In tribute to the Germany footballer Thomas Müller, winner of the Golden Boot at the last world cup and one of the leading scorers at the current one, I thought I’d look at the treatment of space in some recent shoegaze releases. When once asked to list his best attributes, Müller described himself as a Raumdeuter – a self-coined term that means something like “space interpreter.” Müller doesn’t only make up new words, he is also rewriting the role of the forward in contemporary football: ghosting around the pitch in different positions, running in unpredictable lines, and looking really ramshackle while being in total control, his play, though supremely effective, is less an efficient rehearsal of accepted principles than a thrillingly innovative expression of space. Not unlike shoegaze music, then, which, in its best moments, underscores and enhances what is according to the scholar Steven Connor the most important distinguishing feature of auditory experience: its capacity to disintegrate and reconfigure space.
In their recent single “El Maresme”, the Edinburgh band Wozniak seem intent on stretching the space of their song sideways as far as it will go. By persistently repeating a tumbling bass line, a rolling tom-heavy drum part and airily smudged vocals, and drawing out the sound with hazy overdrive on the bottom end and overtone-enhancing delay on the cymbal-rich top, they create a song that doesn’t so much tell a story as evoke the spatial equivalent of a series of suspension points. This approach is taken to its logical conclusion in “Gesamtkunstwerk”, the track that concludes their EP Pikes Peaks, which sounds like a song put through a pasta machine – no structure at all, just an energy-packed and delicious doughy stretch.
Nick Guy’s “Hill” creates untold inner expanses within an enclosed, compressed and claustrophobic space. The New Zealander lists his tools as “guitar, bass and voice on machine rhythm”; it’s a laconic way to describe a beautifully resonant world, shrinking in the outside cold and lavishly collapsing inwards. It sounds like a shoegazing take on Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”, which in itself may offer a good definition of shoegaze – there is no pain, you are receding.
Miners are from Australia and their song “Soft Focus” is like an opaque piece of hard candy. It manages to resemble a colourless brick wall and a fuzzy rainbow-tinged cloud all at same time. Its listing, treacly, dense and disorienting space makes you feel queasy in the nicest possible way.
“Gone in a Day” by the London band You Walk Through Walls glides and hums like a soft tissue scanner, tracing the internal depth of a deceptively simple and concise pop song. Supported by the supple skeleton of the drums, the guitars and vocals pile layer upon layer of memory sediment, emotional impact and accumulative breadth, outlining a space that is as propulsive as it is poignantly permeable.
Finally, the space of “Young and Pale” by the Toulouse band Dreaming of Grey Fields is as hard, angular, cold and drizzly as you imagine was the urban winter wasteland of Joy Division-era Manchester. Despite the depth and width of its poppy soundscape, it feels strangely flat; you can just about keep warm and hopeful in its delay-drenched guitars, twilit vocal harmonies and tech-coloured blankets of synthetic pads.