Defining genre remains a topic as contentious as ever in 2021, and nowhere is this seen more than in shoegaze. While its recent resurgence has mainly prompted disputes over formative works Souvlaki and Loveless and distinctions between the distorted shoegaze and softer dreampop, little has been written to shed light on the contributions of women to the genre. To remedy this, we wanted to highlight a couple of artists who prove that a woman’s place is in shoegaze (or thereabouts).
Scottish dream pop favourites and shoegaze precursors Cocteau Twins are known for their incomprehensive lyrics and heavenly soundscapes. Elizabeth Fraser’s soprano vocals are arguably what make the band so uniquely recognisable, swinging from deep to high effortlessly. Fraser also contributed to several tracks on Massive Attack’s Mezzanine, making her mark on the trip hop genre. Cocteau Twins’ influences through to today run wide, from teen movie soundtracks (‘Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops’ featuring in Perks) to modern dream pop inspired artists such as Babeheaven.
Listen to: ‘Sea, Swallow Me’
My Bloody Valentine
It would be disrespectful to discuss shoegaze without mentioning My Bloody Valentine. Vocalist and guitarist Bilinda Butcher is one of the most prominent women in shoegaze and for good reason. Their 1991 release Loveless pioneered the genre and its influence is still felt in music production today, wonderfully covered by Japancakes in 2007 and Kenny Feinstein in 2013 (though neither could possibly rival the original). Dissonant, distorted and dreamy, MBV are at the heart of shoegaze for a reason.
Listen to: ‘Soon’
Slightly lesser known Lovesliescrushing’s 1993 album bloweyelashwish is one of my more recent shoegaze discoveries. With fuzzy, ambient production, the influence of My Bloody Valentine is clear, but Melissa Arpin’s floaty vocals paired with Scott Cortez’s guitar stand apart from their comparison to the shoegaze classics. At times droning and at other times dreamlike, the album has become the perfect unconventional study soundtrack for rainy days.
Listen to: ‘babysbreath’
Blonde Redhead are most well-known for ‘For the Damaged Coda’, their instrumental track which gained traction on the internet after its use in Rick and Morty, but behind it lies a discography well worth exploring. Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Kazu Makino incorporates shoegaze and dream pop elements with fuzzy production on tracks such as ‘23’, airy vocals and repetitive lyrics cementing the band as, at the very least, dream pop-adjacent.
Listen to: ‘23’
A more accessible and contemporary addition to the genre, Hatchie unites indie, dreampop and shoegaze. Sonically soothing but lyrically riddled with the anxieties and uncertainties of being a young woman, lamenting ‘Do you even think about me?’ on ‘Sure’, her 2018 debut EP Sugar & Spice is fittingly titled. Nostalgic and comforting, the influences of her predecessors are evident through to her cover of The Jesus and Mary Chain and Hope Sandoval’s ‘Sometimes Always’ last year, though they never overpower her softer sound.
Listen to: ‘Stay With Me’
For all your women in shoegaze and dream pop, rounding out the list with Lush, Slowdive, Beach House, and more, check out our accompanying playlist below:
Header and playlist image: My Bloody Valentine and Lush, 1992. Credit: Alternative Press.