Shoegaze pioneers Slowdive have more fans than ever after 20-year hiatus

English indie/shoegaze pioneers Slowdive comprise (from left) Simon Scott, Nick Chaplin, Rachel Goswell, Christian Savill and Neil Halstead. -- PHOTO: SYMMETRY ENTERTAINMENT
English indie/shoegaze pioneers Slowdive comprise (from left) Simon Scott, Nick Chaplin, Rachel Goswell, Christian Savill and Neil Halstead. -- PHOTO: SYMMETRY ENTERTAINMENT

Shoegaze pioneers Slowdive were toasted for their debut EP, but critics later chided them for their "dated" sound

In the 20 years that they went on hiatus, English indie/shoegaze pioneers Slowdive picked up a lot more fans than they did when they were active in the early 1990s.

In a recent telephone interview, singer and guitarist Rachel Goswell related how amazed she was at the turnout to their set at music festival Primavera Sound in Barcelona at the end of May, one of the main stops in their current reunion tour.

"We played to 25,000 people and that was just off-the-scale really, it was immense. It was something that I never thought I would get to do. It was pretty amazing for all of us," the 43-year-old says, speaking from London's Gatwick Airport just before the band left for Iceland for a festival set.

Before the hiatus, the largest crowd they had played to was a 3,000-strong audience and, even then, they were just the opening band for headliners and fellow British shoegaze pioneers, Ride.

Slowdive's reunion tour kicked off in London in May and the band will play their first gig in Singapore at the The Ground Theatre, *Scape.

Formed in 1989 by Goswell and singer-guitarist Neil Halstead, their eponymous debut EP released the following year earned rave reviews from the British music press.

Their songs, marked by Goswell's ethereal singing and loud, abrasive swathes of guitar, soon saw them being grouped with other British bands with similar sounds in the shoegaze scene.

However, when they released their full-length debut Just For A Day in 1991, the notoriously finicky British music press had already started turning against them as well as other shoegaze bands.

The press accused the bands of being self- indulgent, middle-class privileged kids.

By the time they released their second album, Souvlaki (1993), some of the reviews became downright hostile, as critics accused them of peddling a "dated" sound, compared to then up-and-coming Britpop bands such as Suede.

The band played their last show in 1994 and the members went their separate ways shortly after they released their third album, Pygmalion, and got dropped from their record label, Creation, the following year.

Goswell says: "It was a really surreal experience. We got thrust into the limelight quite quickly when that first EP was released. We were press darlings for a year and then went all wrong in the UK... it was like a roller-coaster ride.

"A lot of it is a bit of a blur now, partly because the years have passed and partly because we were probably quite drunk during the time, as you are at that age."

Goswell, Halstead and Ian McCutcheon went on to form country/indie/folk outfit Mojave 3, which released five albums from 1995 to 2006.

Late last year, Goswell, Halstead, original drummer Simon Scott, bassist Nick Chaplin and guitarist Christian Savill started discussing the possibility of a reunion. The offer to play at Primavera sealed the deal for them.

She says: "To be offered such an amazing opportunity, we thought, why not? Then Neil said, "oh we'd probably get about eight festivals this year" and it's turned to about 20 now.

"It kind of exploded in a way we weren't expecting. We weren't expecting the reaction to be quite so amazing."

This time, the critics were impressed with the band's comeback shows.

English newspaper The Guardian, for example, praised "how extraordinarily well their sheer, sumptuous guitar arabesques have aged" in a review of their London show.

The mood in the band today is also highly positive. Goswell says: "It's really good today, there is no angst in the band. At the beginning of Slowdive, Neil and I were a couple and we split up and, at that time, it was difficult to keep things going.

"There is none of that now, we are all really good friends just enjoying having this amazing experience together. It's all good."

Goswell's partner is Joe Light, a songwriter who also runs a business making guitar pedals. The couple have a four-year-old son.

She does not rule out new songs as well as a new album, although nothing has been firmed up yet.

While they see a lot of young fans who picked up the band's music while they were out of action, she says that they also see a lot of their long-time fans get highly emotional at the shows.

She adds: "There are quite a lot of men crying, which I'm not used to. I had to avert my eyes. 'Oh my god, there's a man crying in front of me'. That's pretty weird, to be honest."

dinohadi@sph.com.sg