Kevin Shields once said that My Bloody Valentine’s (MBV) music has to be listened to at ungodly loud volumes. Sheer volume causes the listener to go into blissful trance as the music completely envelopes the senses. The issue, he continued, is that most people get pissed off with the loudness and leave before they reach that state of bliss.
Kevin Shield’s observation sets the background to this review of Slack Tide EP Launch at Legacy on 24 July. Shoegazing (and MBV) had a massive influence on indie music in Taiwan and it was on show that night. The four performers took the identifying “wall of sound” idea from early shoegazing bands and incorporated them into their own music. However, before one dismissed the bands as merely imitating late 80s shoegazing bands, the performers that night evolved shoegazing with their own visions. One just had to stay with the bands and look for the bands’ identity within the obvious influences. Like MBV’s music, what one can find can induce a state of bliss.
Starting with the stars of the night, Slack Tide’s shoegazing influences is obvious in its wall of fuzz. You can also hear Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth, Pavement and many of the great alternative bands of 90s. To make its shoegazing influence dead obvious, Slack Tide was near perfect with its cover of MBV’s When You Sleep. However, Slack Tide has incorporated their influences to create an emotions-laden poppy fuzzed out songs that is completely their own. You can feel the helpless longing emotions dripping from songs like Hey Ya and Syphon. You can wince to the irrelevant psychotic paranoia in Krocodile Fear. You can latch onto the punkish pop hooks of Black Crystal. Slack Tide has infused geeky emotive pop with encompassing shoegazing wall of fuzz to create memorable and unique songs. They overcame MBV’s problem of loudness of maintaining a pop hook. When played at loud volumes (as provided kindly by Legacy’s PA on that night itself), their songs were bliss inducing. And no one left early.
Also on the bill that night was the ever surprisingly inventive Forests. They decided to forgo their usual set, recruit Slack Tide’s guitarist, and covered Can, a Krautrock band, for their entire set. While Krautrock was set in a different place and time (late 60s Germany), its existence allowed for noise bands such as Sonic Youth to find its early audience and hence influenced the development of shoegazing. Forests (and Slack Tide’s Pillof) took us through a non-stop epic journey of minimalistic tribal-like jamming. With such raw and fundamentally human rhythms, one can see the genesis of shoegazing in Forests’ special set. Again, Legacy’s PA allowed the volume and feedback to swim around the audience. They allowed the shoegazing’s concept of total immersion of music, rhythm and noise to induce a trance-like state. A few of my fellow audience were shaking and dancing tribally next to me. The music was that encompassing. The depth in Forests’ thinking is phenomenal. A band does not become “帥” (cool) merely because it looks cool. It needs depth to be truly帥. Forests is a band that has a lot of depth.
TuT took a different route to their interpretation of shoegazing. They took the dream-pop version espoused by recent visitors to our shores, Slowdive. Their version of shoegazing is introverted and spacey. They were very competent in transporting the audience through a love-struck space journey. However, out of the four bands, TuT was probably the band that pushed the envelope the least as they stayed within the confines of what had been transpired in the genre. Having said that, it was probably also the most acceptable form of shoegazing amongst Taiwanese listeners. It was soft and captivating and led the listener gently into euphoria. Gently and softly, instead of loud, is definitely one way to shoegaze.
When I watched Skip Skip Ben Ben live, they reminded me of Ride (I am guilty of the “sounds like” mentality but I try my best to look beyond). While the style might be similar to Ride’s driving jangly bright guitar version of shoegazing, Ben Ben brought a singer-songwriter aesthetic to the band. In addition, her live singing style reminded me of the thin vocal timbres prevalent in J-Pop. Put the above together and you get Skip Skip Ben Ben’s unique take on shoegazing. Each instrument, including vocals, sat within their ranges and essentially forced you to listen. Listen to what? Listen to her lingering wispy poetry-like lyrics. That kept the listener involved, until the Kevin Shield’s state of bliss.
Although Taiwan is widely thought of as an island of post-rock, the shoegazing genre is extremely influential in the way bands approach their music. The idea of shoegazing is to create an engulfing wall of sound that invokes strong emotions, sentimental feelings, and/or tribal trances. You can see how the different bands on show that night approached shoegazing. Skip Skip Ben Ben used singer-songwriter approaches and instrumentations with presence to make one listen. TuT used the dreamy pop version of shoegazing to lull audiences. Forests focused on animalistic tribal rhythms. Slack Tide used loud volumes but kept audiences involved with catchy pop hooks. Each band added their own ideas to shoegazing and made that genre even more interesting.
When Pillof Yau, the lead vocal/guitarist of Slack Tide, proclaimed that Taiwanese bands are “more shoegaze than the original shoegaze bands”, he was not far off.
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