. Slowdive’s love affair with 80s influences such as the Jesus and Mary Chain are more apparent in melancholy Morningrise, a record that allowed them a short time of underground success before the scene effectively became a joke.
WavesFrom Just for a Day (1991)
Slowdive’s debut album Just for a Day, was released in September 1991. Despite being placed in the top ten indie chart, the album received mixed reviews as the backlash against the shoegazing movement began. Halstead claims the band “went into the studio with no songs written and six weeks later had an album. Perhaps we should have spent a little time writing the songs before we recorded them! We shot ourselves in the foot, really. It got mixed reviews and probably deserved them.”
Most of the album was dismissed at the time as dreary and unimaginative, however, one song from the album, Waves, has since been praised for its mixture of heart-melting harmonies combined with Halstead’s hazy vocal presence. Here we can see where contemporary artists have drawn inspiration from their unique sound, laying out dreamy pop over swirling sonic landscapes.
AlisonFrom Souvlaki (1993)
Alison sees Halstead crooning over a slightly more seductive backdrop in a manner that is both familiar and foreign. Although devoid of the experimental flair that is present on other tracks, Alison is perhaps Slowdive’s best known pop song, and the opening track to 1993’s album Souvlaki. Despite being their most commercially successful album, it was not the comeback the band were hoping for. Melody Maker’s review read “This record is a soulless void… I would rather drown choking in a bath of porridge than ever listen to it again.” Sadly, and unfairly, Slowdive had become unequivocally uncool.
In MindFrom 5EP (1993)
Hindsight is a beautiful thing. Back in 1993 when this EP was released, Slowdive’s sound took a turn for the electronic – but it seems the world wasn’t quite ready for this new, “shoe-techno” sound and it was quickly written off as meaningless experimental noise by critics at the time.
However, listening back to the rolling beats, gentle synths and echoey vocals of In Mind now, it seems Slowdive were predicting the sound of the future. Unfortunately for them, it fell on deaf ears. After being dropped from a US shoegazer tour, they participated in a modest European tour in 1994 before drummer Scott quit the band.
Crazy For YouFrom Pygmalion (1995)
Slowdive found themselves taking inspiration from the likes of Steve Reich, Aphex Twin and LFO for Pygmalion. The result was an organic shift towards ambient, loop-based music and knowing that Creation were after a big pop album the band were now fully expecting the chop.
This freedom did mean that they were able to create the most overtly futuristic record of their career. They chose to steer away from the noisy, ethereal sounds of dreamy guitar and solemn vocals, and the electronic elements the punctuated the previous record now became central.
Crazy for You exhibits the band’s obsession for deep ambience and minimalist extremities, blending percussive shimmers with echoing feedback loops, and this album arguably paved the way for modern indietronica. A week after Pygmalion was released, Slowdive were dropped from Creation.
“Shoegazing was a joke at the time, but I love the fact that it is a term that has been reclaimed by people who love a bunch of bands that never got to be in the mainstream” — Neil Halstead, Slowdive