This article is taken from the first issue of the Fuzz Club Magazine which you can pick up HERE.

Dom Gourlay looks back thirty years to 1988 as a pivotal moment in the history of shoegaze and digs out ten lesser-known gems from the era…

It’s interesting now looking back over the last 30 years of alternative music how much reverence is attached to artists like My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Slowdive. The bands that defined the genre known as “shoegaze.” However, it wasn’t always like that, as anyone fortunate enough (or unfortunate in one or two cases) to have seen many of the acts from that era back in the day will testify. Rewind the clock thirty years back to 1988 and it was a very different musical landscape indeed.   

While the mainstream was dominated by international megastars – Michael Jackson’s Bad and George Michael’s Faith being two of that year’s top-selling albums – the underground was bubbling over with an array of otherworldly sounds from around the globe. If The Jesus And Mary Chain had provided the catalyst with their excellent game changer Psychocandy three years earlier, a whole new wave of acts in thrall to that record started to appear. It’s probably easy to reminisce and cite the Reid brothers undoubted masterpiece as something of a groundhog day but let’s not forget the impact certain bands from that initial post-punk era had on sowing the seeds too.

Bands like The Cure, whose sound had developed over the course of four albums from the snotty, brattish teenagers that constructed their debut Three Imaginary Boys in 1979 to the brooding intensity of 1982’s Pornography, a record which paved the way for bands to experiment with layers and effects like never before. Likewise, there was The Chameleons, arguably Manchester’s best kept secret and a band so often written out of this kind of dichotomy yet whose back catalogue between 1982 and 1986 was pretty flawless. While their use of layered guitars with the bass driving the band’s sound from the front was unique at the time, it went on to be a pivotal element in many of the shoegaze elite’s most iconic moments. Then, of course, there’s the Cocteau Twins, whose sonic effervescence undoubtedly wrote the blueprint for much of what followed that decade and beyond.

What’s interesting is tracing the journey of the ‘Big 3’s arrival at such a reverential point. In particular My Bloody Valentine, whose earliest recordings sound like a confused mash-up of The Cramps and The Velvet Underground. Formed in Dublin in 1983, it took several line-up changes, a year-long sojourn to Berlin and then subsequent relocation to London for them to eventually discover and hone the sound that would go on to define theirs and future generations to come. Indeed, one of the first shows I attended as a teenager still finding my feet musically saw My Bloody Valentine deliver a shambolic performance at Nottingham’s now-defunct Garage venue in 1987. At no point during the show was there any hint they’d put out one of the most groundbreaking records of the decade 12 months later, never mind the peerless beauty of Loveless at the turn of the nineties. 

For both Ride and Slowdive, their emergence at the tail end of the 1980s coincided with the upsurge of guitar bands from both sides of the pond intent on fusing dynamics that veered between loud and quiet, soft and hard yet always melodious in structure. When the dearly missed Snub TV first aired Ride’s ‘Chelsea Girl’ video in January 1990 it felt like a breath of fresh air. And what’s more, because it was created by four (at the time) teenagers, they were easier to identify with unlike the Mary Chain or My Bloody Valentine, who seemed like the cooler, detached kids from the school year above at the time. Throughout that year, Ride seemed to be permanently on tour and by the end of April, I’d seen them four times in various sized venues across the East Midlands.

Supporting at three of those four shows was a band called The Charlottes, whose sonic belligerence veered between the ethereal and the aggressive. Often compared to both The Primitives and The Mary Chain, their line-up featured one Simon Scott on drums who’d soon leave to join an embryonic Slowdive. If this scene was ever about celebrating itself, it had to provide a unified launchpad first. 

On the periphery, a number of other bands started to emerge, many of whom would be witnessed for the first time bagging support slots with the bigger alternative bands of the day. Burton-On-Trent five-piece The Telescopes being one in question, their breathtaking live sets standing out from the crowd thanks to the wall of noise emanating from the speakers and not to mention possessing in their ranks a frontman in Stephen Lawrie who seemed capable of seducing and then executing his audience in the same sentence. Their first release, a split flexi-disc 7” with fellow psychedelic noise deliverers Loop announced the band’s arrival with delirious intention. Unpredictable and in their own words, uneasy listening. The Telescopes – now essentially a solo vehicle for Lawrie and an ever-changing band of sound carriers – still confound their audiences to this day, each of their subsequent releases significantly different to its predecessor.

Pale Saints, a trio from Leeds who’d put out a couple of tracks on compilations around the latter part of the decade before being snapped up by 4AD in 1989, were also a crucial forebearer. Their first EP Barging Into The Presence Of God unleashed them into the national spotlight, once again via the medium of Snub TV like so many of their peers. Ride even covered the EP’s lead track ‘Sight Of You’ for a John Peel session the following year, and while their star only shone briefly over the course of three albums, the band’s legacy remains intact.

For Slowdive, it was very different back then. Press darlings upon the emergence of their self-titled debut EP, it didn’t take long for them to become figures of hate not only with the media but also some of their musical peers. While Richey Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers declared “I will always hate Slowdive more than Hitler,” Melody Maker writer Dave Simpson described their second album – 1993’s Souvlaki – as being “a soulless void” before going on to profess “I would rather drown choking in a bath full of porridge than ever listen to it again.” That Souvlaki has since gone on to be heralded as one of the most influential records of the Nineties while Slowdive continue to headline festivals and fill arenas all over the world tells its own story. Yet at the time they were seen as poor relations of the scene whose shows outside of the capital rarely attracted numbers exceeding double figures. 

That was the legacy of those bands, and indeed many more from the same period whose work tends to go understated. Liverpool outfit The Boo Radleys are perhaps best known for their 1995 smash hit single ‘Wake Up Boo!’ which became one of the defining moments of Britpop. Yet their Ichabod And I and Everything’s Alright Forever LPs, released in 1990 and 1992 respectively, are far superior in terms of moulding cacophonies of noise, distortion and melody. Lush are another band whose earliest releases characterised the classic elements of what became the archetypal shoegaze sound before going on to try their luck at radio-friendly ditties towards the middle of the 1990s. 

Perhaps more importantly, many of the bands whose music became synonymous with the shoegaze prototype remain largely undiscovered. Here are 10 45s we implore you to track down…

1. THE NIGHTBLOOMS – CRYSTAL EYES

Released in the early part of 1990 on Welsh label Fierce Records, ‘Crystal Eyes’ was The Nightblooms second single and undoubtedly their pièce de résistance. Afterwards, the Dutch four-piece would go on to record two albums and a handful of EPs before splitting in 1996. This, however, remains peerless.

2. SMASHING ORANGE – “NOT VERY MUCH TO SEE”

Formed in 1990 by brother and sister duo Rob and Sarah Montejo, Smashing Orange appeared from nowhere, their collusion of atmospheric noise punctuated by the aforementioned’s luscious harmonies saw them hailed as America’s answer to The Telescopes. This 45, released on Sheffield’s Native Records in 1991 still sounds gloriously epic today. 

3. MOONSHAKE – “FIRST EP”

This four-piece were originally cited as an indie supergroup of sorts with individual members having played in other notable bands from that era, including C86 stalwarts The Wolfhounds. However, it wasn’t until coming together as Moonshake that real magic started to happen, and this 1991 EP – particularly lead track ‘Gravity’ – released on legendary imprint Creation, bears testament to their undoubted talents.

4. THE SUNFLOWERS – “TEENAGE DEATH”

Hailing from Tynemouth in the north east of England, The Sunflowers remain something of an unknown quantity as they were back then, yet their admittedly tiny discography contains several flawless artefacts such as this – the band’s second single, released in the early part of 1990 on American independent Sympathy For The Record Label. It’s also worth pointing out that the b-side, ‘Twenty Fifteen’ recorded in one live take renders itself far superior to the title track.

5. JANE FROM OCCUPIED EUROPE – “LITTLE VALLEY TOWN”

Named after a Swell Maps LP and augmenting a sound that could possibly be described as the Television Personalities with better recording equipment on stronger acid. This Salisbury based five-piece weren’t around very long, but the handful of records they managed to put out made a significant impact on the scene at the time. None more so than this woozy sonic assault that came out in 1990 on 7% Records.

6. DAISY HILL PUPPY FARM – “DAISY HILL PUPPY FARM EP”

This four-track EP landed unsuspectingly via mail order after being championed by the late John Peel. Released in 1988 on Lakeland Records, it highlighted this Icelandic outfit’s obsession with The Jesus And Mary Chain while providing one of the most unlikely covers these ears have ever been exposed to; a feedback-drenched, distortion-heavy take on Blondie’s ‘Heart Of Glass’ that still raises eyebrows when I play it in DJ sets today. 

7. ADORABLE – “SUNSHINE SMILE” 

Perhaps the best known of the bunch here yet still criminally underrated and underheard in the process. Adorable were the poster boys of 1992 alongside Suede and Verve with all three bands releasing their debut singles within weeks of each other. However, Adorable’s ‘Sunshine Smile’ remains head and shoulders above the other two and being signed to Creation should have assured their longevity. Sadly, along came Britpop and the rest is history.

8. REVOLVER – “HEAVEN SENT AN ANGEL”

Released in 1991 on Hut Records as part of the ’45 EP’, this trio were hotly tipped as being the scene’s next most likely to break. Having played at the now-legendary Slough Festival that summer, their debut album Baby’s Angry should have been the catalyst for greatness yet by the end of 1993 they were no more. Gone but definitely not forgotten.

9. THE FIELD TRIP – “FALLING DOWN AGAIN”

Even to this day, very little is known about this Birmingham based four-piece other than Spacemen 3’s Sonic Boom liked them that much he produced and guested on one of their singles. This three-track seven-inch came out on Shropshire independent Watercolour back in 1991 and the last track, ‘Can You See What You Speak’, predates the 21st-century definition of psychedelic rock by two decades. 

10. SEE SEE RIDER – “SHE SINGS ALONE”

Formed in 1989 around East Kilbride musicians Stephen Sands and May Rock Marshall, See See Rider went onto feature former and future members of The Primitives, Felt, Lush and The Jesus And Mary Chain. This however, their debut single for Lazy Records in 1990, remains their defining moment. 

Words: Dom Gourlay // Artwork: Olya Dyer