Friday, May 14, 2010

New Wave Shoegaze: The Big Pink and School of Seven Bells

In the late 1980s, a new brand of rock music came oozing out of the British Isles.  This music consisted of distorted, droning six-string emissions that blasted then buried everything in range, from the vocals to your cochlea.  Thanks to the eager-to-classify British music press, this movement was dubbed "shoegaze" because the musicians tended to look at the ground while they played (natch), and this trait seemed to NME to be as good a way to classify music as any. 

In the United States, where shoegaze made a relatively fleeting appearance, the term has become synonymous with the music of My Bloody Valentine.   While few bands are as worthy of having an entire genre attributed to their work, viewing the records of the shoegaze movement as a bunch of second-rate versions of Loveless is reductive at the least. The works of Ride, Swervedriver, Chapterhouse, and The Boo Radleys certainly owed some debt to Kevin Shields' brain-child, but of course a larger group of varied influences was present as well.

Among the most prominent of these influences is the work of Glaswegian greats The Jesus and Mary Chain, and specifically their 1985 record Psychocandy.  That record fused squalling feedback and pre-industrial electronics with traditional baroque pop to spectacularly noisy effect.  London band The Big Pink have taken this model and injected it with a non-lethal dose of U2-sized ambition, resulting in their spectacular 2009 debut A Brief History of Love.  In the typical British sense, the band wears its influences on its sleeve (in addition to MBV and JMC, there is a fair helping of The Verve in there) but, in an equally British sense, they see no reason why being derivative should stop them from being the biggest band on the planet.  They are in the midst of a UK tour right now, but they will be returning stateside in August to play Lollapalooza.  Included below are the song "Dominos" from their debut as well as a live performance of their first single "Velvet."

The Big Pink - Dominos

The Big Pink record on 4AD, a label that, at the time of its inception in the early 1980s, was not known for widescreen rock music.  Rather, the label was known for the vaporous, delicate sounds of female-fronted groups such as Dead Can Dance and, most representative of all, Cocteau Twins.  With an emphasis on texture, propulsive percussion, and soaring but often incomprehensible vocals, the Twins provided a starting point for a number of first-wave shoegaze bands (most notably Slowdive).  Their legacy lives on in the work of an number of contemporary bands, most notably School of Seven Bells.  The New York-based three piece (named for an apocryphal training academy for pickpockets) consists of former Secret Machines mastermind Ben Curtis and identical twins Claudia and Alejandra Dehaza.  Their music has a decidedly more dancefloor bent than either the work of the Cocteaus or any of the first-wave shoegaze bands, but their clean melding of melody and noise leaves no doubt as to the true identity of their forebears.  Their new full-length, Disconnect From Desire, is due via Ghostly International on July 13th; included below are its first single "Babelonia," as well as early single "My Cabal" remixed by the Cocteaus' Robin Guthrie. 

School of Seven Bells - Babelonia

School of Seven Bells - My Cabal (Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins Remix)



  1. OK Lets not forget the phrase "The Big Pink" was first injected into the public mind via The Band's 1968 debut "Music From the Big Pink" which refers to the large pink house where they recorded it, located in West Saugerties NY. Think I'm gonna name my next band "Are You Experienced". 'D minus' for effort,,,Lame...

  2. All True. But if The Big Pink get a D minus for naming their band after an album by The Band, what do The Band get for their name?

  3. They get to thank Bob Dylan when the checks clear...