Published on December 1st, 2014 | by Mike Luce0
The Reunion of Ride and the Legacy of Shoegaze
With the Ride reunion announced for 2015, Mike Luce looks with love at Ride and some of the amazing Creation Records roster and shoegaze genre.
Up until the past year, if someone told me that I would see Slowdive perform, I would have laughed. I live in Thunder Bay and it never occurred to me that Slowdive would be playing a gig just five hours down the road from my house in the year 2014. When I heard the news that Slowdive would be playing Minneapolis on Halloween, I was more than a little bit excited.
So on October 31st, I found myself rolling down Highway 61 approaching the American boarder, just over thirty minutes south of Thunder Bay. After crossing the boarder, I ambled along Southeast shore of Lake Superior for about 300 kilometres. It was an incredibly sunny day and I found myself really enjoying the drive. Along the way I stopped in Duluth, the mid-point of my journey, to check out an independently owned record store called The Electric Fetus. The store is like a Midwest version of Amoeba and I often stop there when stateside to pick up music for the road. In addition to purchasing the new Ty Segall album, I decided to buy the multi-disc reissue of ‘(What’s The Story?) Morning Glory.’ Although I had been the furthest thing from an Oasis fan back when the album was first released in the autumn of 1995, I finally gave the band a chance when Andy Bell joined as their new bassist in 2000.
Between the ages of 18-21, Andy Bell’s first band Ride had been my favourite group. The way I saw it, back in the mid-1990s, Bell’s band (along with Creation label mates: My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, The Boo Radleys, and Swervedriver, to name just a few) had developed a new kind of psychedelic rock that expanded the ears of fans of good music all over the world. Admittedly, I am old enough to remember a time when the term used to describe Creation label bands, ‘shoegaze,’ was considered to be derogatory. In the annals of lazy journalism, shoegaze will go down as the second most notorious sub-genre title of all time. Unlike ‘grunge,’ however, the term shoegaze has been revitalized and legitimized by subsequent generations of music fans. Over the course of the twenty or so odd years that have passed since its inception, the derogatory nature of the term shoegaze has been obscured. In fact, many bands making spacey psychedelic music today would take it as a compliment to be referred to as a shoegaze band. After all, there exist even worse sub-genre names nowadays (nu-gaze, I’m looking at you).
Looking back, it is hard to believe that a band like Oasis, famous the world over, could trace their lineage back to the final glory days of shoegaze. Regardless of whether or not their millions of fans in the mid-to-late 1990s had ever heard of My Bloody Valentine or Ride, a quick skim through Oasis’s first two albums will reveal many elements of the shoegaze aesthetic. That being said, when I first heard Oasis I wrote them off as a cheap commercialized and watered down version of shoegaze. Subsequently, I viewed the international success Oasis garnered with distain and disgust. That is, until about five years after the release of their debut album, when Andy Bell of Ride joined the Gallagher brothers. At that point in time, I decided to give the band a second chance. Better said, I decided to give Oasis a fair chance.
Shortly after reading about the tumultuous line up change in Oasis in early 2000 I stopped by the Sound Connection, a record store formerly located just north of downtown Edmonton, to check out ‘Standing On The Shoulders of Giants.’ Lo and behold, in my opinion, Oasis had finally done it: they had achieved a sound that could deservedly be considered as legitimate psychedelic rock n’ roll. Initially, I gave all the credit to Bell. Then I hit the Edmonton Public Library and borrowed the first three albums Oasis made, before Bell’s arrival, and realised that in their own way, they had always been a brilliant band. After listening to their first three albums, withholding my bias, I admitted to myself that I had wrongly written Oasis off out of spite. A big thanks Bell for enticing me to give the band a fair listen.
Ironically, when I had arrived home after my trip states side to see Slowdive, I googled Oasis to see if there were any rumours circulating about a 20th anniversary performance of ‘(What’s The Story?) Morning Glory.’ To my surprise, the first thing that came up was a tweet from Liam Gallagher on October 24th, announcing that Oasis Mark II: aka Beady Eye, were finished. The first thing that came to mind was: is this a pre-cursor to an Oasis reunion? But as my head hit the pillow that night I began to think that perhaps Andy Bell would take advantage of his newly found freedom from Beady Eye to finally agree to a Ride reunion. I must say, initially I didn’t see that coming, it was just wishful thinking. Although I had seen Swervedriver (1993), The Boo Radleys (1994 & 1995), My Bloody Valentine (2008, 2009, 2013,) and Slowdive (2014), I never imagined that I’d ever get to see Ride. But a few weeks ago, Creation Records announced that a Ride reunion was in the works, and that they’d be going out on tour. Somehow, I managed to score two tickets for the show in New York City on June 4th, 2015. I consider myself more than lucky — the tour sold out in 30 minutes flat.
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I was introduced to Ride by a close friend who played guitar in my first band. We covered ‘Chelsea Girl.’ I will admit that I was not all that impressed when I listened to the original recording of the song to learn my part on the drums. A few months after my initial introduction to Ride, the band released their sophomore album, ‘Going Blank Again.’ Again, my bandmate tried to convert me into a Ride disciple. In doing so, he insisted that I listen to opening track off of the new album, ‘Leave Them All Behind,’ at full volume with my ears placed very close to the speaker. Midway through the song’s outro I told him that I thought the song sounded like ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ by The Beatles. After I made the comparison, he turned to me with a smile and said one word: “exactly.” It was the spring of 1992 and four guys from Oxford in their early-twenties were making music worthy of such a comparison. It was a good time to be a fan of rock n’ roll made in England.
A few days after that mind-blowing listening experience, I cashed in my paycheque from the drug store I worked at and dropped by a music store called Tramps on my way home from the bank. After thumbing through a few Ride CDs, I found myself drawn to the cover of the bands full length debut, ‘Nowhere.’ I absorbed the final rays of daylight as the early evening twilight transitioned into night, as I emerged from the store with my new purchase.
I was born and raised in a small Canadian city called Saskatoon, thousands of miles away from Oxford, the place Ride called home. In comparison to other cities that I have lived in over the years, the onset of early winter twilight is much easier to appreciate in a place like Saskatoon. This is because Saskatchewan never signed onto the lunacy that is Daylight Savings Time. In Saskatoon, the light of the evening diminishes gradually as the winter solstice nears. The day I bought ‘Nowhere,’ the blue glow of twilight fell upon the city like a heavy blanket. As I drove home in my blue 1972 Chevy Nova, the blue ‘Nowhere’ CD laid next to me on the faded blue fabric of the passenger seat. All things around me seemed to blend into the all-encompassing blue glow so characteristic of the early winter landscape in Saskatoon.
When I arrived home, I told my mother that I had already had my evening meal and retreated into the basement to listen to ‘Nowhere’ in solitude. During the second track, as a song called ‘Kaleidoscope’ began, the final moments of wintery blue twilight seeped into the basement through a small window on the west wall of the basement. As I listened to the music, I basked in the final remnants of light.
After darkness fell, the soft glow of the LED light from the stereo illuminated the decibel meters, which seemed to wave back and forth in time with the next track, ‘Polar Bear.’ Meditating upon the lyrics: “She knew she was able to fly, because when she came down, she had dust on her hands from the sky, she felt so high, the dust made her cry.” I felt certain that the song was a description of someone’s acid trip.
The electric guitar in the song pulsed through an intense tremolo effect creating the audio equivalency of a tracer. While listening intently, I stared into the metal mesh covering that protected the speakers blasting out the music. As I looked into the holes of the mesh, they gradually began to expand and contract as if breathing in time with the music. Even though I hadn’t ingested any drugs that day, I was hallucinating all the same. The music that Ride made had successfully triggered my first acid flashback.
Before trying L.S.D. for the first time, I preferred more aggressive American sounding rock n’ roll made by bands like The Pixies and Nirvana. After dosing a few times, that all changed and I came to find the combination of wall of sound guitars, mixed soft soothing vocals, the defining characteristics of Shoegaze, to be my new bag. The sound of Mark Gardener and Andy Bell singing together in harmony weaving through the soundscapes they created with their guitars, pleased the listening skills that I had developed after the ‘ole lysergic treatment. Actually, I came to find that the sound of Gardener and Bell’s voices could take the edge off any bad trip. As put by Mark Beaumont of the NME while describing the afore mentioned song that triggered my first flashback, “If clouds could sing they’d sound like ‘Polar Bear,’ the psychedelic scree-scape that defined the peak of the acid trip you always wanted to take.”
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In an attempt to contextualized Bell and Gardner’s songwriting, I will now go off on a tangent that may seem at little off the wall. So, allow this slight digression as I reach back to the 1960s for a moment. Imagine if you will, a British version of Simon & Garfunkel, where the principle songwriters could both write songs just about as good as Simon and sing as pretty as Garfunkel in his more delicate moments. Or imagine what it would have been like if David Crosby and Chris Hillman kept The Byrds going instead of Roger McQuinn, inventing ever more psychedelically perfect versions of ‘The Notorious Byrd Brothers’ each year from 1967-1990. In addition to a plethora of great psychedelic music, you would have something that sounded like Ride circa 1989-1990. Then again, maybe not. After all, Hillman went country and Crosby became a crack addict at some point in time along the way.
All hyperbole aside, the point I am trying to make is that excellent songwriting by Gardner and Bell is what defined the music of Ride among their Creation label peers. Furthering their cause Bell and Gardener sang together like cosmic brothers. As stated by Mark Gardner in an interview with Dom Gourlay in 2009, reflecting about his band’s break up, “We had been living in each others pockets for so long and we just desperately needed to sort of breathe our own air and find out who the hell we were, especially myself and Andy.” These two songwriters were tight indeed. Up until their latter albums, the songs they wrote complimented one another like peanut butter and chocolate.
In order to clarify the points I have made thus far, I will now attempt to contextualize the music made by their labelmates in the most concise way that I can. First, My Bloody Valentine provided the canvas for others to draw upon and invented new sonic colours that other Creation label bands would use to make their music. Being pioneers however, their music was sometimes dissonant, often abstract, and at times less assessable. That being said, My Bloody Valentine’s music has aged well; probably the best out of the stable of Creation label bands.
Slowdive employed the sonic colours provided via the MBV palette and made music that was the opposite of dissonant. They built their songs amid layers of lush guitar drenched in reverb and various delay effects. In fact, they made their guitars sound like brand new synthesizers Brian Eno had yet to invent. Although their music was more assessable, the songs weren’t really there until the second album, ‘Souvlaki,’ an album that is considered by some to be the sole contender to rival My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Loveless,’ as the best shoegaze album of all time.
Swervedriver is a band that brought rock n’ roll swagger and punk aggression into the mix. They were just as trippy as their labelmates and the soundscapes they created on their guitars had been known to damage stereo speakers even when played on low volume.
In terms of songwriting, the only writer that could hold a candle to Ride in the traditional sense was Martin Carr of The Boo Radleys. Many of my friends who still listen to shoegaze consider ‘Everything’s Alright Forever’ to be their favourite Creation release. However, as many of their labelmates drew upon concurrent influences such as The Cure, The Smiths and The Jesus & Mary Chain, Carr drew directly from the source and channelled The Beatles in his songs. Subsequently, in contrast, The Boo Radleys had more of a retro vibe. After the release of ‘Wake Up Boo’ in late 1995, the band would be the only Creation signing, other than Oasis, to enjoy crossover success as part of the Brit Pop phenomenon.
Although Ride seemed to lose their footing when they came face-to-face with the Brit Pop juggernaut, abandoning their wall of sound guitars in favour of more classic tones on their final album ‘Tarantula,’ their aptly titled swan song ‘Black Night Crash’ is actually one of my favourite Ride songs. Released as their last single, in my opinion, the song stands equal to their previous genre-defining anthems, ‘Drive Blind,’ ‘Dreams Burn Down,’ and ‘Leave Them All Behind.’
In contrast to what I have been reading as of late in the blogosphere and amid posts on various social networks, I hope Ride will play songs spanning their entire career in equal measure on their reunion tour. Sadly, ‘Tarantula,’ was released stillborn, deleted one week after its release. The only song that I know to be performed live from that the album was a track called ‘Walk On Water.’ Furthermore, if the band was to solely focus upon songs from their shoegaze period, as every fan besides me has seemingly requested thus far, their show may end up taking on the form of sets that can be found on numerous live recordings (bootleg and officially released) that document the first part of their career. Although that would not be tragic, if such a trajectory was to be embarked upon by the band, I have to say I’d want more. I would like to hear brilliant yet obscure b-sides like ‘Stampede’ (1992) and ‘A Trip Down Ronnie Lane’ (1996). And later period album tracks like ‘Moonlight Medicine,’ ‘Crown of Creation’ (1994), ‘Mary Ann,’ or ‘The Dawn Patrol’ (1996).
I would like to draw upon something Andy Bell said in a recent interview with Andy Welch in the NME recently, as he summed it up quite well what the future may hold for the Ride reunion in 2015. Reflecting upon an acoustic set he played with Mark Gardener in Sweden in 2003, he observed that he saw grown men crying as they played. To this end he reflected upon the future saying, “My Bloody Valentine handed out earplugs when they played. We could hand out tissues.”
When I see Ride in NYC in 2015 I will be trying my best to keep my shit together. But inevitably I will probably be one of many reaching for a tissue the moment the band launches into ‘Vapour Trail.’