One of indie-rock's finest subgenres. With warm waves of distortion, limitless guitar texture and the most ethereal vocals - shoegaze is music for dreamers.
After first emerging in the early 1980s, shoegaze was the antithesis of big arena rock, or any kind of rockstar behaviour for that matter. Obscuring vocals which ebb and flow under deliberate feedback, distorted guitars and swirling layers of noise, the gauzy, moody music was naturally for the introverted. The genre name itself also hints at introspection, coined from the notion that shoegazers spent more time looking at their feet and pedals rather than engaging with their audience.
Despite the detached nature of the genre, the scene and its burgeoning DIY artists gained a reputation for being a close-knit crew who greatly inspired each other (and still do) prompting journos and critics to label shoegaze: "the scene that celebrates itself". By maintaining a fashionable air of unsociability, it is not surprising that the genre and its aesthetic still appeals to a Gen-Z audience today, who pick up on and resurrect the genre through moody trends on TikTok.
Notably, shoegaze really had its first resurgence since the 80s in the early 2000s, via the sound of Sofia Coppola's 2003 film Lost in Translation. Compiling giants of shoegaze, dreampop, and electronic ambient in Air, Jesus and The Mary Chain, Roxy Music and my bloody valentine, the Kevin Shields-curated soundtrack was the perfect score to give the film its powerful romantic feeling. The highly aestheticised genre captured the hearts of Y2K film fans, contributing to the popularity of the shoegaze all over again. (Find out more about the Lost In Translation soundtrack over on our Iconic Y2K Movie Music Moments blog feature).
The greatest bands of shoegaze have had a long-term effect on today's musical landscape, inspiring a new school of shoegaze, with bands like bdrmm, Hotline TNT and Whitelands ready to take on the mantle. The scene's key innovators and pioneers are still playing a role in its revival themselves with Boston-based shoegaze band Drop Nineteens breaking their thirty-year hiatus with new music in 2023, Slowdive's first album in six years and the return of shoegaze luminaries Ride in 2024.
From proto-shoegaze to the genre's most defining albums, we pull from our Rough Trade Essentials range to celebrate shoegaze's enduring success.
The Jesus and Mary Chain - Psychocandy (1985)
Mesmerising gothic pop which laid the groundwork for the shoegaze genre. The Scottish rocker's debut presented a dark soundscape with distinctive sugary melodies occasionally breaking through the post-modern disinterest. This album was one of the earliest examples of such a wall-of-sound style feedback, influencing future bands to experiment with grittier sonics. Psychocandy is still considered JAMC's magnum opus and of course, the renowned track Just Like Honey had its huge moment in the 2003 cult film Lost In Translation. 40 years later and the band will return in 2024 with a fresh approach to their influential sound on their eighth album Glasgow Eyes.
Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas (1990)
Another highly influential Scottish alt-rock band. Releasing on 4AD (home to first-generation/proto shoegaze greats Pale Saints, A.R. Kane and Blonde Redheads), the Cocteua Twins were well placed to set a blueprint for the shoegaze and dreampop bands of the 90s. Although not strictly shoegaze - without these distorted harmonies and sonic swirls there might not be the genre today. Although Elizabeth Fraser's vocals were a significantly higher register than the 'shoegaze' bands we have come to know since, there is an obvious overlap between the dreamy, surrealism of dream pop and textured sounds of shoegaze.
Swirling guitars and hypnotic drones balanced by genuine pop song craft. Ride's Nowhere typifies all of the best qualities of the movement's sound. Shimmering, psychedelic atmospheres, squalling guitars shot through with distortion. One of the most seminal records of the shoegazer movement. Now the shoegaze stars are back for more on seventh album Interplay, available on Rough Trade Exclusive vinyl.
my bloody valentine - Loveless (1991)
The quintessential shoegaze album. On Loveless Kevin Shields and co created music of pure sensation with textures and tones that could be felt as much as heard. Heavily influenced by the noise-rock stylings of Sonic Youth and The Jesus and Mary Chain established some of the key production trends of shoegaze, favouring a lo-fi allure and the melting glide-guitar sound. Although its lyrics are famously indecipherable this album is beautifully pensive and full of earworms. A shoegaze classic.
Slint - Spiderland (1991)
A fuzzed-up wall of sound and the bridge between post-rock and shoegaze. The teenage rockers made a powerful record in Spiderland, fascinatingly off-kilter, pulling maths-rock and post-rock elements into a dark and ambient soundscape, to meet introverted lyrics - true shoegaze style. Spiderland's story is crucial to the history of the genre as the young group utilised the unique shoegaze way of using the pedals, their own distinctive guitar slide, building a unique spidery feel to their recordings.
"It's an amazing record," he wrote,"and no one still capable of being moved by rock music should miss it. In 10 years' time, it will be a landmark and you'll have to scramble to buy a copy then. Beat the rush."
Steve Albini, Melody Maker
Mazzy Star - So Tonight I Might See (1993)
A dreamy blend of shadowy psychedelia and folk-rock. Mazzy Star's So Tonight Thate I Might See embodied a gentler dream pop sound, with frontwoman Hope Sandoval's heavenly vocals taking on a sweet folk sound. With hazy guitar and a certain disparate nature, in many ways, this album was also defined by its trademark shoegaze atmospherics, a 'proto-shoegaze' album of the most ethereal quality.
A staple in shoegaze history, Slowdive's Souvlaki soundtrack to a vivid memory. One which washes over you with its layered tones, kaleidoscopic feel and woozy love songs. With writing talents from the legendary Brian Eno (Sing and Here Comes The Sun) this album is one of the most lyrically captivating albums of the genre and one of the best shoegaze albums of all time.
Spiritualized - Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating in Space (1997)
A cauldron of genres from rock to psych, shimmering with shoegaze textures. Spiritualized put forward a new kind of music, influenced by 90s trance rock but with more absorbing melodies. Although the sound of Spiritualized steered away from shoegaze, being less guitar-driven in nature, the band's third album still captures a frenetic energy whilst setting a template for the openness and emotive vocals of shoegaze.
Britpop's popularity marked the end of the shoegaze scene. Or so we thought. We take a look at the biggest influences on the development of shoegaze and the names now keeping it alive.
A void of echo and melancholy, The Cure's Disintegration inspired artists to create music based on atmosphere and the band's new wave goth sensibilities can be heard in more contemporary shoegaze sounds.
The jangly, noisy and sugar-coated melodies of The Stone Roses had a defining impact on the evolution of shoegaze with many shoegaze artists incorporating elements of Madchester-style psychedelia into their experimentation.
With dream pop commonly perceived as an origin of shoegaze, enigmatic East London duo A.R. Kane can be hailed as progenitors of the genre, introducing the approach of layering sounds. A dreamy blend of dub, acid rock, free jazz and pop finding psychedelic guitar feedback mixed with drowned-out vocals. As rare Black British musicians in the guitar world in the eighties, A.R. Kane are important figures in British music history, as British music and its genres evolved in line with its changing cultural diversity. The band's impact continues to be felt as contemporary Black British acts like Whitelands or Dean Blunt experiment with the genre-mashing, 'shoegazing' style which A.R. Kane inspired. We also see the influence of shoegaze travel to funk-inflected dark synths of experimental American artist Yves Tumor and the unique grungey blend of London buzz band Bar Italia.
Another band whose sound heavily leaned into dream pop sensibilities, London four-piece Lush rose to prominence with their alternative mix of shoegaze and dream pop at the height of the Britpop movement. Moodier than Britpop, drenched with guitars droning through a wall of feedback, it goes without saying that Lush are crucial names in the history of shoegaze and their rock-ier live performance styles place them firmly in gazer territory. In 2022, Lush frontwoman Miki Berenyi published her brilliant memoir and the following year Lush guitarist and singer Emma Anderson released her first solo album, Pearlies, on famous shoegaze label Sonic Cathedral (who celebrate 20 years of being the UK's premier shoegaze label in 2024).
Also returning after a thirty-year hiatus are Boston shoegaze stars Drop Nineteens, reuniting the original lineup for new music where their guitar reverb is as expansive as ever. NYC shoegaze art-rockers Blonde Redhead reappeared nine years on from their last full-length with the slow-burning Sit Down For Dinner. Joining these comeback kings are Ride, who reveal their seventh album Interplay, building on the dreamy melodic hooks of their early work.
The dreamy and uniquely retro feel of bands like alvvays, The War on Drugs (Slave Ambient) and more electro-pop leaning M83 all play with the hallmarks of the shoegaze sounds emerging out of 80s and 90s indie rock music.
Hot right now, Jack White approved New York band Hotline TNT bring back the heady atmospherics of the shoegaze days. With three guitarists the band emulate the 90s sound, a dense but dynamic wall of sound, complimented by synths and distortion.
Not long signed to shoegaze stalwarts Sonic Cathedral, deary have been making a name for themselves with their ethereal lullabies, a mix of shoegaze beauty and trip-hop beats which have led to them being compared to the likes of Slowdive, Cocteau Twins and Portishead.
Hull rockers bdrmm's debut was described: as "a modern shoegaze classics" and the rising quartet have only been on the ascent since. An intense noisy and chaotic soundscape which always manages to reach euphoria, reminiscent of the greats. bdrmm take shoegaze into its new era by incorporating new electronic sounds. We are excited to see what else this band can do for modern shoegaze since their signing to Mogwai run label Rock Action.