Shoegaze was born from a moody development on rock music throughout the 1980s that looked to separate itself from the synth-heavy pop music of the time. The subgenre loosely captures a sound dominated by distorted effects that blur more conventional guitar-driven music into a mirage of dreaminess. The subgenre’s name comes from the moody guitarists staring down towards their feet as they played, but this isn’t because they’re feeling down; it’s because they are busy placing their feet on distorting effect pedals.
Often when regarding shoegaze music, people will look back to the Irish legends who epitomise the subgenre, My Bloody Valentine, who released the holy grail of shoegaze in their 1991 masterpiece Loveless. That said, the origins of shoegaze can be placed further back than this. When I’m asked for my opinion on the source of shoegaze – which isn’t often, but that’s fine because I enjoy giving my opinion unprovoked – I find a satisfactory source in the early work of bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain, Spacemen 3 and Cocteau Twins.
These early shoegazers will often not be regarded as such because the movement hadn’t reached its full swing yet, but the sound they produced most certainly inspired the movement to come. By the time the 1990s had hit, shoegaze was officially a thing, and there were a plethora of groups surfing the wake of My Bloody Valentine, such as Ride, Lush and Slowdive.
While the beginning of shoegaze could be traced to the aforementioned 1980s groups, the sound appeared to have roots in punk and post-punk music of the late 1970s and ’80s. For example, London punk legends Siouxsie and the Banshees had been such an inspiration to Slowdive that they used one of the Banshees’ early tracks for their namesake.
As lovers of the same vein of, often dour, alternative music, the shoegaze groups also seem to have received a fair share of attention and love from their punk forefathers. In the early 1990s, Robert Smith had met Ride when the Oxford group supported The Cure at the Great British Weekend event in 1991. The two groups became close friends and admired each other’s work.
Ride rose to prominence in 1990 with the release of their masterpiece album Nowhere, which was buoyed by its lead single ‘Vapour Trail’. The track has become one of the guiding lights in shoegaze music and a classic anthem of alternative ’90s music. Robert Smith expressed his particular admiration for the song in the 2014 shoegaze documentary Beautiful Noise, which looked at the ongoing influence of Cocteau Twins, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and My Bloody Valentine. Smith said of the track, “‘Vapour Trail’, it’s one of the best fifteen-second intro’s of all time.”
In 2015, on the 25th anniversary of Nowhere, Smith created two alternate versions of ‘Vapour Trail’ in celebration. In the first, entitled ‘Vapour Mix’, he makes more generous use of the enveloping orchestral string arrangement heard towards the end of the original recording in a more electrified and glitchy incarnation of the classic shoegaze anthem. In the second remixed version, ‘Trail Mix’, Smith leaves the track a little less altered from the original, opting instead to simply add in a few extra effects.
Listen to the two remixes of Ride’s ‘Vapour Trail’ by Robert Smith below.