Taking its name from a word in a dream of bass player Nick Chaplin, and not from a Siouxsie and the Banshees single (as many have assumed), Slowdive immediately fit in with the British “shoegazing” scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s. This movement, also referred to as “dreampop” by music journalists, surfaced in the United Kingdom with the waning of New Wave and post-punk and just prior to the rise of American grunge and Britpop. Ethereal and otherworldly, the music these bands produced was typified by waves of distortion, swirling keyboards and percussion, and ethereal voices. The press called these musicians “shoegazers” for their tendency to look downward, instead of at the audience, while onstage. Musically, their style contained a broad range of rock/ pop influences, from 1980s phenomenon like the Cure, the Cocteau Twins, and the Jesus and Mary Chain to classic inspirations such as the Velvet Underground and the Stooges.
“We were all influenced by the same kinds of sounds,” recalled Slowdive’s Neil Halstead in an interview with Corey Dubrowa for Magnet magazine. ‘The Byrds, Pink Floyd, Loop, the Cocteau Twins, the [Jesus and] Mary Chain—even Mudhoney and Dinosaur Jr. We were interested in really loud guitars but with an element of pop, too.”
Although Slowdive initially drew comparisons to preceding acts such as My Bloody Valentine (arguably the most influential and finest example of the genre), the group later developed music with a more atmospheric, ambient sound. However, Slowdive was never able to shake the shoegazing tag, despite the fact that their focus had shifted. Before disbanding in 1995, Slowdive released several critically praised recordings, beginning with the beautiful, haunting EP Slowdive (1990) through the mesmerizing, ambient album Pygmalion (1995)
Slowdive came into existence in Reading, England, in the autumn of 1989, after old high school friends Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead, both vocalists and guitarists, decided to leave their respective cover bands to create music of their own. In college at the time, the pair then recruited bassist Nick Chaplin and third guitarist Christian Saville, as well as a string of temporary drummers, including Simon Scott, who joined in 1991, to complete the lineup. Scott, departing to pursue other interests in 1994, was replaced before the band’s North American tour that year by Ian Mc-Cutcheon.
In the meantime, Slowdive had only performed a handful of shows when an early demo tape was passed into the hands of Creation Records head Alan McGee. Suddenly, the young band members (whose average age was 19) found themselves signed to one of the most influential independent record labels in the country.
Slowdive entered the studio to rerecord their demo for a debut EP. Unable to recreate the atmospheric sound in a more expensive setting, the band and producers opted to record from the original tape. Simply called Slowdive, the set contained three tracks: “Slowdive,” “Avalyn I,” and “Avalyn II.” It was released in November of 1990 to rave reviews by the music press, who called attention to Slowdive’s indebtedness to the Byrds and My Bloody Valentine, and to pop chart placement. A second well-received EP entitled Morningrise followed in 1991, further establishing the band’s penchant for creating walls of sound through the use of distorted guitars and quiet harmonies.
The band enjoyed an instant following, particularly in the south of England, where music influenced by My Bloody Valentine was the most popular. Others lumped into the same movement by critics included Creation artists Ride, Moose, Curve, and Chapterhouse. At first, Slowdive did not dispute comparisons, as fans of one band inevitably bought records and attended gigs of others. Soon, though, journalists who had once celebrated shoegazers as pioneers of British indie music began deriding their efforts. Thus, when members of the bands would sometimes show up at one another’s performances, the press provided the shoegazers with an additional title: “the scene that celebrates itself.”
Nonetheless, Slowdive continued to generate favorable reviews for the music. The group’s third EP, 1991 ‘s Holding Our Breath, led Melody Maker to exclaim, “Slowdive are impossible, immaculate and serene,” as quoted by Joana Severs in Rock: The Rough Guide.
Members include Nick Chaplin (born on December 23, 1970), bass; Rachel Goswell (born on May 16, 1971), vocals, guitar; Neil Halstead (born on October 7, 1970), vocals, guitar; Ian McCutcheon (born on August 25, 1971; joined group, 1994), drums; Christian Saville (born on December 6, 1970), guitar; Simon Scott (group member, 1991-94), drums.
Group formed in Reading, England, 1989; released Slowdive EP, 1990; released first full-length album, Just for a Day, 1991; toured the U.S. with Ride, 1992; released Soulvaki, 1993; released Pygmalion, 1995; disbanded, 1995.
But the summer festivals that year were less kind to Slowdive and others, as the shoegazers found themselves compared to the emerging grunge acts that dominated the shows and the headlines.
This negativity occurred just before the release of Slowdive’s debut full-length album titled Just for a Day in 1991. Critics called the record dreary and unimaginative compared to previous releases. Then, when My Bloody Valentine returned that same year with the stunning Loveless, the bands that group had spawned and influenced were further dismissed as lacking in original ideas.
As a result, many shoegazing bands were unable to survive with any level of success, excluding Ride. As for Slowdive, the band opted to stay away from the British scene during 1992, although they did tour with Ride in the United States. Finally, in the spring of 1993, Slowdive surfaced again in Britain with the release of an EP, Outside Your Room, and a second album, Souvlaki, a welcomed musical progression from the band’s first album. On the release, Slowdive, with help from Brian Eno on several of the tracks, appeared tighter and wandered less without sacrificing an atmospheric quality.
After touring the United Kingdom, Slowdive returned with another EP later that same year entitled 5EP. This recording marked a significant directional shift for the group. With 5EP, Slowdive built upon the ambient textures of Souvlaki and embraced new technology, toning down the drum and bass in favor of synthesizers and soft vocal refrains. One track, “In Mind,” was even remixed by dance music acts Bandulu and Reload. Not knowing how to respond, the press retreated to former tags, dubbing Slowdive’s new sound “shoe techno.”
Incorporating guitar sampling and adding a heavier bass sound, Slowdive released a third album, Pygmalion, in 1995. Critics and fans alike now agree that the album should have brought the group back into the fore of the music scene in Britain. However, with Britpop and the sensation of Oasis (by this time the darlings of Creation Records), Slowdive’s last album went largely ignored by the press and the public.
Soon after the release of Pygmalion, Creation dropped Slowdive, leading to the band’s split. Goswell and Halstead, joined by McCutcheon, went on to form a new band called Mojave 3. Signing with the 4AD label, the group released the albums Ask Me Tomorrow (1995), Out of Tune (1998), and Excuses for Travellers (2000), which all veered more toward a folk-rock style. Halstead also released a solo album, Sleeping on Roads, in 2001, and Mojave 3 expected to release a fourth album in 2003.
Slowdive (EP), Creation, 1990.
Morningrise (EP), Creation, 1991.
Outside Your Room (EP), Creation, 1993.
Souvlaki, Creation, 1993.
5EP, Creation, 1993.
Pygmalion, Creation, 1995.
Buckley, Jonathan, et al., editors, Rock: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides Ltd., 1999.
Boston Globe, April 15, 1994.
Los Angeles Times, August 5, 1993; April 13, 1994.
Magnet, March/April 2002.
Rolling Stone, March 5, 1992.
Washington Post, May 5, 1992; April 1, 1994; February 9, 2001; April 26, 2002.
Creation Records, http://www.creation-records.com (August 8, 2002).
“Neil Halsted: Calming Down London,” musicOMH.com, http://www.musicomh.com/interviews/neil-halsted.htm (August 8, 2002).
“Slowdive,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (August 8, 2002).
Slowdive Official Discography v1.92, http://www.lysator.liu.se/chief/slowdive.html (August 8, 2002).
"Slowdive." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 22, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/slowdive
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