Andy Bell Photo by Mauricio Santana/Getty Images
| June 20, 2024 |

Shoegaze: The Dreamlike Guitar-Driven Genre Defined by My Bloody Valentine and Ride

What is the shoegaze aesthetic, and how does one unravel it?

What constitutes a proper shoegaze band? Nobody can pin it down. All one can say with some certainty is that timbre and mood are central to it. The genre might be creatively described as the music industry’s resting-grinch-face meets a beat-poet-psychonaut in a field of beautiful Martian daisies. Yeah, that’ll do for now.

Right out of the gate, I’d like to say that shoegaze is a wonderful subgenre of indie and alternative rock that emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and it’s still going strong in 2024. Its moody, ethereal sound, heavy use of guitar effects, and introspective lyrics characterize it superficially but accurately. I love the modern shoegaze ethos and continue to enjoy the bands that pioneered it. I merely want to share my weird little journey toward that reality with a few sidebar-esque excursions to help explain my own sense of how all of this went down in my life. Some of you Gen-X folk may relate to my tale.

The genre gets its name from the guitarists’ tendency to look down at their effects pedals during performances, seemingly gazing at their shoes. Shoegazer bands create a lush, immersive soundscape that invites listeners to lose themselves in its dreamy textures. It is the opposite of much of today’s musical schemata and mechanisms. Perhaps it is the soundtrack to introversion; it fits the bill for me.

The memories start to kick in

I distinctly remember an interview with Toni Halliday of Curve from the old MTV show 120 Minutes because it was the first time I heard their music and encountered their unusual videos—you know you’ve made an impression when it lasts 32 years. Even Geddy Lee namechecked Dean Garcia’s bass playing a year later. He told Bass Player magazine, “I also like Dean Garcia, who plays in Curve. He’s got these zooming bass parts that fly around and are very interesting melodically, and there’s a lot of passion to his playing.”

Thankfully, the MTV interview with Halliday was archived for posterity. Watching media from 1992 again stirs up memories of having just finished university not long before and having a listless season trying to figure out how to start a career and maintain my interest in music composition and guitars. People didn’t talk a lot about depression or mental health issues in 1992, but I was fairly down emotionally. All the comfortable patterns of being in college were gone, my friends were far away, and I suddenly didn’t like any of the music I’d written up to that point. Many elements of life were scattered like buckshot.

Curve became the most important band to me that year—melancholic melodies tapped right into my state of mind. They rocked swarthy bass lines, driving rhythms, shimmering overdubbed guitars, and how it all washed up on the shore of my brain like a psychedelic mermaid felt right. I have always unashamedly loved many genres, but at that particular juncture, I was purposefully trying to get far away from the major influences of the prior four or five years: 70s hard rock, heavy metal, and progressive rock. Curve became the ideal escape route. They were a bombastic gateway drug to big guitars and expansive songs that were not particularly riff-laden.

Image: Archival evidence that streaming services haven’t conquered on all fronts yet

Previously, Bauhaus had come into focus for me after hearing them in the film The Hunger (David Bowie’s iconic role as a vampire alongside Catherine Deneuve), so I was already primed for unusual timbres in rock music. I continue to love Peter Murphy and Daniel Ash and all their later projects. 

My U2 and REM phases probably peaked in high school, but they were still very important in 1992, and both bands could arguably be credited with being a part of the shoegazer sound minus some of the more explicit similarities. U2 was far more into cascading delay than showers of reverb, but they were crazy good at arranging anthemic textural songs and eventually creating shoegaze-y moodscapes, with Eno and Lanois eventually casting long shadows on the band’s production decisions. 

Early REM is quite remarkably akin to shoegazer styles, in my opinion, and predates the genre by more than half a decade if we’re not splitting hairs. “Gardening at Night,” anyone? That’s gotta be a shoegazer time-traveler song, right? Maybe it’s mixed a lot drier, but imagine dropping a big reverb on the master bus of that jangly track. The verses are the thing. Reasonable thought?

The allure of synthesizers begins to truly take hold

So, I was escaping heavy metal successfully as I became more aware of shoegaze bands and other emerging threads of influence. Later, in 1992, Brian Eno’s non-shoegaze-y tunes from Nerve Net (on cassette tape!) got me thinking more about synthesizers as a central part of what I wanted to do with my own musical productions.

Even as a nobody’s nobody, the fruit of that has borne itself out over time: I mainly only use guitars to toy around with ideas or capture one or two very strange sonic phrases using sustainer pickup systems or ambient patches on a few specialized pedals, but I generally program and realize everything else on synths, MIDI guitar controllers, or samples that I’ve captured myself. I have no regrets about that, but I think I owe shoegazer bands for it on some level.

Timbre and melody are the main forces in music I care about, with harmony and solid arrangements being an inescapable close second. When I leave a track bereft of a proper bridge, I literally feel guilty about it. 

Shoegazer music is definitely a timbre-friendly genre, and it’s easy to trace how I came to love it. Shoegaze can have cool intros and big hooks. It can have guitar solos, or it can just wash away the detritus of the mind with textures that weave in and out of reality. As a genre, it would make a dandy field of study for musicologists because it never was and never will be just one thing. There are so many of us who love shoegaze and live happily without a firm definition of the genre.

Have sad gear, will travel

By 1992, I’d already quit my progressive metal trio, but I wouldn’t leave my college town until a few years later. If memory serves, Steve Tibbetts is the name I would have told you was my favorite guitarist at the time—a consummate timbral wizard to this day. I’m not sure anyone has wielded feedback in such an artistic and controlled manner as that guy, but he was just as powerful with an acoustic guitar. For me, disconnected and motionless are the perfect words to describe how I felt as an artist in that season. I was no Steve Tibbetts.

I didn’t have the income at the time to upgrade my gear, so my resources were very sparse: I had a four-track cassette machine for which I still owed a friend partial payment (eventually settled that debt in 1993 with a sincere apology for taking so long to do it), an original Rockman, a Yamaha QY-20, and one lonely Boss distortion pedal. That was about it. I think I may have also had an Alesis HR-16 in that lean season of GAS-less existence. I can’t even remember where these devices ended up, but I think I gave the four-track to an older cousin to use as a mixer for his musical experiments, which included being a founding member and drummer for Raging Fire much prior to 1992. 

Allowing pop-influenced music to flush away the metalhead

Slight tangents ahead: I deeply respected guitarist Jamie West-Oram of The Fixx in high school. He had a sparkly and powerful clean and dirty tone, great arpeggiated riffs, and the kind of melodic songwriting sensibilities that still appeal to me today after decades of repeated listening. My playlist of favorite songs by The Fixx has 45 tracks in it. How many bands can you name with 45 listenable tracks, much less so many that stand out? We all have opinions on such things. Their bassist rocked vintage Steinbergers, too.

West-Oram’s influence started to show again during that time of wandering through new genres like shoegaze: hypnotic broken arpeggios started to be the way I approached writing in terms of bare musical grammar, and it’s partially due to him, as well as Alex Lifeson and Andy Summers, that I even continued to use guitars to make music at all. If I could push a button and go back in time to learn new skills and do a life makeover, I’d be a keyboardist. Live and learn.

I still love guitars, though, and maybe I’ll go back to them regularly. If I do, it’ll probably be oriented toward surf rock in some way, a genre I’ve dabbled in occasionally. A burglary a long time ago left me without several computers, hard drives, $20k+ worth of gear, and more. It’s a long story for another time—but all the files related to my surf music were lost forever to theft, except for the MP3 demos. Saving things in a cloud wasn’t really a thing at the time, especially big audio files.

Electronic music, particularly the scary academic stuff from the 50s and 60s, had been a central part of my university studies. I had many lab assignments involving patching up sounds on a crazy-expensive Arp 2600 synthesizer and other classic analog gear—we had to document compositions to be juried on two-track tape at the end of the semester, and editing sections of music together was achieved with razor blades!

One of the people I had to play this stuff for was a Prix de Rome winner for composition. Those juries were stressful, to say the least. Still, I pulled As and Bs, content to keep making weird sounds even decades later. It all felt so important at the time, but I was an unhappy person. Too many things were changing all at once, and I felt it deeply.

Video: Ride emerged as one of the most loved shoegaze bands

The past has a way of leaving its mark

I am ruinously laden with digital audio tools in 2024, and it’s hard to imagine doing that same kind of manual editing with physical tape now. Writing papers about aesthetics and spending hours in the music library at the listening desks under headphones all formed a key part of life back then. It felt normal to have to walk across campus to imbibe new music. We’re all spoiled now, I think.

Morton Subotnick, Iannis Xenakis, George Crumb, and minimal but impactful VHS encounters with Psychic TV and related media filled my brain between 1986 and 1992. I was already interested in the fringe performance art of Mark Pauline’s Survival Research Laboratories (SRL) from around 1987. 

I’ve still got an ancient Xeroxed copy of an interview Pauline did with some indie zine where he talks about how he pilfered scrap metal and parts for his shows from junkyards and then accidentally blew off much of a hand with rocket fuel. Several of their intriguingly titled SRL performances feature in the appendix of Mondo 2000’s compendium entitled “Mondo 2000’s User’s Guide to the New Edge,” which remains on my bookshelf to this day—acquired in 1992 at a brick-and-mortar bookstore during that fateful year of change and transformation. The timelines all run together, but looking back, I see a barely-adulting kid genuinely trying to crawl out of the chrysalis with a lot of dark baggage on hand. The soundtrack to the inner film was on hand, for sure.

Eventually, this witchy brew of new musical attractions and influences got me even more interested in shoegazer stuff. I was always on the hunt for new bands. Guitars were still central to me back then, but so many other timbres were happening in those productions that didn’t sound much like guitars—certainly not like the metalhead stuff that had captured and stunted me in the preceding years. I continued to toil in obscurity, overdubbing and bouncing parts together as submixes, slowly learning the craft of songwriting, albeit almost always as instrumentals. Start small; grow; rinse and repeat.

As Halliday astutely points out in her MTV interview, there wasn’t any one particular thing that made shoegazer bands similar to each other other than a DIY attitude and a desire to move forward in creativity and originality—I could relate to that. But, if you step back and put on an audio engineer’s hat, there was a noticeable “wall of sound” commonality, at least in the guitar parts, and a penchant for soaking sonic elements in washy reverb and time-based effects. Mood, timbre, eerie little sounds that rose above the din, then floated away; a voice that tells a story you can’t quite make out. That’s shoegazer music if you try to write it in words rather than hear it. 

Shoegaze remains a beloved genre to me for its immersive, dreamlike soundscapes. From its origins in the late 1980s to its modern-day revival, it continues to captivate me with a unique blend of ethereal sounds and introspective lyrics. The genre’s emphasis on texture and atmosphere has influenced countless artists across various genres, ensuring a legacy in the world of music. I’m all about texture and timbres, and the shoegazer mentality often drops the kind of spice I like the most. The spice must flow.

Video: Without stompboxes and all that shoegazing, we wouldn’t be here today

What are the origins of shoegaze?

So far, I’ve waxed on about how shoegazer bands zig-zagged into my life through chaos and fate, but an army of us got turned on to these bands from common media: music rags and cable TV. MTV played some great music back then, and new videos were still a true marketing event when a band released a single.

The first tune that aired on MTV was “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles, and it’s been noted many times in rock journalism that this choice of programming was utterly prophetic. Who could have predicted YouTube back when the Sony Walkman was still cutting-edge technology? 

The iPod would come along in late 2001, and I distinctly remember feeling like a demigod back in 2007 when finally acquiring a portable Windows-compatible hard drive that could browse and play MP3s as a self-contained unit—and it didn’t require iTunes or a computer to function as an MP3 player. I had my entire sonic world on that thing, and it was amazing to discover indie music on the now-defunct, drop it into a folder, and carry it anywhere. Does anyone remember Not Applicable from the days? The folder structure I use today started on that little $400 brick of data. Yes, there’s a shoegaze folder full of goodies and a budding collection of trip-hop from Portishead and Massive Attack that arrived on the heels of my introduction to shoegaze. Things beget things.

Let’s get back on track, shall we?

But I digress—a lot. Shoegaze originated in the United Kingdom, influenced by the post-punk and dream pop movements. Bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain, Cocteau Twins, and My Bloody Valentine pioneered the genre, blending distorted guitars with reverb and delay effects to create a “wall of sound.” And what a wall it was—no two bands were the same. Instrumentation could include anything. You didn’t have to look like a rock-star to have a band that people wrote articles about and gave solid word-of-mouth love to. You could sell tickets in an indie scene and be somebody. It’s not that shoegazers didn’t experiment with fashion; it’s just that it was always more about the tunes than anything else.

The Jesus and Mary Chain’s debut album, Psychocandy (1985), laid the groundwork with its mix of sweet melodies and abrasive noise, like Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound being squeezed through a distortion pedal. “Just Like Honey” almost sounds like a 50s doo-wop ballad to me, except for how every instrument and voice is drowning in grainy, gated reverb. The furious guitars on other tracks from that album reveal some of the punk influences, with all that down-stroke goodness on the verge of feedback and/or already wildly squealing away to underline the angst in some of the songs.

Video: Enjoy a whole album by the Cocteau Twins from their official YouTube channel

Cocteau Twins, a personal favorite band of mine, further expanded the sonic palette with their lush, ethereal soundscapes and Elizabeth Fraser’s enigmatic vocals. Robin Guthrie’s tone and choice of gear really made him stand out, and I continue to marvel at how beautiful some of those tunes remain even when you’ve heard them a million times. A bunch of the stuff from the 4AD label remains important to shoegaze fans, and I think 4AD will forever remain historically important.

My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless (1991) seemed to define the shoegaze genre for just about everyone, including me. The album’s groundbreaking production, courtesy of Kevin Shields, involved innovative techniques such as “glide guitar,” where the whammy bar is used to shimmer up chords and lines, creating a distinctive, woozy sound. One YouTube commenter notes, “I love that the music videos look like the music.” Blurry. Glitchy. Post-80s. Dreamy but not necessarily pretty and comfortable. Although shoegaze was soon eclipsed by grunge, it wasn’t hard to hear its influence in the output of bands like Smashing Pumpkins.

At any rate, since I’m a stranger to you, I can only hope that this meandering autobiographical chronicle inspires you to Google these bands or dive into YouTube and soak up some great albums. I hope it finds an audience that remembers 1992 and the surrounding years when bands were maybe a little more mysterious than today—not that great music isn’t still being made. It just feels different after a certain number of decades in the throes of other genres. Happy hunting for your nostalgic listening adventures.

Video: My Bloody Valentine prepared a trippy visualizer to one of their most iconic songs, “Only Shallow”

What are the key characteristics of shoegaze?

  1. Guitar Effects: Shoegaze relies heavily on guitar effects such as reverb, delay, chorus, and flangers to create a dense, layered sound. These effects contribute to the genre’s characteristic “wash” of sound, where individual instruments blend together into a cohesive whole. Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine is known for his extensive use of the reverse reverb effect, which became a hallmark of the shoegaze sound.
  2. Vocals: Vocals in shoegaze music are often soft, ethereal, and buried in the mix. This adds to the genre’s dreamlike quality, making the voice another texture in the sonic landscape rather than the focal point. Bands like Slowdive often use dual male and female vocals, further enhancing the ethereal and atmospheric quality of their music.
  3. Lyrics: The lyrics of shoegaze songs tend to be introspective and abstract, dealing with themes of love, loss, and introspection. The obscured vocals make the lyrics less immediately accessible, encouraging listeners to focus on the mood and atmosphere. Lyrics often take on an impressionistic quality, allowing listeners to project their own emotions onto the music—a desirable function, as Halliday notes about her own creative process in writing lyrics for Curve.
  4. Production: Shoegaze production emphasizes creating an immersive experience. Producers use techniques such as layering multiple guitar tracks, employing extensive reverb and echo, and mixing vocals low to create a sense of depth and space. My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless production is famously complex, with layers of guitars and effects creating a dense, swirling soundscape.

Who are the seminal and most influential shoegaze/proto-shoegaze bands?

Cocteau Twins

Formed in Grangemouth, Scotland, in 1979, Cocteau Twins are often seen as pioneers of dream pop, a genre that played a crucial role in shaping shoegaze. 

The band members, Elizabeth Fraser on vocals, Robin Guthrie on guitar, and Simon Raymonde on bass, crafted a sound marked by rich, ethereal layers and Fraser’s unique, otherworldly voice. They often broke away from traditional song structures, instead creating atmospheric soundscapes that felt dreamlike and surreal. 

Albums like Treasure (1984) and Heaven or Las Vegas (1990) highlight their skill in merging shimmering guitar effects with Fraser’s abstract and often cryptic lyrics, resulting in a deeply immersive auditory experience. The Cocteau Twins’ innovative production techniques and distinct sonic style have profoundly impacted the alternative music scene, inspiring many artists and paving the way for the rise of shoegaze.

My Bloody Valentine

As mentioned earlier, My Bloody Valentine is arguably the most influential shoegaze band. Their 1991 album Loveless serves as a touchstone for the genre. Songs like “Only Shallow” and “Soon” showcase their innovative use of guitar effects and textured soundscapes. 

The band’s use of whammy bar techniques, reverse reverb, and dense layering of guitar tracks set a new standard for sonic experimentation in rock music. Despite the band’s relatively limited discography, their impact on the genre and alternative music as a whole has been profound.


Slowdive is another important early shoegaze band known for melancholic and atmospheric music. Their album Souvlaki (1993) is a classic of the genre, featuring tracks like “Alison” and “When the Sun Hits.” 

The band’s approach to songcraft combines lush, reverb-soaked guitars with ethereal vocals and a strong melodic sense. Slowdive’s ability to evoke deep emotional resonance through their music has earned them a dedicated following and critical acclaim. After a long hiatus, the band reunited in 2014, releasing new music that continues to push the boundaries of the genre.


Ride, another personal favorite, brought a more upbeat and energetic approach to shoegaze, blending jangly guitars with dreamy vocals. Their debut album, Nowhere (1990), includes the standout track “Vapour Trail,” which exemplifies their sound. Ride’s music often incorporates elements of psychedelia and classic British pop, creating a more accessible entry point to the shoegaze genre. 

Their dynamic live performances and catchy yet atmospheric songs have made them one of the most beloved bands of the shoegaze movement. Enjoy some cool tones from them as Andy Bell digs into his Gibson Trini Lopez guitar in this phenomenally great-sounding live concert. Some of his wah-laden lines are deliciously smooth and melodic—he picks up the classic Gibson about one-third of the way into the show, so don’t miss it.


Lush combined shoegaze’s atmospheric qualities with catchy melodies and harmonies. Their 1992 album Spooky features tracks like “For Love” and “Superblast!,” showcasing their pop sensibilities. I have a vintage cassette version of that album stored around here somewhere. The band’s use of vocal harmonies and intricate guitar work set them apart from their peers. Lush’s ability to blend the dreamy textures of shoegaze with infectious hooks helped them achieve both critical and commercial success. After disbanding in the late 1990s, Lush reunited in the 2010s, releasing new material that stays true to their signature sound. 

What are some must-listen shoegaze tracks?

  • My Bloody Valentine – “Only Shallow”: This track opens Loveless with a burst of bravado and melody, showcasing the band’s innovative use of guitar effects and production techniques.
  • Slowdive – “Alison”: A quintessential shoegaze track, “Alison” combines lush, reverb-drenched guitars with melancholy lyrics and ethereal vocals.
  • Ride – “Vapour Trail”: With its jangly guitars and dreamy vocals, “Vapour Trail” exemplifies Ride’s blend of shoegaze and classic British pop.
  • Lush – “For Love”: This track showcases Lush’s ability to combine catchy melodies with atmospheric textures, making it a standout in their discography.
  • Beach House – “Lazuli”: “Lazuli” features Beach House’s signature blend of reverb-heavy guitars, ethereal keyboards, and haunting vocals, capturing the essence of modern shoegaze.

Who are the bands among the modern shoegaze revival?

In the 2000s and 2010s, shoegaze experienced a revival as new bands drew inspiration from the genre’s pioneers. Bands like Beach House, M83, and DIIV have incorporated shoegaze elements into their music, bringing the ethereal sound to a new generation.

Video: Sub Pop offers a comprehensive glimpse into the stylings of Beach House

Beach House

Beach House, a dream pop duo from Baltimore, Maryland, incorporates shoegaze elements into their lush, atmospheric sound. Their use of thick reverb on guitars, ethereal keyboards, and Victoria Legrand’s haunting vocals creates a dreamy, otherworldly soundscape. Albums such as Teen Dream (2010) and Bloom (2012) showcase the band’s ability to blend shoegazer textures with pop melodies.


M83, the project of French musician Anthony Gonzalez, blends shoegaze with electronic music, creating expansive, cinematic soundscapes. The album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (2011) features tracks like “Midnight City,” which combines lush synthesizers, reverb-heavy guitars, and dreamy vocals, capturing the essence of modern shoegaze.


DIIV, led by Zachary Cole Smith, channels the spirit of early shoegaze bands while incorporating elements of post-punk and indie rock. Their debut album, Oshin (2012), features tracks like “Doused,” which showcases the band’s use of jangly guitars, dreamy vocals, and driving rhythms, creating a modern take on the shoegaze sound. The newly released album, Frog In Boiling Water, is already garnering praise in 2024 for maintaining the primary shoegaze elements but with an evolution of elements.

FAQs about shoegaze

What defines shoegaze music? 

Shoegaze is quasi-defined by its use of heavy guitar effects, soft and ethereal vocals, introspective lyrics, and immersive production techniques. The genre’s emphasis on creating a dense, layered soundscape sets it apart from other forms of rock music in some sense.

Which album is considered the epitome of shoegaze? 

Loveless by My Bloody Valentine is widely regarded as the quintessential shoegaze album. Its innovative production techniques, including the use of “glide guitar” and extensive sound layering, have made it a touchstone for the genre. But who can really say? Because the genre has never been about virtuosity, any pick might do as the pinnacle—it’s very personal.

Are there modern shoegaze bands? 

Yes. Modern bands like Beach House, M83, and DIIV have incorporated shoegaze elements into their music, continuing the genre’s legacy. These bands draw inspiration from shoegaze pioneers while bringing their unique perspectives to the genre. Start a band and make your own imprint on the shoegaze genre!

Some of the key elements of traditional shoegaze music are guitars, effects, and amps you can proudly gig with (here, too). We sell ‘em all day, every day.