Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Shoegaze

Lush, Toronto, Feb. 20, 1992

LUSH ARE TOURING AGAIN ALMOST TWENTY YEARS AFTER THEY BROKE UP. This comes after the reunions of at least two other British bands that either thrived or suffered under the label "shoegazers" a quarter century ago, after a long-in-coming reassessment and retrospective appreciation for a sound that I loved to death, during what I still remember as a bleak period in my life.

Thanks to my friend Tim and his gig at HMV Magazine, I was able to shoot a few of the bands who arrived here on the crest of a musical movement the British music press hyped and decried all at the same time. I was frankly grateful that the whole thing had a name, and happily picked up anything that got stuck to it - bands like Slowdive, Moose, the Boo Radleys and Curve; if it had a monstrous, effects-laden guitar sound I was there.

Ride, Parkdale, March 1991

Ride were the first to catch my attention, and I ended up shooting them in my Parkdale studio, thanks to my better-than-average relationship with their Canadian record company. I'd already become spoiled by the control a studio session offered, especially when I was in the thick of cross-processing mania. The supersaturation and colour shifts of cross-processed slide film is the look I associate with the shoegazing moment, a stylistic serendipity that I find myself missing lately, when photography seems to be passing through a monochrome phase.

Ride were co-headlining tour with Lush, the other big name in shoegazing, and I arranged to shoot them at their hotel just after they arrived in town for the show. They were tired and a bit put off at the news that they had a photo shoot, but I managed to corral the band into a corner of one of their hotel rooms where my friend Robin had helped me set up a bank of studio strobes in record time.

Lush, Toronto, March 1991

By the time I started running film through my camera I was both nervous and adrenalized and broke out in what can only be described as a torrential, heroic sweat. (Think Albert Brooks anchoring his first newscast in Broadcast News and you'll have some idea.) Choosing a frame to scan from this shoot meant rejecting shots where the band's obvious amusement at my catastrophic perspiration is hard to miss.

From the distance of over two decades, I'll admit that these cross-processed negatives meant hours of brutal darkroom work, especially if it was (as showcased here) 100ASA Fuji or Agfa slide film overexposed by two stops. Thick and colour-shifted almost to the edge of what the average colour enlarger could correct for, I've only now found myself able to deal with them, thanks to many years of printing experience and the wonder that is Photoshop.

Chapterhouse, Toronto, October 1991

Chapterhouse were my next subjects, a band that's more of a footnote in the history of shoegaze - undeservedly so, I think. It was another hotel room shoot, and instead of trying to find a neutral wall I decided to let the setting show. I'd also learned to control my cross-processed negatives more, and with a warm amber filter in front of the lens and a few rolls of Fujichrome 400ASA film behind it, only mildly overexposed, I finally started getting results that were less graphic and a bit more painterly.

Of the three bands featured here, Chapterhouse were the ones I got on with best of all, both during the shoot and later that night at their Lee's Palace gig. I never really tried to make friends with my subjects, but when they turned out to be more than polite, even amiable, I find that my memory of the shoot is a bit warmer, and less like a wincing recollection of a short but intense battle of wills that usually ended in a draw. Like Lush and Ride, Chapterhouse also regrouped a few years ago for a short tour that took them through Lee's Palace again.

Lush, Toronto, Feb. 20, 1992

Just less than a year after my first shoot with Lush, I photographed them again, on a tour with Babes in Toyland in support. They were already being worked hard by their American label in an attempt (ultimately unsuccessful) to break them big here, and the strain on the band was already showing, not just in my photos but by the fact that their original bassist, Steve Rippon, had left and been replaced by Phil King in the interim year.

I set up at the back of the venue before sound check, lugging along my full set of studio strobes and stands, a rented backdrop and my Bronica SQa, so I could make Polaroid test shots. The results were far more manageable in the darkroom than my first session with the band, but for me they suffered a bit by looking more like record company promo shots than editorial portraiture; I might have been pleased then at the technical feat, but today there's a still-lingering feeling of disappointment.

It's hard to describe now how much I responded to the sound made by bands lumped together back then under the shoegazing moniker - a deeply emotional identification with the cavernous, often epic soundscapes they made on records like Ride's "Unfamiliar," "Nothing Natural" by Lush, Slowdive's "Morningrise" or "Breather" by Chapterhouse. I loved the way the music rushed over you, both hot and cool at the same time. Still bruised from a bad break-up, I loved the mix of melancholy and ecstasy, and the way that the music almost promised something like obliteration. At the time, it was an attractive idea.


 
 

3 comments:

  1. Hi Rick,
    Did "My Bloody Valentine" or "Swervedriver" ever play in T.O.? Those are the bands I still listen to the most out of the bunch. Great article and photo's as always.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dave - I don't know about Swervedriver, but I know that MBV did, and I have the hearing damage to prove it!

      Delete