Part 2: The Fall of Madchester & the Rise of Shoegaze/British Indie
1990 was a big year for British indie music thanks in part to the Madchester music scene that consisted of bands like the Stone Roses, the Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets, the Charlatans, and James. Yet, it also gave rise to bands like Jesus Jones and EMF the chance to succeed with the Madchester sound that brought a lot of scorn from music critics at the time. By 1991, the music scene was starting to get undone not just by the Stone Roses’ inactivity but also the Happy Mondays’ drug abuse that was becoming more out of control. While the Charlatans and Inspiral Carpets were still around with the latter releasing another album. The music scene in Manchester was starting to feel tired while the city itself was losing its luster.
Manchester, the place that gave birth to bands like the Buzzcocks, Joy Division/New Order, and the Smiths along with Factory Records was suddenly finding itself lost and overwhelmed. Tony Wilson, who co-founded the label, was dealing with the loss of money in the Hacienda nightclub and crime troubles. At the same time, New Order was becoming inactive due to various side projects from members of the band. The death of producer Martin Hannett, the man who produced albums for Joy Division and the Happy Mondays’ 1988 album Bummed, along with the Durutti Column’s Dave Rowbowthan’s murder saddened Wilson as Factory Records was heading into more financial trouble leading to its bankruptcy in 1992.
The decline of the Manchester music scene was becoming very evident in the U.K. though another band from Manchester was starting to form in Oasis. Though it would be three years before Oasis would release its first album, the band was influenced by their surroundings as well as other music around Britain that would eventually create an entire new scene. Meanwhile, a band from London called Blur just released their debut album Leisure in August to a small degree of success. Though the band had a sound that featured elements of Madchester, they were going to become one of the new bands along with Oasis to create the next big wave of British indie called Britpop.
The seeds of Britpop were being sewn with not just Oasis’ formation and Blur’s debut album in 1991. It was also the time when bands like Suede were starting to form as their early line-up included future Elastica vocalist/guitarist Justine Frischmann. While Britpop was starting to go into development due to the inactivity of the Stone Roses, the decline of Madchester, and the rise of shoegaze. It would be the emergence of American grunge and the dominance of pop music on the British charts that would give these new bands a chance to step up and rebel.
With Britpop starting to go into development, one notable indie band that broke big in Britain was Primal Scream. Before the release of their 1991 masterpiece Screamadelica, Primal Scream was just an indie band, with a love for American blues-rock, that struggled to get attention. It was until they met DJ Andrew Weatherall who remixed one of their songs and added samples that became the song Loaded which would be the basis for their third album. With Weatherall, the Orb, Hugh Nicolson, the indie band Hypnotone, and legendary Rolling Stones producer Jimmy Miller all producing the record, the result would be the band’s breakthrough.
Filled with a diverse sound of American blues-rock, acid house music, and ambient pieces, Screamdelica was the culmination of everything that was happening in popular music. It also helped push for a new wave of British indie music to emerge as many were tired of the music that was dominating the British charts as well as Madchester. The album also helped establish Primal Scream as one of the leading bands of the British indie music scene for the years to come as they later celebrated their breakthrough album in 2011 by performing the record in its entirety for a tour of Britain.
While a lot was happening for the British music scene with the fall of one music scene and the groundwork of another in the works. Another music scene in Britain that was emerging from the late 1980s and into 1990 was the shoegaze genre. 1990 saw the arrival of new bands like Ride and Lush as they released their debut albums that provided the ideas of what shoegaze is. While the music, filled with dreamy guitar textures along with wave of noises and esoteric lyrics, wasn’t for everyone as some felt the performances were un-engaging. It did create something new that was happening in the British indie music scene.
While some believed that the shoegaze bands were part of a collective that some coined as the Scene that Celebrated Itself due to the fact that all of these bands from London were seen together. Among those bands from that collective was Chapterhouse as their 1991 debut Whirlpool was considered to be one of the key albums of the shoegaze genre. Yet, not everyone liked the genre who found these bands to be extremely self-indulgent in their musical approach as another important record of the genre came out in Slowdive’s debut Just for a Day. The record was dismissed at the time when the backlash for the genre was emerging but it would be another record that would be considered to be the genre’s defining moment.
Two years in the making, Loveless from My Bloody Valentine finally came out in November 4, 1991. The release shocked critics over its layering of noise and dreamy guitar textures within the context of pop music. While the preceding EPs for 1990’s Glider and Tremolo, which was released in February of 1991, hinted what the band was doing. It did create some excitement among artists such as Brian Eno over what was going to happen. Yet, My Bloody Valentine’s leader Kevin Shield’s perfectionist persona created trouble with the band’s label Creation Records. When the album finally came out, its final budget of 250,000 pounds shocked Creation Records head Alan McGee who chose to part ways with the band believing that the album had nearly bankrupted his label
Loveless came out to an enthusiastic response from critics as it was later cited as one of the best albums of the 1990s and to some, one of the best albums ever made. Despite the acclaim My Bloody Valentine attained for Loveless, record sales weren’t so great though the album charted at 24 in the U.K. charts. The band went on tour to promote the album throughout 1992 as they were signed to Island Records but the band never capitalized on their deal as they became inactive for many years until they reunited for some shows in 2007 as they toured worldwide for two years.
Though Loveless represented a peak of the shoegaze genre, it was also the beginning of the end as bands struggled to gain attention in the wake of American grunge rock along with the emergence of Britpop. Yet, the legacy that Loveless left in the wake of its release proved to be more powerful as bands like Radiohead, the Smashing Pumpkins, and Nine Inch Nails cited its influence.
The year for British indie music ended with not just a few scenes going on its way out but also the seeds of a new scene to emerge. While mainstream pop music and the arrival of American grunge rock would overshadow everything that was happening in Britain. The new bands that were starting to form would bide their time for a new revolution in British music that would dominate the music scene in the years to come.
© thevoid99 2011