Tag Archives: Shoegaze

Eight Bands Helping to Make San José, Costa Rica an Indie Music Paradise

Los Waldners

Los Waldners

Costa Rica is known for its biodiversity and eco-tourism, making the Central American nation a great place to visit no matter what your interests. But if you get the chance to hang out in San José, you might want to consider taking the time to check out a concert. The city’s indie scene has become home to an outsized amount of musical diversity.

Thriving in the shadow of both green hills and an active volcano, Costa Rica’s busy capital of San José is cosmopolitan but, with a population of less than 350,000 in the city proper, relatively small. The city has fostered the kind of close-knit but musically heterogeneous scene that can flourish in a just-big-enough town. Indie music within its confines and surrounding principalities doesn’t have one single sound; bands range from enigmatic bedroom electropop to loud-as-hell post-rock. Still, there’s a cohesive scene, one with plenty of variety, inventiveness, and raw energy.

The short music documentary In San José offers a snapshot of the city’s music scene via interviews and live footage. But, much like this list, it’s just an introduction to a music community that’s quickly expanding. And if this Tico indie starter pack leaves you wanting more, take a dive straight into the DIY deep end in the volumes of audiovisual fanzine Súper Legítimo.

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The Return of Slowdive

Slowdive

Photo by Ingrid Pop.

When UK shoegaze legends Slowdive reunited in 2014, the group witnessed firsthand what many older-generation artists have discovered in recent years: Breaking up and getting back together after years away from the spotlight is a great career move. Not only was the band an in-demand live act, but its fan base was larger than it was during their first go-round in the ’90s, and just as supportive. Using this positive response as an anchor, Slowdive slowly but surely crafted a new, self-titled record, their first since 1995’s Pygmalion.

“Don’t Know Why” and “Everyone Knows”—both of which highlight singer-guitarist Rachel Goswell’s powdered-sugar vocals, shimmer atop gossamer guitars—are a wink to the band’s classic sound. But Slowdive isn’t a continuation of the band’s ’90s work as much as it’s the start of an entirely new chapter. The biting guitars on the urgent “Star Roving” roar like cyclones; the Low-like “Falling Ashes” features chilly, autumnal piano and haunted, twinned harmonies from Goswell and frontman Neil Halstead; and the mournful “Sugar for the Pill” is cobweb-draped dreampop, highlighted by Halstead’s conspiratorial vocals. Slowdive deconstructs shoegaze and builds new sonic signifiers from the remnants.

Neil Halstead checked in from the UK about the band’s second act, what it’s like making a Slowdive record in 2017, and why he’s pleased with shoegaze’s widespread influence.
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First Time’s the Charm for Aster More

Aster More

You can’t talk about Aster More, the Philadelphia-based six piece dreamy shoegaze band starting to make waves in the city’s music scene, without talking about their origin as part of this past year’s First Time’s The Charm show. The event, which featured eighteen bands playing their first show ever, was created in order to promote the idea that music should not be closed off to marginalized people or to those who have never played in a band before.

The first Philadelphia iteration of the event (similar events happen in cities around the U.S. and overseas, including Portland, New Orleans and London) was in 2013, leading to the formation of bands like See-Through Girls and Marge; its ethos in Philly is very much a result of a larger, intentional cultural shift over the past decade to make Philadelphia’s DIY scene a lot more inclusive and diverse. Carolyn Haynes, Aster More’s guitarist, singer, and saxophonist—just on one song, “Dream Sequence”, but still!—has also been playing music in Philly for a number of years, most notably in Ghost Gum and the underappreciated Catnaps. Haynes reflected on that general shift while discussing Aster More’s place in the city: “I think Philly is really good at checking itself. … I think we’re pretty good about saying to someone else, ‘Hey you can’t be doing this, this isn’t cool.’ I think that opens it up to be able to have something like First Time’s the Charm and have it be so popular.”

That self-awareness and intentionality in actions is important. According to Aster More’s keyboardist and singer Kristine Eng, while the event translates anywhere, “It’s cool that it’s a Philly thing, because it’s good to see that Philadelphia is making strides towards bringing minorities to the front. I think it’s important that our music scene thinks about that and is trying to make a place for that.”

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Dead Vibrations Explore the Darker Side of Swedish Shoegaze

Dead Vibrations
Dead Vibrations.

Stockholm’s Södermalm, often shortened to “Söder,” which is Swedish for “south,” is a neighborhood that was home to famous Swedes (Greta Garbo spent her childhood there), and famous fictional Swedes (Mikael Blomkvist, the journalist searching for sinister answers in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). But it’s also prime real estate for up-and-coming Swedes looking to settle into the shadowy recesses of the Scandinavian capital. It is here, in a practice space housed in a former erotic theater, that Dead Vibrations make their home.

Deciding on the neighborhood was easy: Södermalm was the backdrop to some of their biggest moments as a band. “That’s where you’ll probably find us, listening to ‘80s hits and drinking cheap beer,” says bassist Elmer Hallsby. The spot where they signed to Echo Drug Recordings, the New York and Virginia Beach-based label specializing in shoegaze, psych, and punk, is right around the corner from their practice space. They played their first gig in Sodermälm, too, in the basement of Cantina Real, a Latin-American restaurant that hosts the occasional rock show. “It was so crowded and sweaty,” says Christian Jansson, who fronts Dead Vibrations and plays guitar. “We loved it.”

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Nothing Break the Bad Luck Streak

Nothing
photo by Jimmy Hubbard

“I wanted to be in bands that sounded like Slowdive and Ride and Catherine Wheel, I just couldn’t quite figure out how to do it.” —Nicky Palermo

To Nicky Palermo, the frontman of Philadelphia shoegaze quartet Nothing, the whole world is bleak: “It’s a tragic life with brief glimpses of happiness here and there, and you smile when you can. You just try to cope with the rest.”

That attitude might sound pessimistic, but consider the events that led to Tired of Tomorrow, Nothing’s excellent sophomore LP. After playing a set in Oakland in May, Palermo was hospitalized when five men beat and robbed him, fracturing his skull and his spine. Around the same time, Nothing’s bassist, Nick Bassett, lost his mother (Palermo’s father had passed away before the release of 2014’s Guilty of Everything). Palermo couldn’t even get to the studio in Philadelphia where the band was set to start tracking Tired of Tomorrow until his swollen brain reduced enough to make the flight. So he laid in his hospital bed, “hooked up to anesthesia, and morphine, and Demerol, and pain pills, and all the stuff that makes things just a little bit more confusing,” and tried to make sense of the situation.

“There were a lot of thoughts going on at that point,” Palermo says, reflecting on his time in the hospital. “No one really knew what the next step was going to be from there.”

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