Shoegazing (also known as shoegaze) is a style of alternative rock that emerged in southern England in the late 1980s. Loveless by My Bloody Valentine, released in 1991 (see 1991 in music) is said to have defined the sound, although this is increasingly disputed by those artists associated with the genre who claimed a closer identification with the more hypnotic, rhythm based bands like Loop....
Shoegazing is characterised by a self-deprecating, introspective, non-confrontational feel. Generally employed are distortion and the fuzzbox, droning riffs and a Phil Spector-esque wall of sound from the noisy guitars. Another way to describe the guitar effects would be "lead-guitarlessness", typically with two distorted rhythm guitars interweaving together and giving an exceptionally amorphous sound. Although lead guitar riffs were often present, they were not the central focus of most shoegazing songs.
Vocals typically are subdued in volume and tone, but underneath the layers of guitars is often a strong sense of melody. While the genres which influenced shoegazing often used drum machines, shoegazing more often features live drumming. Chapterhouse utilised both samples and live drumming, while drummers such as Chris Cooper of Pale Saints and the late Chris Acland of Lush often displayed complex drum patterns.
The name was originally thought to be coined by the New Musical Express, noting the tendency of the bands' guitarists to stare at their feet (or their effects pedals), seemingly deep in concentration, while playing. In 2006 it was also claimed that the name was invented as a term of mockery by Andy Ross, founder of Food Records, for members of his staff who attended gigs of emerging shoegazing acts such as Lush and Moose . Many of the band members were young, inexperienced & shy. The subdued vocals were not just subdued for effect, but due partly to a lack of confidence in the singers. Some fans will argue another story, that shoegazing music was originally made with the intention of being listened to while taking heroin, and that the name refers to a passage from the book Naked Lunch. Indeed, Spacemen 3 had a record called Taking Drugs (To Make Music To Take Drugs To), but they were pre-shoegazing, so even if they had been inspired by Naked Lunch, neither they, nor their fans or critics, discerned the link to shoegazing. Melody Maker preferred the more staid term The Scene That Celebrates Itself, referring to the habit which the bands had of attending gigs of other shoegazing bands, often in Camden. The key record labels associated with the genre were Creation Records (My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Slowdive) and 4AD Records (Lush, Pale Saints)....The first stirrings of recognition came when indie writer Steve Lamacq referred to Ride in a review for the NME as "The House of Love with chainsaws". In the U.S. the music is sometimes now referred to as "dream pop".
The genre label was quite often misapplied. Key bands such as Ride, Chapterhouse and Slowdive emerged from the Thames Valley and as such Swervedriver found themselves labelled 'shoegazers' on account of their own (coincidental) Thames Valley origins - despite their more pronounced Hüsker Dü stylings. Curve were once described as "the exact point where shoegazer meets goth" and the genre did overlap with others to some extent. It was certainly the case that bands such as Blur, on occasion, adopted elements of shoegazing ('She's So High' for instance) on a purely commercial basis. The careers of second-wave shoegazers like Thousand Yard Stare and Revolver were caught up in a general backlash which affected the scene. In spite of this, bands like Chapterhouse, Ride and Slowdive ("the My Bloody Valentine Creation can afford" went one wry review) did leave behind several albums that on reflection have stood the test of time as indicative of early-mid 90s British indie....
The coining of the term "The Scene That Celebrates Itself" was in many ways the beginning of the end for the first wave of shoegazers. The bands became perceived by critics as over-privileged, self-indulgent and middle-class. This perception was in sharp contrast to those bands who formed the wave of newly-commercialised grunge music that was making its way across the Atlantic, and those bands who formed the foundation of Britpop, such as Oasis and (despite their advancing years) Pulp. Britpop also offered intelligible lyrics, often about the trials and tribulations of working class life, another contrast to the "vocals as an instrument" approach of the shoegazers which often left vocals as merely another noise in the mix, with little concern for lyrical content.