It was 1993 when Brandon Capps and a few like-minded friends started coordinating the first Beautiful Noise "shoegaze" festivals around Arizona. But 20 years ago, shoegaze wasn't a compliment. It was an insult, a pejorative tossed at the kind of guitarist who stared down at his pedals, waiting for the right moment to trigger the phaser or fuzzbox.
Twenty years later, shoegaze doesn't carry the same sting it used to. In fact, it's pretty hip these days. Last year, Brooklyn label Captured Tracks re-issued the complete recordings of Capps' old Phoenix-based band Half String to indie-blog acclaim and a series of reunion shows.
And now Capps has reignited the festival to celebrate its anniversary at Hollywood Alley in Mesa.
Half String's history -- as well as that of Arizona shoegaze bands like Alisons Halo, Loveliescrushing, Six String Malfunction, Scenic, and others -- is tangled up in the legacy of the Beautiful Noise festivals. In the early '90s, the festivals attracted attention from music rags like Alternative Press and New Times. In 1995, New Times writer Peter Gilstrap wrote about the new scene, different from "jingle jangle pop" of Mill Avenue and the "bouffant metal" of Phoenix: "There is something else quietly festering out there that you may not be aware of: a handful of bands in the Lush, Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine mold, playing atmospheric, moody stuff called noise pop."
The festivals ceased in the late '90s, but last year's Half String reunion must have triggered something in Capps and friends. The 20th anniversary show features veterans like Half String, Dogshow, and astrobrite, but also young bucks like Cassiopeia, The Tennis System, and Dead Leaf Echo.
Capps discussed the festival's revival, and the resurgence of shoegaze in the contemporary indie landscape.
Up on the Sun: This festival marks the 20th anniversary of the Beautiful Noise festival. Twenty years on, how would you describe the influence of shoegaze on modern indie rock? At Coachella this past weekend, you could see the genre's influence everywhere in bands like DIIV, Wild Nothing, and others. Does it seem like there's a resurgence or has it always been an undercurrent in indie's makeup?
Brandon Capps: It's a great comeback story, isn't it? Considering the stigma that used to be associated with being called shoegaze, I'm amazed at how the term is embraced today. I count myself as one of those rabid fans that was obsessed with reading the reviews in NME and Melody Maker back in 1990. I remember hanging out at Stinkweeds and waiting for Kimber [Lanning, Half String drummer and owner of the independent record store] to unpack the box of new imports, so I could hear the new bands on Creation Records.
It was a niche community of fans and shoegaze bands in America back then. We managed to ignore and skirt the flak that the UK press dumped on those bands that originally defined the genre. I think many of those records continued to reside in people's collections as "guilty pleasures." Looking at the "Top 100 Shoegaze" lists that show up on blogs, I'm reminded of just how many great records (shoegaze or not) were made in the '90s. There were so much creativity, innovation, and experimentation happening during that time, that it's no wonder that a younger generation has dug it up and found value in the recordings of that era.
This lineup features some old-school acts -- Half String, Astrobrite -- and some great new acts. What about the new bands spoke to you?
Tennis System put out a self-released record called Teenagers that I couldn't stop listening to last year. Every time I've seen them perform in L.A., they absolutely kill it.
Dead Leaf Echo just self-released a record called Thought & Language that has a super-sophisticated sound and aspects that remind me of some of my favorite bands connected to shoegaze, Pale Saints and A.R. Kane. For this release, they recruited the house graphic designer Vaughan Oliver and producer John Fryer from the vintage 4AD days; this definitely perked my interest.
What impresses me most about both of these bands is that great songs exist at the core of their revivalist shoegaze sound. There are neatly organized layers of melody and movement that you rarely hear from the current wave. So many bands today can cope a great sound but don't write interesting songs.
Half String seems to be really experiencing a new life. Obviously, you guys are busy with your individual lives, but it seems like you've been doing shows with a little more regularity. Recordings too, correct? Can tell me more about that?
The band and its "new life" certainly breathes on its own and is energized by the interest from a new generation of listeners. I credit Captured Tracks for the revival. As a label, they have a huge fan base that seems to trust their ear and what they choose to release. That's pretty rare these days, and it reminds me of when I used to buy any record that donned the logo of Creation, 4AD, and Factory.
All in all, the four of us just feel fortunate to have an opportunity to hang out again and plug in to an activity that was a real life source for us when the band was active. The recording process has been a bit happenstance. Michael Stock (a.k.a. Part Time Punks) has a radio show at KXLU and invites the bands that play his PTP events an opportunity the record sessions, à la John Peel Sessions. We played at Part Time Punks shoegaze festival in Echo Park last summer and got invited to record the day after.
We used the session to revive the last song we wrote together, back in 1996, but never had a chance to record properly. Matt, Dave, and I are actually going into the same PTP studio this weekend and hope to track three more songs. It's been very tempting to plan a new album -- the material is there, but coordinating a transcontinental recording would take some time and patience. We'll see how inspired we're feeling after this next rendezvous.
Tell me about the choice of venue, Hollywood Alley. What drew you to doing the show there? What other venues have hosted the festival in the past?
Half String played our very first show at Hollywood Alley in 1991. Early on, we didn't feel like we fit in with the Mill Ave. or the Mason Jar scenes -- Flying Burrito Bros on one side, flying hair on the other -- so we wanted to curate a lineup of bands that complemented each other, rather than just getting thrown on a random bill. There were a handful of other bands that felt as we did, so it just made sense to program a night of live music.
Ross Wincek was the only booker in town who would give us an entire night -- and sometimes a weekend night, at that. So, we've always felt welcome at the Alley; it's always a warm and homey vibe there, plus their sound system is super-loud.
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The first Beautiful Noise was at the Works. Back then, it was a prime spot for the gay community to go and dance to techno, plus it hosted weekend raves for the under-21 crowd, which included me on many occasions. We wanted a larger venue for the first event, plus we thought we could reach the clubs' patrons. The owners were sympathetic to our cause and gave us a Friday night for the first event -- it was all ages, which was a rarity for shows back then. The second was at El Rancho De Los Muertos -- such kooky and cool space. I saw Man or Astro-Man? perform there, and knew immediately that it would be perfect for Beautiful Noise. And again, the owners were very supportive of us trying to make something out of nothing.
Beautiful Noise featuring Dead Leaf Echo, Dogshow, Tennis System, Cassiopeia, Half String, and astrobrite is scheduled for Saturday, April 27 at Hollywood Alley in Mesa.