photo manipulation by nacrowe
i first came across SLOWDIVE while watching GREGG ARAKI films like THE DOOM GENERATION (DESPERATE PICTURES, 1995) and NOWHERE (DESPERATE PICTURES, 1997). their sound had this ethereal atmospheric quality with soaring waves of looped feedback winding and unwinding itself around a floating female/male singing tandem mixed way back in the mix. it was the perfect audio bed for films about largely centered around reckless young adults and their ever-evolving identities, attitudes and emotions that seemed to swell and dissipate. that was pretty much when i got interested in SLOWDIVE.
the documentary SOUVLAKI (PITCHFORK, 2015) is an oral history of the seminal SHOEGAZE band as described by members NEIL HALSTEAD, RACHEL GOSWELL, SIMON SCOTT, NICK CHAPlIN and CHRISTIAN SAVILL, as well as CREATION RECORDS founder ALLEN MCGEE, producer CHRIS HUFFORD and mixer/engineer ED BULLER. it reveals the process behind the development behind their transcendent SOUVLAKI (CREATION, 1993) album and how the recently dissolved romantic relationship between HALSTEAD and GOSWELL informed the record. pretty standard fair for music documentaries.
what resonated with me was how they describe the scene at the time, pre-GRUNGE and BRITPOP, when bands like THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN, SPACEMEN 3, COCTEAU TWINS and MY BLOODY VALENTINE were playing small gigs in rural ENGLAND. when the sound was still underground. the band itself was made of the decidedly INDIE HALSTEAD, who grew up in a household where music other than CLASSICAL was verboten, and two local GOTHS in GOSWELL and CHAPLIN; all agree on THE SMITHS. knowing that i can definitely hear a POST PUNK thread in their sound from GOTH ROCK bands like BAUHAUS (i.e. DANIEL ASH), JOY DIVISION, BERLIN-era DAVID BOWIE and SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES. they all used sound and looped effects to make deeply evocative music that resonated on both on an emotional and visceral level.
the documentary, like others in the PITCHFORK CLASSIC series, has the band members elaborate on standout tracks like "40 DAYS," "WHEN THE LIGHT HITS," "SOUVLAKI SPACE STATION," "DAGGER," and "ALISON." it also showcased BRIAN ENO's ability to serve as a catalyst for soundscapes that formed the basis for other songs as well. in ENO there is a figure that is purely interested in the creation of interesting sounds, period. he served as a catalyst during writing sessions with HALSTEAD, who hilariously and fortunately didn't know much about him at the time, and left. ENO's production techniques are fodder for another entry, so i wont go into that here, but needless to say his unconventional approaches and deep penchant for sonic experimentation is all over SOUVLAKI. it marks a new direction for the band which fascinatingly was influenced by DUB REGGAE and new AMBIENT acts at the time like APHEX TWIN. its all in there, you can definitely hear it.
in recent years the band has reformed and even released the stellar SLOWDIVE (DEAD OCEANS, 2017), but the SOUVLAKI record should not be missed by anyone. requisite listening for anyone interested in SHOEGAZE, INDIE ROCK, ALTERNATIVE ROCK or even AMBIENT or ORCHESTRAL music. really just great music for anyone moved by emotionally affecting sounds in general. at least it gets me every time, right back to being a teenager living in KUWAIT, an oppressive country with little freedom or ability for self-expression or creativity.
NOTE: also, the post-SLOWDIVE band MOJAVE 3 is also worth your time, although they are a completely different vibe altogether.