Various Artists – Revolution: The Shoegaze Revival

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Various Artists – Revolution: The Shoegaze Revival

It’s approaching three decades since a string of late-1980s guitar bands found themselves grouped together under the collective noun of ‘shoegaze’. The influence of some of those bands has proved an enduring one, with Slowdive, MBV, Ride, Pale Saints, Chapterhouse and others quoted as influences by a large number of more recent and current bands; some of them emulating and others purposefully developing the mid-tempo fuzzily-delayed and chorus-replete sound that emerged from North London over a quarter century ago. A sound that many of its adherents maintain never completely received the recognition that it deserved.

There is some truth in that idea, although one reason why so few of those bands achieved much in the way of mainstream recognition is that the entire shoegazing scene always had an ethos of indie-elitism attached to it somewhere. As thousands of club-goers were driving around looking for the first all night rave parties, a relatively quite small number of first wave shoegaze musicians were playing live shows to audiences of more often than not less than 500, and as indie dance attracted the crowds and electronics became a standard component in what was then still known as alternative music, the original ‘scene that celebrates itself’ packed up and went home quietly, for the most part.

I feel obliged to start this review with an informative preamble partly because Revolution: The Shoegaze Revival and the label behind it (Ear To Ear Records) are both the brainchild of the less well known yet more productive co-founder of Creation Records (alongside Alan McGee) Joe Foster, whom as you would expect knows quite a lot about the late-’80s London music world. And I would agree with Foster that a new bands compilation of this sort is very much overdue. In 2009 I reviewed a compilation of first wave shoegaze tracks for DOA (which you can read here) and at that time it definitely seemed that the compilers at Soma Records were performing a public service of sorts, rescuing very nearly forgotten tracks which would perhaps have slid into complete obscurity. Of course there have always been bands taking their influences from those pioneering shoegazers of the late-’80s, but in recent years the numbers of those bands have grown, and internationally. Represented on Revolution are bands from the UK and US as well as from Brazil, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Chile and around Europe and Asia. With 30 tracks in total this makes for a near-mesmerising collage of songs and interpretations of musical ideas that together can find themselves grouped under the shoegazing banner, and while I won’t attempt a complete rundown of every band that appears on the album, I’ve chosen to write about tracks that for whichever reason provide an insight into what the album intends to achieve.

It’s perhaps an oversimplification, but one thing I’ve noticed is that the bands on the compilation appear to fall into two categories; the traditionalists (recreating with accuracy the sounds of those first wave bands) and the modernists (bands with a slightly wider field of influences that often use synths where the traditionalists use their delay and chorus pedals). The first ten or so tracks of the album are given over to the traditionalists and among these are Trementina, whose woozy sounding guitars are a hybrid of Lush and MBV and whose “Hazy Youth” is a breackneck powerpop track redolent of mid-’80s indie heroines The Shop Assistants. That MBV guitar has a lot of present day bands going to some lengths to emulate it, and Canadian/Ukranian band Sounds Of Sputnik also take a six-string cue from Kevin Shields with slightly less emphasis on the effects pedals on one of their two contributions to the compilation, with the (slightly) more conventional mid-paced rock sound of “Overdrive”, and which contains an echo of Garbage rather than Lush in its own influences. Indonesia’s Intenna provide a slice of swaying psyche-pop with “My Flowery Dream” a song that reveals what might have happened had the Cocteau Twins and Ride ever recorded together. From Germany, Jaguwar veer between MBV pyrotechnics and the shimmering anthemics of Chapterhouse, while Australia’s Hideous Towns tend towards a more laidback sound with the dreampop reflections of “Pets”.

At over two hours of music, it’s inevitable that the more recognisable shoegaze sound of chorused guitars and mellow rhythms gets just a little repetitive, worthy as many of the contributions to the compilation are, which has not so much to do with the songs or the musicianship but how the songs are presented in their arrangements. Ear To Ear Records could perhaps have found another ten tracks and launched a series of Revolution compilations. Aware of a need for variety across the album, there are several tracks that break with the formula entirely. From France, Hermetic Delight’s “Funeral Party” resembles 60s garage punk more than it does dreampop, a song given an added boost by its being a live recording. The UK’s Blood Lips provide a darkly gothic take on the sound with “Heartbeats” and its tale of vampiric desires, resembling – in another of those ‘what if’s’ that an album such as this suggests – Nick Cave taking on vocal and songwriting duties with original darkwave trio Loop. From the US, Stellarscope’s “This Will End Tonight” displays a harder-edged sound with a glam-rock influence attached, and if there’s one track that sums up the album that’s possibly Italy’s Clustersun, whose “Hipgnosis” has the authentic sound of a band taking everything just one or two steps forwards, and is very nearly the highlight of the entire compilation. I say nearly, as there a lot to appreciate over the course of two hours.

While shoegazing will quite probably remain a footnote in the much lengthier ‘Complete History Of Rock Music’, collections such as Revolution will go a long way towards keeping the ‘scene that celebrates itself’ from completely retiring to its bedroom, and while bands following those blueprints laid down by their 80s forerunners might not ever find themselves gaining large amounts of recognition, a lot of them probably wouldn’t want it anyway.

Ear To Ear Records