I don’t know how it started to be honest. I know there was some sort of precursor to my interest in shoegaze, but I don’t know what it was.
Maybe it was when I listened to a Spotify playlist called “Alternative 90s” that I discovered a band named Slowdive. Or maybe it was because of my interest in bands like Alcest and Deftones that combined metal with shoegaze. Or maybe it was my interest in artists like Pastel Ghost and Sidewalks and Skeletons, who were influenced by shoegaze, whether that be the former’s cover of “when you sleep” by My Bloody Valentine or the latter’s sampling of the demo version of “Miranda” in their song “Glow.” Or maybe I just liked how the word shoegaze sounded.
I think my interest in shoegaze started when I was listening to Cocteau Twins and Beach House. The former was a pioneer of a genre of music called dream pop, which uses the ethereal soundscapes of ambient music and mixes it with melodies. For me, it took me out of the world in a mental way with how escapist it felt. I could relax when listening to a song like “Cherry-coloured Funk” and not think about anything outside of the music I listened to. Well, it’s more that I did think about stuff, but I didn’t have to overthink them, such as my final assignment for my bachelor’s degree.
Top: Beach House. Bottom: Cocteau Twins
Cocteau Twins piqued my curiosity as to what kind of artists they may have influenced and one of those artists was the previously mentioned Beach House, who were influenced by a lot of other dream-pop acts, but also by shoegazing bands like My Bloody Valentine. And that led me to re-examine this genre of which I listened to some songs.
Suddenly, shoegaze became more than a word for me. It was described as an outgrowth of the dream pop scene of the 80s. When I read that, I realized it was a successor to that dreamy and melodic sound that I loved from Cocteau Twins. I remembered when I listened to a few songs by Slowdive. I decided to give them another try by listening to their album Souvlaki, considered to be a staple of the genre. There was a haunting ambience to “Souvlaki Space Station” (probably a contender for my favorite track from the album) that was beautiful. It felt like a more introspective take on the contemporary 60s-inspired psychedelic music that I listened to as a teenager. For me, there was no “meaning,” but I could think about all sorts of things regarding the human condition and somehow this song fit into that vibe.
And then there was also that cover of My Bloody Valentine’s “when you sleep” by Pastel Ghost, who sings the lyrics while drowned in synthesizers. I know I gave a less-than-stellar description of her cover of the song, but she pulls it off and gives the song the romanticism that the original song had. So naturally, I decided that I would listen to My Bloody Valentine’s discography, starting with Isn’t Anything?
I regretted it.
It’s not that I didn’t like the album. I think I was expecting a sound that would feel familiar in that I’ve heard this kind of sound before and I would love it. Because of that, when I listened to “Soft as Snow (But Warm Inside),” I was taken aback by how unfamiliar it sounded. It felt like I was listening to some poorly made music that sounded nightmarish instead of beautiful as I thought music should sound. But I decided to power through the album and suddenly, I started to get lost into the music. I was able to finally break in and appreciate the almost swirling aspect of the sounds as I listened to a barrage of distortion.
I became a fan of shoegaze and I think in my “research” to find good music to listen to, I realized that I was having a character arc of sorts where I was getting more into shoegaze. It was an interesting journey where I discovered bands like My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Lush, Drop Nineteens, and Pale Saints, as well as those under the radar, such as Kinoko Teikoku and Yuragi, two of my favorite bands from Japan that are influenced by shoegaze. And as I was finding all these bands, there was one question that was plaguing my mind.
Why was I so invested in the shoegaze genre? It could be a hyper fixation I had. After all, I tend to have a rotating list of interests that I tend to fixate on at certain times. And I was wondering why I was fixating on shoegaze. I was listening to other kinds of music, but for some reason, there was something about shoegaze that stuck with me. It felt like the kind of music that I could talk about for days and days. I was somehow into the whole “culture” around it, like the memes about staring at your shoes.
And I wonder if there was an escape for me when I was discovering bands in my desire to become a “shoegazer.” Just like how I felt when I was listening to Cocteau Twins and Beach House, the music provided. And that’s what shoegaze did for me. The distorted effects and the obscured vocals felt like it was swirling around me, and the sometimes-overwhelming volume that I came to love just covered me. I was covered in the wall of sound.
I began the year 2020 with the hope that things would be better. It was the final year of my undergraduate studies (I passed in the end), and I was feeling aimless. I had assignments that were due. I fell into music and used Spotify more often to keep myself busy by listening to different kinds of music. And eventually, I felt that I was settling into a comfortable groove. I was considering saving up money from my job at the time to find a place of my own so I can learn to be independent after living with my family, but the lockdown changed everything.
My world was thrown in disarray. Eventually, my family and I moved to a new place. I finished my bachelor’s and I immediately got accepted at a university nearby for my master’s degree on a part-time basis. But this time, I didn’t have the confidence in my undergraduate years to complete my assignments. I could be rather lazy, and I did have a bad habit of procrastination, but this time, I didn’t know if my heart was into it. It didn’t help that I had to deal with multiple lockdowns throughout 2020 and 2021, which led me to be a shut-in.
And so, the music of shoegaze proved to be an escape for me. The noise could be overwhelming, but I found solace in it and the lyrics were often incomprehensible, with me sometimes pausing the music to read the lyrics or looking them up online. Without sounding like a 14-year-old edge lord who just watched The Dark Knight and discovered 4chan, I felt uncertain about the state of my life.
One day, I decided to listen to the next album by My Bloody Valentine, which was their seminal loveless. Considered by some folks to be the shoegaze album or the best out of the offerings from the genre, I turned it on, ready to hear the wall of sound take me on a journey outside of the reality I lived in. Like the shoegaze bands who stared at their effects pedals (it alters the sound of the instruments being played) and who came off as detached to the music press, I felt detached, but in the sense that I was taken to this beautiful world of sound that I couldn’t describe in words unless if I was maybe a music journalist. But I could see and imagine them.
I finally understood why shoegaze was popular. I understood what it was about the music that made me become a “shoegazer.” The wall of sound and the obscured vocals allowed me to drown the self-critical buzz in my mind out. It felt like an antidote to how I felt. I could reach in through the deep recesses of my mind that created the self-critical buzz of my insecurities and feel better about myself. Without those beautifully distorted sounds and those incomprehensible and obscured, yet ethereal vocals, I wouldn’t have decided to give myself a chance.
The music wasn’t a solution, but a redirect to the path of helping myself.