Shoegazing (or shoegaze) is a subgenre of indie rock, alternative rock, and neo-psychedelia that emerged in the United Kingdom in the late 1980s. The style is typified by the blurring of component musical parts—typically significant guitar distortion, feedback and obscured vocals—into indistinguishable mixtures of sound.
The term "shoegazing" was coined by the British music press to ridicule the stage presence of a wave of groups who stood still during live performances in a detached, introspective, non-confrontational state, often with their heads down; the heavy use of effects pedals meant the performers were often looking down at their feet during concerts. The term was often used contemporaneously with "dream pop".
A loose label given to the shoegazing scene and other affiliated bands in London in the early 1990s was The Scene That Celebrates Itself. In the early 1990s, shoegazing groups were pushed aside by the American grunge movement and early Britpop acts such as Suede, forcing the relatively unknown bands to break up or reinvent their style altogether. In the 2000s, there was renewed interest in the genre among "nu gaze" bands.
Shoegaze combines ethereal, swirling vocals with layers of distorted, bent, flanged guitars, creating a wash of sound where no instrument is distinguishable from another. Most bands drew from the music of My Bloody Valentine as a template for the genre, although co-founder Kevin Shields stated that the band had never used any chorus, flanger or delay effects pedals.
"Shoegazing" was coined to describe dream pop bands. It originated in a concert review in Sounds for the newly formed band Moose in which singer Russell Yates read lyrics taped to the floor throughout the gig. The term was picked up by NME, who used it as a reference to the tendency of the bands' guitarists to stare at their feet—or their effects pedals—while playing, seemingly deep in concentration. Melody Maker preferred calling it "The Scene That Celebrates Itself", referring to the habit that the bands had of attending gigs of other shoegazing bands, often in Camden, and often playing in each other's bands. According to AllMusic: "The shatteringly loud, droning neo-psychedelia the band performed was dubbed shoegazing by the British press because the bandmembers stared at the stage while they performed".
The term was considered pejorative, especially by the English weekly music press who considered the movement as ineffectual, and it was disliked by many of the groups it purported to describe. Simon Scott of Slowdive commented: "I always thought Robert Smith, when he was in Siouxsie and the Banshees playing guitar [on the 1983's Nocturne video], was the coolest as he just stood there and let the music flood out. That anti showmanship was perfect so I never really understood why people began to use "shoegaze" as a negative term. I think if Slowdive didn't stand there looking at what pedal was about to go on and off we'd have been shite. [...] I am glad we were static and concentrated on playing well. Now it is a positive term." Lush's singer Miki Berenyi explained: "Shoegazing was originally a slag-off term. My partner [K.J. "Moose" McKillop], who was the guitarist in Moose, claims that it was originally levelled at his band. Apparently the journo was referring to the bank of effects pedals he had strewn across the stage that he had to keep staring at in order to operate. And then it just became a generic term for all those bands that had a big, sweeping, effects-laden sound, but all stood resolutely still on stage". Ride's singer Mark Gardener had another take on his group's static presentation: "We didn't want to use the stage as a platform for ego ... We presented ourselves as normal people, as a band who wanted their fans to think they could do that, too".
The most commonly cited precursors to shoegazing are the Cocteau Twins, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and My Bloody Valentine. Each band's music bridged the styles of garage rock, 1960s psychedelia and American indie bands like Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth. Other artists that have been identified as direct influences on shoegazing include the Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, Hüsker Dü, the Cure and Galaxie 500. Siouxsie and the Banshees was also a major influence, initially on Cocteau Twins. Slowdive named themselves after a Siouxsie and the Banshees song of the same name and took inspiration from the group at their beginnings. Lush, a shoegaze contemporary, were originally called "The Baby Machines", a line from a Siouxsie lyric. My Bloody Valentine emerged in the wake of that band's 1988 breakthrough (with the "You Made Me Realise" single and album Isn't Anything). The Trouser Press Guide to '90s Rock mentions that "A.R. Kane, the London duo ... (who dubbed their music 'dreampop') exerted a profound sonic influence on the legion of trippy shoegazer guitar bands that would emerge a few years later in the UK". Michael Azerrad's book Our Band Could Be Your Life cited an early 1990s Dinosaur Jr. tour of the United Kingdom as a key influence.
The Scene That Celebrates Itself
A general description given to shoegazing and other affiliated bands in London in the early 1990s was The Scene That Celebrates Itself. The first stirrings of recognition came when indie writer Steve Lamacq referred to Ride in an NME review as "The House of Love with chainsaws". The shoegazing genre label was quite often misapplied. As key bands such as Slowdive, Chapterhouse and Ride emerged from the Thames Valley, Swervedriver found themselves labelled shoegazers on account of their own Thames Valley origins, despite their more pronounced Hüsker Dü-meets-Stooges stylings.
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 with both the bands who formed the wave of newly commercialised grunge music which was making its way across the Atlantic, as well as those bands who formed the foundation of Britpop, such as Pulp, Oasis, Blur and Suede. Britpop also offered intelligible lyrics, often about the trials and tribulations of working-class life; this was a stark contrast to the "vocals as an instrument" approach of the shoegazers, which often prized the melodic contribution of vocals over their lyrical depth. Lush's final album was an abrupt shift from shoegazing to Britpop, which alienated many fans; the 1996 suicide of their drummer signalled Lush's dissolution. Following a long gap from My Bloody Valentine since Loveless, aside from their 2008 reunion tour, the band released MBV in February 2013. Shields explained their silence by noting, "I never could be bothered to make another record unless I was really excited by it."
Slowdive eventually morphed into the country-infused Mojave 3 and the dream pop Monster Movie, while other shoegazing bands either split or moved in other directions. The use of electronic dance and ambient elements by bands such as Slowdive and Seefeel paved the way for later developments in post-rock and electronica. Several former members of shoegazing bands later moved towards post-rock and the more electronica-based trip hop. Adam Franklin of Swervedriver released lo-fi albums under the moniker Toshack Highway.
A resurgence of the genre began in the late 1990s (particularly in the United States) and the early 2000s, that helped usher in what is now referred to as the "nu gaze" era. Also various heavy metal acts were inspired by shoegazing, which contributed to the emergence of "post-metal" and "metalgaze" styles. Particularly in the mid-2000s, French black metal acts Alcest and Amesoeurs began incorporating shoegazing elements into their sound, pioneering the blackgaze genre.