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‘A language we use to say sentimental things’: how shoegaze took over Asia

The genre is often taken to mean English gloom but a robust hybrid version, taking in everything from local folklore to classic cinema, is flourishing among the art-school introverts of Shanghai, Tokyo and Taiwan

Perched at the edge of Shanghais Kaixuan Road, between Tianshan Parks leafy calm and the imposing weight of the elevated West Yanan Road metro station, sits Yuyintang Livehouse, a mainstay of the citys underground music scene. Signposted by the electric glow of a polar bear holding a guitar, this indie music destination in a city short on such venues recently hosted the fourth East Asia Shoegaze festival.

Organised by Lulu, guitarist of the Shanghai shoegaze quartet Forsaken Autumn, and Japan-based Luuv Label, this years lineup featured an eclectic range of new and known bands from the region, including rising stars RUBUR, Japanese shoegaze royalty Cruyff in the Bedroom and the diffuse Taiwanese dream-pop outfit U.TA.

Despite the genres decline over two decades ago, shoegaze a style of noisy, beautifully hazy psychedelic rock never truly disappeared. Now it is back in the spotlight due to the re-emergence of genre figureheads Slowdive. With the Reading five-piece sitting alongside such seminal bands as My Bloody Valentine, Chapterhouse, Swervedriver and Ride atop its family tree, the genre continues to influence musicians across the globe, often taking root in the unlikeliest of places. From Tokyo and Taipei to Shanghai and Xiamen, lush hooks, half-whispered lyrics, melodic noise and warrens of effects pedals come together as a quintessentially western musical style cross-pollinates with Asian aesthetics to form a striking hybrid.

Taiwan
Music without borders… Taiwanese band U.TA.

Chinese shoegazers RUBUR were quick to stamp their own cultural background onto the genre. Along with the carefree noise-pop of the White Tulips (from Xiamen) and the silky electro-glitch effects of Goodbye Honey Boy (Beijing), their art school aesthetics are helping to define shoegaze in their home country.

Honestly, I am rarely influenced by western shoegaze, says RUBURs drummer, Salajane. I learn about it through various kinds of western, Japanese and Chinese bands, which have shoegaze elements. He says he finds a sense of identity in the genres sound an introverts mode of expression.

At first glance, shoegaze and Chinese culture might seem unexpected bedfellows, but as another RUBUR member, Maojia, explains: In ancient Chinese love stories, lovers wouldnt say I love you to each other. For us, the harsh noise and wispy voices of shoegaze music is the language we use to communicate sentimental things. (The band incorporates dialogue from the Chinese film Springtime in a Small Town, a seminal romantic drama,on one of their tracks.)

For Japanese band Dives singer and guitarist Takaharu Sasaoka, the musically promiscuous approach of Tokyo band Coaltar of the Deepers offered a compelling local example of shoegaze and post-rock musicians who were willing to experiment with other genres. For Sasaoka, shoegaze elicits an immersive euphoria: A sense of the extraordinary combined with the isolation of being alone in a crowd.

Since their formation in Shimokitazawa in 1998, veterans Cruyff in the Bedroom have been a mainstay on the Japanese shoegaze scene. For them and innumerable others, Alan McGees Creation Records label was a gateway to the addictive joys of reverse reverb and the whammy bar. Their music reached western record companies, and these connections were strengthened by the internet, especially through MySpace the internet expanded our world, says vocalist Hata Yusuke. The band remains captivated by the genres ambiguous and beautiful sound with its feedback noise and sensitive melodies.

Japanese
Isolation and the extraordinary… Japanese shoegaze band Dive.

Paradoxically, the genres inward-looking emphasis has endowed it with a global outlook. Vocalist Uray of Taipeis U.TA cites Cocteau Twins and early 4AD as formative influences, but for her, shoegaze represents music without borders. Their approach to music is also deeply informed by the aesthetics of Hong Kong cinema, particularly the films of Wong Kar-wai: We transform all of that beauty and stylistic decadence into beats, sounds, melodies, and lyrics.Such openness to influences and experiences is evident when listening to U.TAs mixture of post-rock, psychedelia and punk. As with kindred Taiwanese rockers Skip Skip Ben Ben, the results as geographic and stylistic differences dissolve are mesmeric.

Events like the East Asia Shoegaze festival further bolster the scene via the weird familiarity of strangers with shared interests. Between sets, audience and band members spill on to the narrow slice of pavement outside Yuyintang, careful to avoid the electric buses and bikes weaving their way through the humid Shanghai night. As each band takes the stage, their guitars slowly wash away the din of the street, tinting the evening with a euphoric wistfulness.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

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