My Bloody Valentine’s 1991 classic Loveless is said to have been largely the work of guitarist Kevin Shields, studio-bound and obsessively fretting over every sonic detail to fully realise his oneiric vision (and, rumour has it, contributing to Creation Records’ bankruptcy). Foregoing the dynamics of artistic interplay, Shields sacrificed a group mentality for bloody-minded auteurship, which now, in 2017, is one of the main discussions surrounding Loveless, and, even more bothersomely, the shoegaze genre as a whole. But it’s all too simple to forget that the brief period of excessive reverb and barely-audible lyrics spawned a modest wealth of Britain’s strongest groups, a list of acts which may very likely have Slowdive at its top spot.
Of the genre’s contingent of musical pioneers, Slowdive sounded the most like a ‘proper’ band, working like a machine with each part vital to its overall function. Drummer Simon Scott and bassist Nick Chaplin set the essential psychedelic groundwork, as Neil Halstead, Rachel Goswell, and Christian Savill made a compelling case for a new breed of guitar hero; they had no interest in soloing-with-a-foot-on-the-monitor theatrics, exploring instead the ways a guitar could be un-rocked and transformed into a versatile device for extra-dimensional textures. They were heavy without being metal; schooled in the gloomy atmospherics of goth and the spacial awareness of ambient music. With three touchstone albums, reissued and reappraised in recent years, and a wildly successful set of reunion shows in 2014, Slowdive continue to ride the wave of their revival with a fresh set of dates for 2017 and a new album out 5 May 2017 on Dead Oceans, their first in over 20 years. Tonight’s sold out gig at The Art School is the first look into what Slowdive have been up to in the interim, and what they have in mind for the band’s future.
The support act, fellow Readingers Ulrika Spacek, wear the influence of their headliners proudly as they deliver a feedback-drenched set of progressive psych stompers that sound less like a tribute act and more like a logical conclusion. Slowdive finally emerge, appropriately enough, to Brian Eno’s ‘Deep Blue Day’, accompanied by projected visuals right out of a Windows 98 screen saver, and leap straight into early slow burners ‘Avalyn’ and ‘Catch the Breeze’, complemented by billows of vape smoke emitted from the audience. What follows is some of the politest heckles known to British music, mostly coming from middle-aged men who probably miss John Peel more than anyone else in the world: “Welcome back” says one; “Thank you!” says another. Understandable, given that this is the band’s first appearance in Glasgow for nearly 24 years. The devotion in the room is palpable as everyone else stands in quiet awe and disbelief. Genre staples ‘Machine Gun’ and ‘Alison’ send shivers down the spine (even with latent sound imbalance issues) and the wild crescendo of Syd Barrett cover and fan favourite ‘Golden Hair’ gives any contemporary post-rock ensemble a run for their money.
Even the new songs (“Ah, go on then” concedes a voice near the back of the room) are warmly received, sitting rather well among the band’s greatest hits; latest singles ‘Star Roving’ and ‘Sugar for the Pill’ gesture toward a completion of the space rock promise made on 1995’s Pygmalion, while upcoming new single ‘No Longer Making Time’ hints at a return to the lovelorn intimacy of 1993’s Souvlaki.
With the density of innovative ‘nu gaze’ acts dominating the indie music press in recent years, Slowdive’s mountainous guitar pop might appear simple and drably retrograde. But if tonight’s inaugural show for Slowdive revival 2.0 is any indication, the new tour and album are set to show any young upstarts exactly how a ‘proper’ shoegaze band should sound.