Shoegaze, the hypnotic rock genre named for the way musicians would stare at their feet while manipulating guitar pedals, was a ’90s thing, or at least it was until My Bloody Valentine began performing again. In 2008, after 16 years of near-total silence, fans from across the world began marking their calendars and checking their paid vacation balances in hopes of catching MBV before they once again descended into the void. But it wasn’t just MBV that got back together and announced tour dates. Chapterhouse, Lush, Swervedriver, and Slowdive all reformed for a few shows in the late aughts.
With all the band reunions and tour announcements in the genre, the shoegaze chapter of music history, including Phoenix’s, suddenly needed an addendum.
In 2016, Tempe’s own Alison’s Halo were included in a shoegaze box set by the British label Cherry Red Records. For some young Tempe and Phoenix musicians, it was the first time they had become aware of their city’s connection to the genre.
Dovi is a Phoenix band playing shoegaze nearly 20 years after Alison’s Halo and Half String performed at the now-vanished Tempe venues Electric Ballroom and Hollywood Alley. For them, having the spotlight back on shoegaze couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. Guitarist Evan Frank says the small revival happening in Phoenix with bands like Boriko and New, Not Shameful is adding to the city’s history in the genre.
Dovi have been playing together for a little over a year and released their EP Desirable Bliss in September, but the music on their EP is more dream pop-influenced than shoegaze, the distinction between the two being slight but easy to recognize.
“From the old songs and the EP, we only play like one,” drummer Aron Ford says.
Aislinn Ritchie, guitar and vocals, thinks “Muerto Amor” is perhaps their most popular song. “I think It’s the most catchy one,” she says. The song opens with sunburst chords and a bassline that isn’t quite melancholic, but certainly not rosy, and follows a verse-chorus structure that does lend to it a certain catchiness.
Dovi’s new songs are not as soft as the ones found on their EP, according to Ritchie, and the band is playing the new songs louder so the audience will be able to physically connect to the music. Ritchie says when “you feel the bass, you feel the guitar, just everything,” it makes the experience of seeing a band so much better.
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“The one reason why I like shoegaze is because you feel it more than just listen to it,” Frank says. “It’s like a middle ground between so many genres. It has the pop essence and hardcore. People who like hardcore like shoegaze. People who like indie pop like shoegaze.”
“You can still manage to sound heavy without having to play heavy metal. You can still sound heavy and loud,” Ford says, adding that sometimes, playing loud in Phoenix isn’t always easy.
“The show before at Valley Bar, the sound guy got mad at me,” he recalls. “He said my guitar was screeching, but I thought it was kinda sick that my guitar was screeching.”
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Dovi sees a change in the reception shoegaze bands have today compared to when they were performing in the ’90s. In their eyes, what is now a successful cult movement wasn’t nearly as beloved back then.
“Nobody liked their music in the ’90s,” Ritchie says, pointing to a picture on Slowdive’s Instagram showing the band performing in front of a large crowd. “Back in the ’90s when they were out, that was not the case. They were like us right now, in smaller venues.”
“They got hated on early on, dropped from their label,” Frank says. “All of my favorite albums, they got so much bad press when they dropped them.”
While it excites the band to see the change, they would prefer that the shoegaze fandom’s focus shifts to newer bands, rather than just older legacy acts going on reunion tours and dropping decent, but not exactly classic, new albums. Hopefully then, shoegaze will become more visible to mainstream audiences.