Shoegaze, for a very brief moment in time, was England’s biggest indie rock movement, lasting from about 1988 through 1994. The term itself conveys both the performers’ style of playing and their overall attitude. “Shoegaze” refers to the musicians’ tendency to remain stationary while playing, staring down at the floor. Shoegaze bands were notoriously crowd-adverse and poor interview subjects; in some cases it may have been schtick, but in other cases the musicians really weren’t very communicative, either as artistic statement or as a side effect of drug consumption.
What was noteworthy about shoegaze was not simply the stance of the musicians, however. It was also a movement primarily concerned with sound, pure washes of sound. The music was highly amplified; it relied on drone, distortion, and layers of feedback, often resulting in a multitextured wall of noise that made each individual instrument nearly impossible to hear in isolation, turning melody into grandiose, textured sound sculptures. Female vocals or male/female vocals far outnumbered male vocals. Notworthy was the fact that a sizable number of the women in shoegaze played their own instruments as well, including the traditionally macho guitar, bass, and drums.
The flagship band of the genre was My Bloody Valentine, who took the noise experiments of Jesus and Mary Chain and reinvented them; dream-pop architects Cocteau Twins also helped lay the essential foundation. Shoegaze is cousin to noise-pop, space-rock, and dream pop, with many of the performers qualifying for more than one designation.