Dream On: John Reed on shoegaze

Cherry Red’s new 5CD collection, Still In A Dream: A Story Of Shoegaze 1988-1995, serves both as a fine introduction to the genre but also as a record of how quickly a new sound can begin to eat itself. The first two acts on the set – The Jesus and Mary Chain and Cocteau Twins – cleverly serve as a template for much that would follow, so for every ‘Drive Blind’ it was also a recipe that any two-bit chancer with a Rickenbacker and flanger could have a stab at.

With a sometimes hostile press at its back, the form quickly faded yet its reach proved wide both in terms of legacy and geography. Some original bands have taken the renewed interest in their work as an opportunity to reconvene; elsewhere, a new generation of musicians – especially in the US and Eastern Europe – look to the template created during those years as a springboard for their own creations.

We caught up with John Reed – the man behind the tracklisting – for a quick chat about the album, and the genre itself.

I think when most people think of shoegaze a few headline bands spring to mind, but the tracklisting for ‘Still In A Dream…’ shows just how many acts loosely fall under the banner, and just how broad a church it was. What do you think the appeal was for musicians at the time?

Well, ‘shoegaze’ was music which looked inwards, in a sense. For shy, self-conscious indie types, this was a logical expression: they could express themselves musically, inspired by the likes of MBV, 4AD and the Mary Chain, without the fear of overtly connecting with an audience (and then maybe getting rejected). Also, it seemed cool. American bands like Sonic Youth had this bittersweet mix of the brutal and the melodic. A beautiful noise, to borrow from the film title. Shoegaze gave kids with guitars endless excuses to indulge themselves with every FX pedal imaginable!

Were there any acts who you feel could’ve been bigger? Sweet Jesus certainly get regular spins in our house.

If Spacemen 3 hadn’t split, they could have been huge, with that mix of Jason and Pete/Sonic. Loop likewise: they totally rocked, way ahead of their time. A lot of bands made a handful of cracking singles but couldn’t project out (which is what Brit Pop did to an astonishing degree), which is what most bands need to reach a wider audience. Or be really original: Seefeel mixed shoegaze with dance music. A.R. Kane were truly ground-breaking but perhaps lacked the songs to be huge.

Kevin Shields and My Bloody Valentine obviously loom large over the genre, even though he seemed to hit the musical version of writer’s block after ‘Loveless’. Do you think it was his perfectionism that held him back, or was it a case of him creating a beast that he didn’t know what to do with?

One problem with soundscape-type music is that you can disappear up your own orifice if you’re not careful. This is abstract stuff and it’s on record that Kevin Shields spent way too long on Loveless. I wonder if bands should have a contractual requirement to deliver or they lose a limb or something! A motivating factor.

Isn’t Anything is a work of genius and it didn’t take ages: people can do stuff if they want to or need to. Perhaps he didn’t actually want to make another record, in case it wasn’t up to much?

The ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ nature of popular music at the time meant critics (and audiences) quickly tired of the form, although it had a much longer life overseas, especially in the US. Which acts do you think picked up the baton best?

Medicine were quite radical in their interpretation and being on Creation meant they were still in the thick of it in terms of UK audiences. We included Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips not because they were strictly shoegaze (clearly, they were not) but their skewed, off-kilter psychedelia shared much in common with shoegaze. However, they both evolved and morphed into something else (not necessarily better).

I was really delighted at the wealth of amazing tracks by non-UK bands from 1993-1995. Not saying everything they did was great but stuff like ‘The Last Unicorn’ by Swirl is a classic. Plus stuff on labels such as Slumberland: The Lilys obviously went on to have a hit with ‘Nanny In Manhattan’. And the Brian Jonestown Massacre, of course…

If you were to choose a ‘definitive’ shoegaze track – something that captured the genre’s essence – what would it be?

It would be by My Bloody Valentine, who aren’t on the box set! Probably something like ‘Soon’ or more likely ‘When You Wake (You’re Still In A Dream)’, which of course inspired our box set title.

Still In A Dream: A Story Of Shoegaze is released on 29th January via Cherry Red.

About Douglas Baptie (178 Articles)
Editor at Words & Guitars. Lives in Carlisle, far away from 'that London'.
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