Ethereal Gone KidsYou're going home in an ambience! SLOWDIVE despise punk, eat spaghetti hoops and shape the most mellow, captivating music currently around. According to STUART MACONIE, they're closer to Brucknerthan Birdland. In the Diving seat: TIM JARVIS
Call it 'shoe gazing', call it 'murmuring', even call it I post-rave comedown', it's the frantic teen sound that's echoing through the beat clubs and coffee bars of England. Or rather it isn't.
It's the ebb and flow of blood tides, the sound of suns cooling down to nothingness. All that pretentious stuff. The sound of a generation who neither know nor care about the New York Dolls or Jamie Reid. Hey, hey, they're Slowdive and people say they fanny around, but they're too busy exploring a sensual, impressionistic fog of moods and ambiences to put the Manic Street Preachers down.
The burgeoning reputation of Slowdive is based largely on 'Morningrise', their second EP for Creation. The third, 'Holding Our Breath', out this week, is sure to fan the flames of interest. A lot of the advance publicity has had the effect of making them appear to be pansies of the first ater, which is unfortunate since they are, in fact, one of the most captivating new bands to emerge in months. Out of what could have been aniahtr'nare scenario of bad influences (The Cure, My Bloody Valentine, Cocteaus, Banshees) they've refined some luxuriant, fluid pop textures. It's not pop at all in any conventional sense, but it sounds great. You can see why people end up sounding like prize wassocks in their haste to describe it. It's dreamy, palatial, it's...
"Incandescent. . . maaan!" offers Simon. "That's a favourite. We have to have a dictionary beside us to understand our reviews these days. I think it's quite amusing," Nick confirms, adding, ''I'm sure that the reviewers have their tongues in their cheeks when they write it. They don't mean all that, do they?"
We're sitting in a beautiful sunlit room in rural Abingdon, an appropriately pastoral setting for Slowdive's heady, organic sounds. A cerebral balm after the recent exertions of dancefloor culture. The dreaded 'post-rave comedown'. Nick interjects. . .
"That was Neil's fault. He claims he was taking the piss but we don't think he was." Neil leaps to his own defence. "I was being tongue in cheek to see what the reaction would be. It isn't really a reaction against dance, although it's certainly the opposite. Chapterhouse have much more of a dance influence. It doesn't really mean anything to us. Living in Reading we were quite divorced from the dance scene."
SLOWDIVE, IN some ways, geographical proximity of embody a provincial sound. ~'supposed kindred spirits They're the suburban kids who grew up on the Mary Chain and Robin Guthrie, unaffected by the quick turnover and new fads of the metropolitan scene.
"You can see something. it in the difference between us and The Valentines. They use sequencers and the like, we're more natural. They're city kids, really," remarks Neil. But the geographical proximity of supposed kindred spirits Chapterhouse (also from Reading) has sent media and the fans alike sniffing for a movement. Sonic art in the commuter belt. Or something.
Still, the fact the fact remains; what makes young, healthy individuals make abstract symphonies out of luminous sound rather than sing about cars and girls and dancing all night?
Neil: "The music reflects the people we are. The first time. I saw the Mary Chain I thought they were f***ing cool. Whereas metal and rock bands always looked like c***ts. Given that, it was no surprise I chose The Byrds.
Nick, though, points out that there has been a fair amount of serendipity involved in arriving at this sound. "When we came up with the first tracks that sounded the way we do today, we were very surprised. Initially we were a lot noisier. But we all thought that 'Avalyn' and 'Slowdive' were the best things we'd done. And they just arose out of jamming. Our other style now only exists on various demos that have become lost in the annals of history."
But if the music reflects the people Slowdive are, then it comes as a surprise to meet five funny, lively, down to earth sorts and not pale apparitions swathed in incense and mandalas. Simon laughs.
"Ethereal! That's how we're supposed to be isn't it? I actually vomited onstage at a gig recently. Swallowed a load of dry ice. Completely unintentional, but it might have helped dispel the image." Nick picks up this thread. "In our early interviews we actually went a little too far in dispelling the image and came over like lager louts. But fans do take away such an unreal image of you as these people who never eat or go to the toilet."
Still, the very notion of having fans must still be an attractive novelty. Christian is jokily blunt ("Yeah,you car sleep with them") but confesses to still feeling they've come to the wrong hall whenever he sees a big crowd. Neil reckons it's a bit of a 'mindf***k'. But aren't Slowdive's (ahem) ethereal soundscapes a tad ill-suited to the vulgarities of the live circuit?
Neil: "You have to come with different attitude. You can't expect to have a boogie. It's head music. You can't expect to be physically stimulated but you can hope to be emotionally moved."
So who comes to Slowdive gigs? Nick looks a little like melancholy.
"Young male adolescents in parkasm by and large."
"And the odd casual and custy hippy." add Rachel
Simon: "We do get the odd cool, stylish babe, though." This excedingly unethereal remark draws a slavo of groans. "You do know how that's going to look in print, don't you?" wails Christian.
More seriously, there's a very obvious diagnosis of the 'Slowdive' syndrome, why an increasing number of young bands are making music that's closer to amplified Bruckner than Birdland. Slowdive are of a generation to whom punk means nothing. They are utterly untouched by that long, dirty shadow that still informs a whole residual chunk of pop culture from Simple Minds to The Wonder Stuff to Guns N' Roses. Slowdive really don't see what all the fuss was about and, more importantly, have not had to unlearn any prejudices about the various musics punk declared defunct.
Neil: "I listened to Pink Floyd at college, not the Sex Pistols. People find that hard to believe." Simon agrees. "The Mary Chain were our rebels. They were the nearest we got to a Sex Pistols."
Nick's even more forthright. "Punk to me is horrible. Ludicrous and laughable.1 can't understand how people could listen to it. I know it spawned The Cure and The Banshees but it also spawned Sham 69!"
Simon: I remember being about seven and listening to my next door neighbour and her mates, who were 18, raving about some Killing Joke concert, ssaying how great it was that people were spitting at the band. And even then I remember thinking, 'what the f-- ae they talking about? What's so cool about that?'"
THE TIMES they are a changing, as some old fart once said. Indie music is fast becoming today's lingua franca of teen cool. Notions about the 'underground' that held true even two years ago now mean little. As Christian points out, he was the weird kid in school by dint of his screwball musical tastes. Now it's the SAW supporters who are the figures of playground fun and James occupy Brother Beyond's territory in the pop schemata. Rejoice at that good news, but for Slowdive it means all thoughts of cosy cultdom have given way to endless talk of pre-sales and midweeks.
Nick: "The fact is that we now have to think about the big boy's chart rather than the independent one, which is what all bands like us would have done five years ago. It's always been the case that anyone who claims not to want to do Top Of The Pops is a liar. But now we have to consider that option. It's unlikely it'li happen but not unthinkable. It happened for Curve and Ned's Atomic Dustbin and Ride."
Slowdive promise a "smattering of your sonic cathedrals" on their debut LP. They reckon that pop might die out just around the same time you buy your virtual reality headset from Rumbelows. Their worst fear is that we'll all change our minds and next year they'll be stacking shelves, grilling frog's legs and Wimpeying their lives away again. I hope not. We shall see. Their album 'Cool, Stylish Babes' is available (naturally) this autumn. They're holding their breath.
Originally appeared in NME 8 June 1991
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