Slowdive - Biography
By Marcus Kagler
The dreamlike beauty of Slowdive was the unfortunate victim of bad timing. After releasing their debut album in late 1991 the band’s innovative languid slowcore was overshadowed by the grunge movement then buried by Britpop. Numerous coincidental label blunders prevented Slowdive from ever getting off the ground but today they are placed right along side My Bloody Valentine as one of the key figures in the short lived but highly influential shoegazer movement. As musicians the two groups represent opposing ends of “The Scene That Celebrates Itself”. Where the lads of MBV were weaving surreal noise cacophony, Slowdive explored gentle ambiance slow boiled into a thick syrup of gorgeous epic soundscapes. Anchored by Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell's intermingled angelic voices driven into the stratosphere by mountains of ethereal guitar effects and an almost gothic rhythm section the band created some of the most inspired hallucinogenic bedroom music of the early 90's to almost no notice by the alternative (much less the mainstream) public. Ignored and forgotten almost as soon as they appeared on the British alternative radar, Slowdive should have folded under the burden of disappointment after the release of their first album but the band persevered to release two more ground breaking and criminally ignored records before finally calling it a day in 1995. Over a decade after their demise, the Slowdive catalogue has gained huge worldwide cult status with modern critics finally giving the band the credit they deserved, but certainly never received, during their heyday.
Slowdive came to be in 1989 by way of childhood friends Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell in Reading, Berkshire, England. Rounded out by bassist Nick Chaplin, guitarist Christian Savill and original drummer Adrian Sell (who was quickly replaced by Simon Scott that same year), the group weren’t the most technically proficient of musicians thus they largely depended on a massive quantity of effects pedals to generate a hazy slow burning ethereal sound akin to new age music on a Druidic acid trip. Despite a Souixsie & the Banshees song of the same name the band has always claimed they got their name from dream of Chaplin's. While still in their teens the band cut their first demo, impressing Creation label head Alan McGee, who signed the band in 1990 and released their demo as the Slowdive EP that very same year. The Morning Rise (Creation) and Holding Our Breath (Creation) EP's were released the following year to critical praise from the UK rock press. By this time the band had gained a small cult following throughout Britain for their intense wall of sound live shows and Creation rushed the group into the studio to record a debut full length. According to the band, Just For A Day (1991-Creation) was the rush job to end all rush jobs. Slowdive entered the studio with hardly any finished songs and wound up improvising most of the album on the spot. The heavy ambient soundscapes of Just For A Day may not have been the most radio friendly debut but the album was a moderate critical and commercial success entering the UK Top 40, yet timing was not Slowdive's side. Released in the fall of 1991, Just For A Day came at the tail end of the Shoegazer movement when Nirvana was primed to explode grunge into mainstream dominance. The band embarked on their first U.S. tour in early 1992 supporting fellow shoegazers Ride even though their U.S. marketing campaign was little to non-existent due to lack of support from their North American label, SBK.
Undaunted the band returned to England to record their follow up full length, this time collaborating with the master of ambient music, Brian Eno. Souvlaki (1993-Creation) was a much more accessible album with Halstead and Goswell's vocals coming more to the front of songs with more melodic structures. The album was still very much rooted in the out of fashion shoegazer sound even though critically the band was praised for their progression over such a short period of time. After embarking on their second U.S. tour, this time as headliners, they became apart of one of the most boneheaded marketing campaigns in record industry history. In their infinite wisdom, SBK decided to push back the U.S. release of Souvlaki just before the band left for the tour, which meant Slowdive was touring a record that wasn't even on shelves. Adding insult to injury, SBK pulled funding for the entire tour just after the band arrived in the U.S., forcing Slowdive to fund the two week endeavor by selling a live cassette tape complete with a written diatribe slandering SBK. Despite the botched tour and marketing campaign the band developed a sizable cult following in the States through word of mouth and college radio.
In late 1993 the band released their infamous 5 EP (Creation), which showcased a dramatic shift from the shoegaze aesthetic toward a more ambient electronic bent later brought to mainstream success by the likes of Massive Attack and Portishead. Shortly after the release of 5, drummer Scott left the band feeling he would eventually lose his job to a drum machine, only to be replaced by drummer Ian McCutcheon. The third Slowdive album would be dramatically different from anything the band had released before. Bored with hazy guitar effects, Halstead had become more interested in a fusion of slowcore minimalism and avant-garde electronic music. This did not please Creation records, who demanded the band's next album be more pop oriented if they wanted to stay on the roster. According to Halstead the band knew they were going to be dropped no matter what they turned in so they recorded the polar opposite of what their label requested. Consisting of shimmering minimal guitar repetition and subtle abstract electronic effects, Pygmalion (Creation) was exactly what Creation didn't want and quickly came and went upon its release in 1995. Today however the album is considered a breathtaking meld of traditional slowcore with ambient soundscapes from a distant parallel universe. Mid way through the sessions half the band abandoned the project leaving Goswell, McCutcheon, Halstead to finish the album, which might explain the sparse drum and bass guitar contributions.
Needless to say, Slowdive were dropped by Creation before Pygmalion was even released. Rather than carry on as Slowdive the remaining three members rechristened themselves Mojave 3 and began a more lucrative career with 4AD Records releasing slowcore Americana albums. Nearly a decade after their demise, the best of compilation, Catch The Breeze (2004-Sanctuary) was released with 25 tracks of A & B sides along with one live track. The following year all three Slowdive full length releases were remastered and re-released via Castle Music UK with Just For A Day and Souvlaki receiving a bonus disc of unreleased and rare recordings. Since Pygmalion was never released in North America and has become a highly sought after collectors item the album was only remastered without additional material. Halstead, Goswell, and McCutcheon are still active as Mojave 3 but to date have expressed no plans to reunite the long dormant Slowdive.