In October, 1990, Brian Eno gave a talk at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. During an on-stage discussion with the New York critic John Rockwell, Eno revealed his latest listening habits, which included My Bloody Valentine’s “Soon”, a single from earlier that year. “It’s a wall of distortion with a few motifs arising like icebergs out of it here and there,” he said. “It’s hard to hear the beat, it’s very hard to hear the key, there are no lyrics so far as I know. It’s really set a new standard for pop music.”
Based around a skittery drum loop, blurred vocals and a dense wall of guitar noise, “Soon” – and its parent Glider EP – crested a wave of shoegaze releases that year: Ride’s first two EPs, Lush’s “Sweetness And Light”, Swervedriver’s “Son Of Mustang Ford”, the Pale Saints’ Comfort Of Madness album, the Telescopes’ Taste. Among their individual qualities, what these records collectively offered was diversion. Britain had been under a Conservative government since 1979. The late ‘80s and early ‘90s saw student anti-loans demonstrations and the poll tax riots. Much like the emerging dance culture, the music of shoegazers provided dreamy detachment from the scuffles, charges and fights dominating the news headlines. Tellingly, Ride later called their debut album Nowhere.
“We were mixing Nowhere around the time of the poll tax riots,” says Gardener. “We recorded some of the sounds of the rioting out of the window while we were working on ‘Paralysed’. We wanted to take you away from all that shit. There’s stuff going on outside in the real world, but we offered safety in this cocoon of music.”
“It was fairly safe and comfortable time in a lot of ways,” agrees Chapterhouse’s Andrew Sherriff. “A lot of the bands were apolitical. Even Billy Bragg seemed to disappear around that period. I think the appetite for that kind of political statement in music had gone.”
“The strange thing is, we all missed punk,” Slowdive’s Neil Halsted told me in 1991. “I do feel weird about that, just because it was the first major explosion of new bands. I want to create music to suit any mood. I want it to evoke as many emotions as possible.”
“When we started, we were aware there were a lot of other bands who weren’t saying much,” says Revolver’s Mat Flint. “We tried to be different. I don’t want to be vague. I like The Beatles. What did they sing when they started? Love songs. So that’s what we did.”
As 1990 came to a close, it was possible to see who was emerging at the front of the pack. Chief among those was Ride, who gave Creation their highest charting album to date when Nowhere was released in October. But an earlier benchmark – selling out the University of London Union that April – was nearly a disaster for the band. “We put daffodils on the cover of our second EP,” explains Gardener. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be good to invite people to bring daffodils to the show?’ It was a little nod to Morrissey having gladioli in his pocket on Top Of The Pops. But it ended up more like Spinal Tap. The audience threw loads and loads of daffodils on stage. We were slipping over them, the crew was slipping over them. It was a hazard.”