In ‘The Roots Of…’ we take a band, pull apart the threads that make them who they are and build a Spotify playlist from their influences…
This week, to mark the long-awaited return of My Bloody Valentine to the live stage and their (hopefully) imminent comeback album, we look back at the sounds that shaped them.
The usual story for a truly great band is that they start out amazing and end up a bit rubbish. Well, with My Bloody Valentine the opposite is true. Formed in Dublin 29 years ago – no, really – by American-born Kevin Shields and his friend and drummer Colm O’Ciosoig, their first three years were spent as a fairly uninspiring garage rock outfit a little too over-influenced by The Birthday Party. They dipped a toe or two into bowl-cut, fuzzed-up indie-pop around 1987, but it was still pretty tepid fare. Then, having ditched their original lead singer for Bilinda Butcher’s whispered sighs and signed to Creation Records, they, basically, went mental, becoming a roaring, raging, monster of a band. In late 1991 they produced the still-shocking Loveless without which there is no Radiohead, no Smashing Pumpkins, no Mogwai, no Nine Inch Nails, no Iceage, no Deerhunter, no, well, you get the point. “Pure noise and pure melody,” as Shields explained later. “The after effects of experimenting with too much ecstasy…” But what got them there?
As a kid listening to the radio at home Kevin Shields was struck by two things, glam and punk. It was when he first heard The Ramones that the future sonic-adventurer realised the guitar could be more than a melodic cosh, it could also be, in his words, “a noise generator”. Sonic Youth consciously joined the dots between the late 60s garage punk of The Stooges and their own new wave of experimentalism, while Husker Du and, later, Dinosaur Jr worked on the perfect blend of noise and melody.
There is a moment in My Bloody Valentine shows, during ‘You Made Me Realise’, where they physically assault the crowd with melody-free white noise until everyone in the room is, in Shields’ words, “fully and utterly done”. Sometimes it might take 40 minutes. In 1975 Lou Reed’s ‘Metal Machine Music’ (“the ultimate anti-music noise”) had stretched a similar idea over 64 minutes. Listen hard enough though and, eventually, your brain will invent its own melodies, as it will deep within the cavernous hollows of American composer Maryanne Amacher’s work.
You can divine elements of My Bloody Valentine in bands like primitive psychedelicists The Seeds, jangle superheroes The Byrds, baroque legends The United States of America and even the super-slick freak-pop soul of The Fifth Dimension. It is to our eternal benefit that the UK’s relatively lenient attitude to squat and dole culture during the early 1980s gave a band like My Bloody Valentine the free time to experiment and soak up such a huge amount of revolutionary music.
In the UK, the early 80s indie scene was a peculiarly inventive place. You can hear pre-echoes of MBV in the wordless swirl of The Cocteau Twins, the shambling proto-pop of The Pastels and Jesus and Mary Chain’s feedback crowned howl. But at the same time Shields was out clubbing with the Creation Records crew – a fearsomely hardcore bunch, taking in acid house, hip hop and a burgeoning breakbeat culture that would, some years later, directly influence the proposed follow-up to Loveless, a “jungle” inspired LP that, sadly, was never released. Maybe now, finally, the world is ready?
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