Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Shan Sportswear and Shoegaze: A guide.

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A History Of Ugly Sportswear.

At the end of the 80s Troop sportswear appeared on the backs and feet of the second generation of first American then British hip-hop artists in a 'Patrick Bateman-like' statement of wealth that went hand in hand with huge gold chains and cars with dead massive exhaust pipes. The XR3i of sportswear, Troop trainers were covered in all sorts of unnecessary accruements, eg, a see-through plastic bit in the sole, a stupid logo on the heel, and of course, a tongue so huge it could sleep a family of four in relative comfort.

British Knights:
A favorite with the early rave crowd, British Knights begged one question: What was a British Knight? Was it some ancient order of Arthurian warriors bent on defending the glory of Albion? Was it a secret Masonic organization? Or was it just a shite American sportswear company who made boots so obviously rubbish, that only people who'd spent the 80s wearing Gallini and Bukta on the mean streets of Blyth or Darlington would ever consider them remotely stylish! Hmmmm.

Admiral are the Mary Celeste of sportswear, disappearing for years on end (thankfully) before re-emerging from the ether with another batch of shit, unwearable gear, usually made of shiny fucking polyester. Their most memorable reincarnation took place in the mid 90s when the tache-sporting 'Happy Mondays' were brought in by their advertising company in order to convince us that Admiral were in fact 'old skool', as opposed to the makers of the worst England Football kit of all time.

Prada Sport Trainers:
There is a wise maxim that goes:

"Thou shalt not, under any circumstances wear sports shoes made by anyone other than a sportswear manufacturer."

Prada Sport proves this. The makers of this shoe got one thing wrong about the product: a trainer must be designed - at least on the surface - for some sort of sporting activity, even if we all know they're only going to be used for hanging around outside an off license.

Prada trainers contravene all trainer law. They are not for anything, except drinking in identikit central Newcastle bars talking about sepia-coloured fashion spreads in shite Sunday newspapers. The fact that they look like a pair of geriatric slippers that Buck Rogers would wear when he got old only rubber-stamps their god-awfulness.

LA Gear:
LA Gear trainers were bought by people who thought that 'authentic' street wear had to have some sort of link to America. The fact that their LA Gear shoes had suspiciously thin soles, sparkly laces and a range of colours thought up by Zippy off Rainbow didn't seem to put off the large numbers of clueless posh tossers and teenagers who bought these monstrosities in order to get 'hip to the beat'.

Rugby League Tops:
Up until 1990 rugby league manufacturers churned out the same kit designs year after year - simple, unfussy, middle-class garments that while not exactly threatening 'Chanel' or 'Armani,' had a simplicity that reflected the tiresome nature of this incomprehensible game. However, with the advent of the Murdoch money and the Super League, the teams decided to inject some much needed glamour into their sport by adding ludicrous American-style suffixes to their names. Suddenly Wigan became the Warriors, Newcastle, the Falcons and Huddersfield, yes, that Huddersfield, the Giants! Shirts-wise, out went the simple lines of old and in came crazy splashes of colour, three-quarter length sleeves and big sponsors' logos. Luckily, the fans kept a link with the past by continuing to wear half-mast Lee Cooper jeans and Hi-Tec Silver Shadow trainers.

Travel Fox:
Kylie Minogue wore them, Shaun Ryder wore them, even Tony 'I used to present the weather on Granda Reports' Wilson had a pair. Yes, they were Travel Fox, the glamour training shoe that said, "I am a pop star and I live in a hermetically sealed bubble of bad taste and too much money, please feel free to laugh at me openly in the street!" Most things the Italians design are low key tasteful affairs, yet Travel Fox, however, unfortunately appealed to the other side of Europe's most stylish nation - the part that likes ugly fuck-off gold jewelry, Buffalo platform shoes, sleeveless t-shirts and trance music.

If 'Ultravox' were around today they'd wear Acupuncture trainers. Think about it: Acupuncture shoes have space age bendy rubber soles, a preoccupation with the colour grey and a clumsy 'A' logo that sits atop the ridiculous Velcro fastening they use. Appealing mainly to post-university Jesmond types who take their fashion cues from magazines full of pictures of skinny models wearing sriped tank tops. Acupuncture are for people who decide to re-invent themselves as tag writing 'graf' artists after spending their first 18 years 'fagging' for prefects at public school.

Here endeth the lesson.

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OK. Now some things that are truely close to my heart. Namely blisteringly loud guitars. Dreamy gossamer, half heard songs of love. Distortion. Lots of distortion. And reverb. And phase. And flange. And delay. Basically, anything involving effects —by effects pedals, guitar re-wiring, amplifier manipulation, or studio experimentation— so all consuming that individual instruments blend into giant, glowing clouds of thick, foggy tonality. Like alt-rock smothered in fog, or ambiance rife with tension.

The term 'Shoegaze' was said to have been first coined by Andy Ross who ran 'Food Records' in the late 80's and early 90's when he described the band 'Moose' and dismissed the band "a bunch of shoegazers" in an interview. Doc Martin and salad enthusiast Steve Lamac picked up on this and soon after used it in an NME article and the rest as they say, is history. Initially a negative description, it was soon turned around into a more positive ideal and quickly, the pejorative 'Shoegazing' was embraced, and, through use, it was shortened to the two-syllable 'Shoegaze'. So now you know!
There was never any easy dictionary definition of what 'Shoegaze' actually is. There is no way of pinning it down as there are so many strands, electronica, indie, heavy rock can all said to share some of the base aesthetics of shoegaze, the obvious link is that they share a grander more ambitious make up. No angular, post-punk posturing, this is all big, curvaceous music in the grandest tradition!
The genre's founding forefathers were, in all likelihood, two bands who were not true shoegazers themselves. When Velvet Underground-influenced Scottish outfit the Jesus and Mary Chain released their legendary debut, Psychocandy, in 1985, they gave the world rock’n’roll songs swathed in reverb and distortion. Spacemen 3, a gospel-tinged garage-rock band founded on excessive drug-use, released their The Perfect Prescription set in 1987, furthering the cause of walls of sound built from guitar noise.
The other spiritual forebearer of the genre was the 4AD-centred ‘dream-pop’ scene (personified by bands like the Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil). Shoegazers took the detached, ambient, effects-draped, cooing-vocal style of dream-poppers and amped up the volume.
Though the name really only refers to it's initial, self-contained era, the spirit of shoegaze is still summoned every few years when some young sonic scientists, usually at University, stumble across the sacred mathematical formula of 'effects pedals + melody {LOUD guitars} 9% audible vocals = Shoegaze'.
Kevin Shields of shoegaze pin-ups My Bloody Valentine, famously described his band as having a 'fluff on the needle' sound. And, sure enough, My Bloody Valentine used effects-pedals to build walls of opaque guitar sound, burying their songs under torrents of reverberated guitar noise. The effect was to make the noise the centre of it's musical universe, with vocals, bass, and drums all submerged under guitars nearly reduced to sine-waves.
Whilst you could get into pedantic, semantic discussions about the differences between dream-pop, space-rock, and shoegaze, there are very little misconceptions about shoegaze as a genre. True shoegaze bands are few, and they all hailed from pretty much the same time (1990) and place (Reading) and most of the bands, as well as the scene had died out, split up and called it a day by 1994.
Despite the tiny scale of the movement and the brevity of it the current ranks of shoegaze-influenced artists, (quite direly described in the press as 'nu-gaze') all appears to be alive and well in the modern world of the 'fluff on the needle' sound. Loop, Slowdive, Ride and My Bloody Valentine all reformed, the latteractually returning to the stage with new material in tow. Since they released Loveless in 1991, the Irish band have attained a legendary status — not least of all in Shields' inability to make a follow-up album — inspiring countless bands year in and year out.
The bands who drew from shoegaze are too numerous to mention, but some of the more notable staying-true-to-shoegaze acts like Seefeel, SchoolOf Seven Bells, Engineers, Bowery Electric, the Radio Dept, M83, Over the Atlantic, Asobi Seksu, Rumskib, and Sereena-Maneesh are all still making great music, the sale of 'Slowdive' t-shirts is at a 17 year high and peoples hair seems a lot messier than it's been for a while so I guess the whole thig is ticking along nicely thank you very much!

Till next time.
Big love. Mark. X

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