Band Out Of Time: Slowdive and the cult of glorious failure

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Contemporary music is haunted by ghosts.

Watching the Pitchfork-produced documentary on Slowdive, the early 90's shoegaze (not their name) band, got me thinking about our love of discovery, especially when the cult of the forgotten is at play.

History tells us that the music of Slowdive was overlooked, caught between the sine wave cycle of taste.. Their magnum opus, Souvlaki, stood in stark, unheroic in contrast to the nascent Britpop and Grunge scenes. Even their unassuming black and white press photos show a sensitivity likely too earnest for the moment that Cobain, Dre, and the Gallagher brothers ruled.

But time does wondrous things to music.

The album has all the makings of a reexamined classic: beautiful songwriting, a Fleetwood Mac style inter-band dissolution, and a dash of Brian Eno seasick sparkle. In the years since its release, Souvlaki has become an indie staple, the pop gem in the Creation Records catalog. The band are reunited and playing their biggest shows to date, a not uncommon occurrence.

But this celebration of the under appreciated is not new. As The Wire pointed out in detail, this nostalgia might be sucking the air out of the room for new artists as we seek reissues and rarities instead of the unsafe terrain of new music. Simon Reynolds dedicated a book to this subject, which if memory serves, inferred that we are in a culture of speculation, like cultural venture capitalists, wanting in early, or not at all, pretending we knew all along.

With the profound crate digging done by labels like Light In The Attic (Rodriguez, Lewis), Luaka Bop (William Onyeabor), Now-Again and Numero Group finding big response, our obsession with the lost, forgotten, and vanquished is bigger than ever. The overlooked are having their moment and it’s beautiful.

The trick is in how we assess the new. If not brave, we might be fostering the underheard at even more aggressive rate. — SV

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