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Is the Shoegaze Revival Here to Stay? Scene Stalwarts Sound Off on TikTok and the Genre's Future

'It took decades for people to notice us. Now bands with no albums are getting signed in literally two weeks.'

Source: A.F. Cortes

Shoegaze lifers and the genre's new wave of teenage fans stood shoulder to shoulder during the first leg of the Slide Away festival in Philadelphia earlier this month.

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Shoegaze is back in style. The TikTok-fueled resurgence of the genre -- which first blossomed in the 1990s courtesy of bands like My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Lush -- was on full display during the Philadelphia leg of the Slide Away festival earlier this month. Gen X stalwarts stood shoulder to shoulder with teens who recently discovered the genre on social media.

"It was beautiful to see," says Nothing frontman Domenic Palermo, who organized the sold-out March 9 show with 1,400 attendees. "It was really strange in a good way."

He's also bringing the event to Los Angeles on Saturday, March 30 with a slightly different lineup. That's one day after the new Ride album Interplay is set to drop. The excitement around the nearly 40-year-old British band proves that shoegaze is popping off across the pond, as well. But Ride's Mark Gardener admits he doesn't fully understand why.

"To be honest I barely even know what TikTok is," the frontman tells Q. Which is not to say he wouldn't still love to see one of his tracks go viral on the platform. "Why not? It’s a great thing, and if we're seen as authentic or part of the creation of some kind of sound alongside the Slowdives and My Bloody Valentines of the world, then I think it's fine."

The idea of a shoegaze track going viral on social media was unthinkable when Palermo started Nothing in 2010. The frontman recalls having fewer than 200 people turn up to shows featuring some of the genre's most iconic bands. Part of his mission with Slide Away was to give those foundational artists credit. Those ranks include Scott Cortez of Astrobrite and Lovesliescrushing. Both groups performed at the Philly leg of Slide Away. Astrobrite will also play the Los Angeles show.

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Source: A.F. Cortes

Philadelphia's shoegaze-themed Slide Away festival, organized by Nothing frontman Domenic Palermo, is also coming to Los Angeles on Saturday, March 30.

Fresh Blood

"It took decades for people to notice us," Cortez says. "Now bands with no albums are getting signed in literally two weeks."

There's certainly a lot of hype around up and coming shoegaze-influenced artists like TAGABOW and Jane Remover. Still, it wasn't quite that easy for the relatively fresh Philadelphia act Knifeplay, which also played Slide Away. Frontman TJ Strohmer did see interest in the group spike at the beginning of the pandemic. "We got a bump in 2020. A huge bump," he says. "The things people were feeling were there in this music."

It's hard to pinpoint why the shoegaze revival is still going strong four years later, but Strohmer believes some of the success can be attributed to the "romantic" vibe that defines much of the genre. That allows short form video creators to sow intrigue around unremarkable everyday moments. "Mystery will always hold your attention for a while," Cortez says. "You can get a lot of mileage out of it."

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Palermo points out that the genre's prioritization of ambience over lyrical content makes it a good neutral backdrop. "A lot of my favorite shoegaze bands were never saying much," he notes. While shoegaze is now broadly popular (perhaps more so than it's ever been), Cortez notes that the genre's appeal isn't universal. Many of the new fans are women with an interest in literature, independent film and other underground music scenes. Cortez also notes that there aren't a lot of Trump supporters coming to shoegaze shows.

DIIV's frontman Zachary Cole Smith thinks the revival is a good omen for rock and guitar music at large.

"Seeing the reappraisal of shoegaze, and kids starting to expand on this genre that had kind of been sitting on a shelf – that just tells me that there is new life and new interest in guitar music, which for us is very good," he says. "We’ll continue to be optimists about it."

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Source: Seana Adame

'It took decades for people to notice us,' Astrobrite and Loveliescrushing frontman Scott Cortez says. 'Now bands with no albums are getting signed in literally two weeks.'

Gazing at Shoes?

What even is shoegaze? Strohmer says the term traditionally referred to dark psychedelic rock music with androgynous vocals and lush guitars. Shoegaze bands often utilize pop melodies while eschewing traditional song structures. The term was originally a put-down for bands that were perceived to have a lack of stage presence. Cortez and Palermo are okay with being identified as shoegaze artists, but add that it's not a term they picked for themselves. Smith and Gardener say some of their past music could be described as shoegaze, but that their upcoming releases don't fit into the genre. That's where Strohmer and Knifeplay were at as the frontman prepared to record their upcoming LP.

"People got all mad at me because I said we're not shoegaze," he notes. "I used to identify with it a lot more."

The term has certainly been diluted in recent years. For example, Duster's viral success on TikTok is often held up as a watershed moment for the shoegaze revival. But back in the 1990s, they were always considered a slowcore act. "The term is being applied to a lot of things that are generic," Strohmer says. Many of these rising groups could be better described as dream pop or simply alternative rock, says Cortez, who adds that shoegaze is supposed to be "heavy." At the end of the day, he says the terminology isn't really that big of a deal. But the influx of new listeners and the evolving use of the term has angered some of the genre's gatekeepers.

"It's hard to approach that word anymore without feeling a little bit cringe," Palermo says. "It can get annoying."

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Source: Seana Adame

Knifeplay frontman TJ Strohmer says shoegaze is defined by its androgynous vocals and lush guitars.

The TikTok-shoegaze pipeline couldn't be more different from how the genre's vanguard discovered the genre back in the day. Palermo remembers how his "hippie" mother would play the Cocteau Twins, the Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees while he was growing up. Later on, his brother introduced him to Ride and Slowdive. Strohmer remembers hearing My Bloody Valentine's Loveless for the first time in a friend's car; he started Knifeplay just weeks later. Cortez also listened to the Cocteau Twins and the Cure in the 1980s. But he says finding out about the Alesis Midiverb II digital effects processor from a friend is what really drove him toward shoegaze.

"It wasn't other bands so much as that pedal," he says. "That put me on a path of how I wanted to sound."

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Slide Away
Source: A.F. Cortes

Cortez says the Alesis Midiverb II digital effects processor is what first got him into shoegaze.

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Building a Future

Shoegaze has traditionally been more of a sound than a scene. There's certainly a sense of camaraderie among the genre's artists and fans, but with foundational bands scattered around the world, strong regional shoegaze scenes were few and far between. Astrobrite is based in Chicago, where Cortez has lived for years, but when the band played a hometown show recently he says many fans had no idea the musicians were locals.

The lack of regional shoegaze scenes was a problem for Palermo during the early days of Nothing. He says the band faced "identity problems" as it tried to straddle the worlds of punk and indie: "There was kind of nowhere for us to really be." The frontman adds that he struggled to get support from his shoegaze elders at the time. That's why another part of his mission with Slide Away was fostering a deeper sense of community for the shoegaze scene. "I want to be the good oldhead I never had," Palermo says.

It's not clear exactly what the future holds for shoegaze. Palermo doesn't see it disappearing altogether given the genre's long history, but he doubts the genre will remain relevant on TikTok forever. "I think that it'll fall kind of gracefully," he says. The frontman describes the recent revival as a "defining moment for a lot of people that will set the record straight."

For his part, Cortez doesn't believe shoegaze will be returning to the underground rock scene's back-burner anytime soon. "I don't think it's a flash in the pan," he says. "It touches on things that are everlasting." The frontman adds that shoegaze is a good starting point for experimentation. "You can hybridize shoegaze with tons of stuff," Cortez says. "You're already programming longevity into the genre."


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