(L-R) Filmmakers Sarah Ogletree and Eric Green, Simon Scott and Nick Chaplin of Slowdive, Moderator Rob Sheffield
Noise. Fuzz. Distortion. Loud. Obscure. Indiscernible. Cacophonous.
These are some of the terms I would use when describing music. Most likely, if I added the word ‘beautiful’ it would mean I was describing Shoegaze.
Friday afternoon CMJ screened the music documentary ‘Beautiful Noise’. Funded by Kickstarter with a handful of showings, this film by filmmakers Eric Green and Sarah Ogletree did a rather comprehensive job of giving insight (and inspiration) into a brief period in music history, that is somehow making a resurgence for hopefully a longer period in modern time. The film introduced audiences to a select group of talent, discussed ‘image’, and the renaissance of the genre today. Interviews with a few of the era’s favorite artists including Jim Reid of The Jesus and Mary Chain, Mark Gardener and Andy Bell of Ride, Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, Alan McGee (Creation Records), Ivo Watts-Russell (4AD) were mixed in with their musical compatriots of the time as well as artists of succeeding eras including Robert Smith of The Cure, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, and Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins.
The term ‘shoegaze’ refers to band members looking down at their feet while they played the guitar. Though this term is revered in the U.S. for it’s distinctive sound, it was interesting to find out during the Q&A session that followed the film, that this was a term of abuse, and looked down upon by the musicians of that time. A few of the musicians would not have participated if the word ‘shoegaze’ was used in the film.
The film opens up with a montage of vintage shots of bands performing on stage, hanging out, or practicing/recording.
The first band the film introduces audiences to is the Cocteau Twins. Robin Guthrie’s “shimmering guitar sound” and Elizabeth Fraser’s vocals had a major impact on countless musicians including Neil Halstead of Slowdive, and Robert Smith of The Cure. Smith described the music as seamless and effortless stating it to be the “most romantic sound I ever heard.”
We are then introduced to The Jesus and Mary Chain in the midst of an interview proclaiming themselves to be better than the other bands at the show, calling them “rubbish”. Oh the cockiness of it all! Where have we heard this before? Ah yes…Britpop. JAMC’s debut album ‘Psychocandy’ impacted audiences, media, and other musicians at the time because of the shock of sheer anger mixed with beautiful melodics that it had infused and provoked. It was a musical paradox. The sounds William Reid created with a guitar were overflowing with chaos, melody, and genius.
‘Beautiful Noise’ could not be made without mentioning My Bloody Valentine. At one point it was mentioned that it seemed like the band was playing one note for 15 minutes. Kevin Shields talked about how the lyrics were ‘unconscious talking’ – verbalizing what the music sounded like.
Later in the film we see back and forth cuts between Kevin Shields and Creation Records founder Alan McGee giving their he said/he said recollections on the demise of their professional relationship at Creation. According to Kevin Shields, he liked McGee as a human being…
Queue guitar intro to ‘Chelsea Girl’ by Oxford’s geniuses Ride and that’s when the chills happened. Smile, the album to ‘Chelsea Girl’ was one of Robert Smith’s favorite from 1991 to 1993. The film included numerous interviews with Mark Gardener, Andy Bell, and Loz Colbert. The end of this group was a shock to me when I was in college. I never got to see all 4 together, but at least I got to see Mark do his solo work, and Andy in Oasis and Beady Eye.
Lush of 4AD and other female fronted bands had carved themselves into music history with respect and feminism. It was not a boys club genre, but one, even though dominated by men, just as powerful with (and because of) it’s female presence. I remember dying my hair bright red in college because I wanted to be Miki Berenyi. I also remember a stranger in the street calling me a ‘freak’. Oh well, can’t please everyone.
One of the topics discussed in the film was that of image, or the indifference to image. I think it was Debbie Googe of MBV who stated they were “relatively introspective”. Trent Reznor later added “the image was no image”. Jim Reid told of how people may have perceived them as being stuck up because they weren’t comfortable around strangers. It was a time where the bands were truly about the music. Big hair, bowl cuts, eye-covered bangs, and turtlenecks may have been the style, but not necessarily an ‘image’, unlike Britpop, which was very much, but not completely, about the image. Bands did not like it when the UK press lumped all the bands together.
The resurgence of the genre is evident with today’s bands including Wild Nothing, A Place to Bury Strangers, M83, Violens, etc…., and has also crossed over to other genres with sampling, including hip hop. Trent Reznor discussed success and explained that if you based success on sales, the success of the genre was a failure. But if you based it on influence, it was successful. Jim Reid said it best when he said you wanted to be one of those bands that makes one want to pick up a guitar. From the sound of things, I think the “S” word is success.
‘Beautiful Noise’ was beautifully told. The visuals along with the music did not necessarily make me nostalgic, but instead inspired me to create, maybe not music, but something! I believe that was the point of the film… create something just for the sheer pleasure of creating. The outcome will be beautiful no matter what, even if it has some ‘noise‘ in it.
Other bands discussed or featured in the film included Chapterhouse, Swervedriver, Pale Saints, Curve, American band Medicine, and Slowdive. Nick Chaplin and Simon Scott of Slowdive also participated at the Q&A session after the film.
Filmmakers of ‘Beautiful Noise’ Eric Green and Sarah Ogletree