slowdive: a tribute
Slowdive. One of my favorite bands of all time. They've been a crucial part of my life ever since I heard the first note of "Alison," but are now more relevant than ever considering that they just released their first album in 22 years. If you’ve never heard of Slowdive, they’re a (phenomenal) shoegaze/alternative rock band from the UK who were active in the early-mid 90s. They released a few albums/EPs on Creation Records before breaking up in 1995, and recently reunited in 2014. They have since gone on one North American tour, one world tour, and have played at numerous music festivals around the world.
Slowdive was formed in 1989 in Reading, England by Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead. The two were childhood friends and had actually been in another band together prior to Slowdive called The Pumpkin Fairies ("Love Me"). After The Pumpkin Fairies disbanded, Slowdive was formed (named after a Siouxsie & the Banshees song), and they signed on to Creation Records shortly after. Their debut album, Just For a Day, came out in 1991, just 2 months before My Bloody Valentine released their iconic album, Loveless. By this time, Slowdive had already been coined a "shoegaze" band-- which is a subgenre of rock characterized by the use of pedals, distortion, feedback, and unclear vocals. My personal favorite songs off of Just For a Day: "Catch the Breeze" and "Primal."
Surprisingly, there was a lot of backlash from music critics when Just For a Day came out. It might not have been personal; it seems like shoegaze was a genre that was just generally disliked and dismissed as lazy and dreary at the time. Their second album, Souvlaki, released in May 1993 in the UK. A lot of that album was actually inspired by the fact that Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead had been dating and went through a tragic breakup. "Dagger," the most heart-wrenching song on the album to me, was Neil's breakup song about Rachel, and "When the Sun Hits," was Rachel's breakup song about Neil. Slowdive had also collaborated with (the legendary) Brian Eno on this album, who co-wrote "Sing," and played keyboard in "Here She Comes." When Souvlaki was released, however, it was not received well at all by critics and led SBK Records (their US record label) to pull their funding. One magazine wrote, "I would rather drown choking in a bath full of porridge than ever listen to it again." After the release of Souvlaki, they were sort of sidelined by Creation Records, who were more focused on other 'promising' bands on their label, such as Oasis. I would like to also mention that Souvlaki came out only a few months after Suede's debut album, which could be marked as the starting point for Britpop (and, in turn, the decline of shoegaze). Slowdive's third album, Pygmalion, released in February 1995, and they disbanded shortly after.
"As we finished the set, I remember looking up and it was just a woman mopping the floor where the audience should be, and I remember thinking, you know... maybe I should get a real job." - Nick Chaplin, about Slowdive's last London show before they disbanded
Slowdive may have stopped making music, but Rachel Goswell, Neil Halstead, and Ian McCutcheon continued to write/record under the name Mojave 3. They signed onto the record label 4AD and released a total of 6 albums between 1995 and 2006. Mojave 3 definitely has a more folk and indie-pop influence, with few elements of their shoegaze sound still remaining. Their first album, Ask Me Tomorrow (1995) came out the same year that Slowdive stopped making music, and I think it’s the album that’s closest to the shoegaze/Slowdive sound, however their later albums are noticeably more indie pop. Some of my favorite songs by them: “Love Songs on the Radio," "Bringin' Me Home," and "Bluebird of Happiness."
Aside from Mojave 3, Rachel and Neil also went on to pursue solo careers. I guess I just really like them as musicians because I am a fan of every project that either of them have been a part of. Rachel’s “Coastline” has a very dream pop sound to it, while Neil’s “Digging Shelters” is more indie singer/songwriter. Rachel also recently starting making music with Stuart Braithwaite (Mogwai) and Justin Lockey (Editors) under the name Minor Victories. Their first self-titled album released in 2016 on Fat Possum Records, my favorite song being “Folk Arp.” It definitely has some shoegaze elements to it: ethereal, ambient, and dreamy.
I really admire the fact that Rachel & Neil have stuck through it all- they’ve known each other since they were children growing up in Reading. They were creating music together before Slowdive, created music together during Slowdive, and then still somehow managed to create music together after Slowdive. Even though they did date for a while and ended up breaking up pre-Souvlaki (their split inspired songs such as “Dagger” and “40 Days”), they still seemed to maintain a strong musical and artistic relationship.
During my research for a Slowdive-inspired radio program a few months ago, I came across a few compilations of Slowdive covers which were released by various small record labels, including:
- Souvlaki Reheated (Seashell Records, 2015) - A very lovely Souvlaki cover album released by DIY Italian record label, Seashell Records.
- Static Waves 3, disc 3 (Saint Marie Records, 2014) - A ton of covers of older shoegaze and dream pop songs. The third CD on this compilation is comprised of solely Slowdive covers from various artists including Resplandor, The High Violets, and Lilies On Mars.
- Never Lose That Feeling, vol. 1, 2, & 3 (Club AC30, ‘05, ‘06, ‘09) - These compilations are pretty dang great. A bunch of different 90′s noise/shoegaze artists being covered by contemporary musicians- and there are 3 volumes!
- Blue Skied an’ Clear (Morr Music, 2002) - The entire first disc on this compilation consists of Slowdive covers. The name of the compilation comes from the Slowdive song of the same name from their album Pygmalion (1995).
It was so interesting doing research for that playlist and coming across all these compilation albums; I guess I never fully realized how iconic Slowdive has come to be and what an inspiration they have been to many contemporary alternative rock bands. It’s strange for me to think that Souvlaki wasn’t a well-liked album at the time of its release. Some 20 years after being dropped by Creation Records and disbanding, Slowdive become known as noise rock legends and finally return to play numerous big name festivals such as Primavera Sound and FYF Fest. Only after they disbanded in 1995 did Souvlaki begin to become recognized for what it truly is- one of the most iconic albums of all time. I often wonder what it's like for Slowdive, 20 years later, to experience so much praise for an album that received so much hate at the time of its release.
Slowdive is somewhat still new to me (I discovered them in September of 2014). I remember, so vividly, the first time I heard their song “Alison.” I have tried so many times to put into words everything that I felt when I heard that song for the very first time… sorrow, heartache, hope, loss, intense love. The world seemed to close in around me; nothing mattered except their sound. Butterflies fluttered around in my stomach. It was ethereal, magical, out-of-this-world. From the very first line, I knew I had discovered something that would change my life (overdramatic, but seriously). I had never heard anything like it; I’m pretty sure that was the first shoegaze song I had ever knowingly listened to.
Slowdive was my introduction into a whole new world of music. After discovering them, I became immersed in the 90′s shoegaze/dream pop music scene, which in turn has become a very huge part of me. When someone else tells me that Souvlaki (1993) is their favorite album… ah, it’s like my mind/heart forms a strange connection to others who love that album in the same way I do. I think this might be because of the person who introduced me to Slowdive in the first place; we had just met, and he told me that his favorite song was “Alison.” While I was listening to it and getting lost in the captivating sound, I had this extraordinary feeling in my gut that he would become a big part of my life. He did, and I guess now whenever I meet someone who also has a strong connection with Slowdive, I get a feeling that they’re really special too. So far, this instinct has always proven to be correct.
My personal favorite song of theirs is “When the Sun Hits,” but honestly EVERY song off their 1993 album, Souvlaki, is incredible. It's probably and positively my favorite album of all time, which is a big statement- I know. I actually got the surreal chance to see them live in March of 2016 at the Burgerama festival at the Observatory in Orange County. To my extreme disappointment, Rachel Goswell got food poisoning the night before and was unable to perform. However, it was still absolutely mind-blowing, and they played all my favorite songs, including “Alison,” “Dagger,” “Machine gun,” “Crazy For You,” and “When the Sun Hits.” Since they broke up in 1995, I never thought I’d actually get the chance to see them perform live.
If you are interested, Pitchfork released this really great Slowdive/Souvlaki documentary that i have watched around 3 times now (although I am not particularly a fan of Pitchfork, it’s a really superb doc). It goes into depth about the early years of Slowdive, signing on to Creation Records, Rachel & Neil’s relationship, and eventually what led to their disbandment. It’s definitely a must-watch for any Slowdive fan, and has inspired me to appreciate them/their music in a new light.
Slowdive just released their self-titled album on May 5th on Dead Oceans, an independent record label based in the US (their first Slowdive album in 22 years). My favorite songs off the album: "Sugar For the Pill," "No Longer Making Time," and "Slomo." It's still so surreal for me that Slowdive, in the year 2017, released new music and are playing shows. I will be seeing them at FYF Fest in Los Angeles this summer and I absolutely cannot wait!