Fucking shoegaze. Bleurghh. Kids, seriously, take it from those of us who were there. We never ever called it that. Whether it was a late night 20/20-fuelled (ask your dad) soporific comedown at some schlep’s dingy broom cupboard with Isn’t Anything crunching out of the Saisho; hypnotised by that first Ride EP (and the second, even the third, but not the stupidly, massively overrated debut album); battered by the unexpected ferocity of the allegedly foppish Slowdive and their brutal live show; or still holding on to the remnants of a diminished scene as Lush swapped atmosphere for straight ahead pop, we never ever called it that. Jesus, never that.
Shortly after the event, when Adidas and hoods and union jacks had stomped their way to the front and TFI Friday had re-affirmed our cultural touchstone with a blunt, laddish thud, where chorus pedals were really for girls and ersatz arms-aloft community had replaced any sense of insularity and of self, ‘The Scene That Celebrates Itself’ (the tag that the forward-thinking and ever-supportive Melody Maker had attached to this left-field enclave early on) found itself with little to celebrate. Pffft. And then there were none. Liam, Noel – your kingdom awaits. Miki, Kevin, Mark – there’s the door. Try not to trip on your fringe, there’s a good chap.
Two decades on, the re-emergence of the shoegazing (natch) scene should surprise no one. My Bloody Valentine were sucked back into being by an increasingly hungry hardcore. History had already started to re-evaluate the Slowdive back catalogue, and while the return of Ride in 2014 was fuelled by a fondness for their raw power dynamics rather than their song craft, it’s Lush who history has been kindest to and it’s their underrated-at-the-time material that has bloomed as a generation has rushed by.
Clearly, the big guns can name their price. The original crowd want a piece and so do their clued-up kids. They all feature on Cherry Red’s lavish new collection. Lush’s ‘De-Luxe’, Ride’s ‘Drive Blind’ and Slowdive’s eponymous signature tune still melt the walls. Curve‘s ‘Ten Little Girls’ and Cranes‘ ‘Inescapable’ still electrify and terrify respectively. There are duds aplenty, for sure, but five sides is pushing it for both quality control and context. The Dylans? The pushing-their-luck-with-that-name Adorable? Nah.
But, in the shadows, unheralded gems. Bang Bang Machine topped Peel’s Festive 50 in 1991 with ‘Geek Love’ and it’s here in all its obsessive, disquieting glory. Bleach had a sliver of dark brilliance and someone should really have included their dizzying spoken-word ‘Shotgun’ but ‘Decadance’ is nearly its equal. ‘Girls Have Gone Missing’ by AC Marias and ‘Crystal Eyes’ by Nightblooms are unexpected treats. Tracks by The Belltower, Galaxie 500 and Luna (their epic ’23 Minutes In Brussels’ closes proceedings) connect the dots across a classy lineage.
Ultimately, as it was at the time, diamonds in the rough: for every three minute, thrilling demonstration of faltering harmonies and shoddily set up guitar, there was always some bozo trying to do it clean. Thankfully, repeated scans of the track listing reveal no sign of Kingmaker. No, of course – they were never part of this whole shebang but then neither were a good lump of this lot here. Look, if hindsight really does know best (usually the case) and time is a healer (jury’s out), then the shoegazing (keeping up?) scene, as it was, was unfairly ridiculed and abandoned when all manner of two bit chancers showed up. 2016 will see new music from Lush and Slowdive. Twenty-odd years on and that seems like a good idea. That’s the kind of madness we could do with more of.