Shoegaze is a subgenre of alternative rock that emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It’s named for the tendency of its performers to remove themselves from the stage during live shows, preferring instead to stand at the back and operate as silent “shoegazers” while their fellow band members took center stage. Despite this unconventional approach to live performance, however, shoegaze bands were also known for their intense focus on sonic textures. The lyrics frequently reference sights and sounds of natural environments, while lead guitarists almost invariably opt for heavily distorted effects with whammy bars set as low as possible.
In fact, there are so many characteristics that define shoegaze that it would be difficult to list them all in a single article. That being said, here are some of the most important elements that you need to know about if you want to become an expert on this genre.
It’s possible to tell an awful lot about a band by the sound of their guitars. Certain genres, after all, tend to favor certain types of instrumentation - and shoegaze is certainly one of them. For instance, if you listen to My Bloody Valentine’s “Only Shallow,” you’ll know that these are distorted guitars. MBV’s distorted guitar sounds are really heavy, with a lot of sustain. They’re very fuzzy , with not a lot of definition. They’re also very loud - often taking the lead over the vocals or the rhythm section, depending on the song.
Another thing you notice about the music of many shoegaze bands is the slow, almost languid tempo of the rhythms. Many of these songs are really, really slow - closer to dirge than dance, really. The tempo of the rhythms in most shoegaze songs wouldn’t be out of place in a funeral procession - which is ironic considering how much the genre is associated with youth culture. Indeed, many shoegaze bands were fronted by singers in their early 20s, and yet the rhythms of their songs were often closer to the dirges played at funerals for elderly people.
The vocals in many shoegaze songs are also ethereal. That is, they are often high-pitched, droning, and nearly whisper-like. The best word to describe how vocals sound in this genre is something like “spiritual” or “otherworldly.” The ethereal vocals frequently sound like they’re echoing, too - as if they’re coming from far away. That’s because many shoegaze vocalists often sang with reverb. That is, they used a device that produces a kind of echo-like reverb that adds a sense of distance to the vocals.
Many shoegaze vocalists would also use a lot of delay as well as reverb on their vocals. Delay is a device that repeats the vocals, usually with some slight variation in pitch. The most common way delay is achieved is by sending the vocalist’s vocals through an echo unit. Reverb is different from delay, in that it doesn’t repeat the vocals. Rather, it creates a sort of echoing sound effect on the vocals, as if they’re being spoken into a large room. Both delay and reverb add a sense of distance to the vocals, making them sound ethereal. The most common way to achieve both delay and reverb is to use two separate devices.
Shoegaze is a very unique style of rock music that has earned a loyal following over the years. This is largely due to the fact that there are so many things that make shoegaze unique – distorted guitar sounds, slow tempo rhythms, ethereal vocals, frequent use of delay and reverb effects. For many people, these are not just aesthetic choices that make a certain type of music stand out; they are symbols of the desire of musicians to break free from the standard formula of rock music and do something completely different.
The lyrics frequently reference sights and sounds of natural environments, while lead guitarists almost invariably opt for heavily distorted effects with whammy bars set as low as possible.