Finally available for streaming at your convenience: our top shoegaze and dream pop tracks of 2016. Published with ranked list and links, so that KEXP and KCRW can catch up, but more importantly, so that you can track them down and purchase a copy for your own library. Rankings derived from total spins, social feedback, and especially listener votes via the DKFM app. Thanks for your participation, and support of great new artists and music. Listen in, and follow along!
Many tracks released late in the year only began catching fire as the calendar turned, and seem to be building on early success. As such, disappointing that we weren’t able to plug in breakout performances from Blushing, RUBUR and others. With luck, they’ll appear as is appropriate on next year’s chart show. Assuming the world hasn’t blown up by then. I mean, right?
Groundbreaking. Polished imperfection. Genre-defying. Iconoclastic. Forefathers/pioneers. When you hear the name A.R. Kane spoken, it is usually uttered with a sense of respect and reverence, and with a relative word salad of superlatives attached. From their East London founding as friends and creative foils in 1986, to their professional and creative split in 1994, A.R. Kane helped define and later reshape what is now commonly known as dream pop. They did time with 4AD and Robin Guthrie, had a cup of coffee with Rough Trade before the label’s bankruptcy, and connected with David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label, in a career that hit all the creative, dreamy, experimental notes available at the time. The legacy they left made significant contributions to dream pop, shoegaze, trip hop, post rock and acid house, and they’ve been namechecked by any number of artists wanting to explore the contours of their own sound, in their own way.
A.R. Kane reformed last summer for several festival appearances, with originals Rudy and Maggie Tambala, and bringing on Andy Taylor to help support the sound. Spain’s respected Primavera Sound 2016 announced A.R. Kane will perform two shows at the June festival, and the band is picking up additional dates worldwide this summer. Call it a vindication, call it a victory lap, the influential band is now set to perform old classics and a few new sounds to a whole new generation of fans. We sat down with Rudy to talk about what a long, strange trip it’s been.
DKFM: Before we bury the lede, ‘new sounds’? Is there a new release in the cards? Tell us a little bit about the process of creating new A.R. Kane music.
Rudy:Firstly thanks, this is trippy, doing interviews again and having to re-create the myth afresh. “New sounds” is an interesting choice of phrase, because that really was central to what we always strived for, or at least sounds perceived in a new way, a new setting. Prior to playing one show last summer, I had a mental block – nerves – and so Andy and Maggie took me across a field, over a fence and into a wood in the English countryside. We went through the entire set strumming on non-amplified electric guitars and singing, three voices, the light, the air, the pre-show energy, festival heads strolling by occasionally. It was the highpoint for me, something very special happened – and so after the show, I decided to strip back the band from seven, to just us three. I started writing from there, from that energy I felt us create, or rather that I felt in us and around us, and that I guess shaped the new sound. We have not signed to a label yet but have around a dozen songs, so at some point we will start recording. When the right label comes along we’ll talk about new releases. We may release some early demos, not hurry tho. Music technology has evolved – it is smaller and cheaper and for the way I work, a lot better. I still use samples and drum programming, guitars and effects, feedback and layers. I write at home, often on a battered acoustic guitar, sometimes on electric through a Strymon Blue Sky reverb and Space Echo pedal – I hear the harmonics bouncing around and pick out melodies for voices and other instruments, and I often write rhythmically on the guitar, little arpeggios or minimal phrases. I like to hear a kind of conversation. Because I sing too, I try to craft vocal lines – often with humming first – so that I can sing in rhythm and play simultaneously. A song-writers privilege I guess. This is vitally important to the new sound, as I now write for live – recording is never in my mind when writing. I use my iPhone to capture ideas. Sometimes I plug in my Roland JDXi keyboard, an amazing piece of kit, and just bang out a groove with subs and pads and all that. The two approaches meet in the middle somehow, and that was pretty much how we worked before, hence the guitars and grooves thing. I take the new songs into a practice room and Maggie and Andy work out their own harmonies and phrasing and add instruments. This happens usually very quickly. We then jam for hours, full-on, with three guitars and effects, the Roland, Ableton Live and Andy uses a Korg Micro too. Each week we add or strip out bits. The new sound has captured something of the potential I heard in the woods last summer, and strangely, it sounds very similar to early A.R.Kane recordings, raw, edgy, spacey, layered, deep dub basslines, and it grooves occasionally too. When we apply our new sound to the old songs, they sound fresh. It is much more about live now, recording was central before, studio experimentation, but that has changed. I look for live chemical reactions, listen for that space.
DKFM: Given your deserved status as a ground breaking artist and critical favorite, do you feel added pressure in releasing new music twenty years on?
Rudy:Yes and no. I myself compare what I was to what I am now, and the biggest change is that Alex has declined to return, and there is no doubt that on the earlier recordings, before “I”, it was all about our chemistry. We moved past that during the recording of “I”, and from there on the chemistry was not as crucial, and for me the energy not as intense, the music not as … erm, I wanted to say fresh, or inspiring, but in truth I’d say, not as good. I am directly affected by what listeners think feel say and do about the music I play. It starts with Anita – my wife – my son Louis, also a musician, Andy and Maggie, and ripples out from there. But I also have confidence and I try to be true to myself and be what I might call ‘an honest artist’ – I serve unwritten principles, almost like laws, that inform me when something is wrong, or could be better, or is just fake. That’s the creative compass. Without this, well, there is nothing of real value without it. When people come to our shows and hear the new songs, I think they’ll be pleased. We’ll only slot in a few at this stage. They merge seamlessly with the older material. Any recordings we do will be something entirely new – more different then ‘69’ compared to ‘new clear child’. I want to find a producer that empathises. That will be critical. And possibly a couple guest singers too. I my kidnap Alex if I can track him down.
DKFM: Touring, festivals, songwriting and possibly recording… apologies to LL Cool J, but can we call this a comeback?
Rudy:Well, you can if you want to. It’s all very low key – we have very few shows lined up as no-one knows we’re playing again, and we have no management or label etc. to push us out there. We did just confirm for On Blackheath in London, which is very exciting. For us to stand on a stage, backs to the crowd, heads buried in the amps, full force feedback flying fast, yes, I guess that is a comeback. This year we are testing the water. We’ll see.
DKFM: As the classic sound you helped pioneer has re-emerged, a whole new generation of fans is paying attention. Are you finding this younger fan base even more receptive to your unique approach? And do you feel somehow vindicated that you had it right all along?
Rudy: Last point first; it never occurred to us that we were wrong about what we did, or needed vindication. We are not well-known now, and unlike MBV, Ride, etc. do not have a large fan-base, but that is because we turned our backs on all that. We rejected the ‘scenes’, and focused on the sound. However, when we were making records we were completely appreciated for what we did, and everyone told us it how much they loved it, and all that. I am not surprised that so many people are into the Dreampop/shoegaze thing now, because it is fucking amazing, it changes people’s lives, I’ve seen it so many times, that look when the head slips sideways, as brainwaves just kick in … it was not a big scene when we were playing, it was very fringe, very arty, very-non conventional. I don’t really know this new scene well except through social media, I probably ought to listen to more stuff, get educated. I would love to play to a large, receptive audience – we rarely had that, we used to empty rooms in the first few minutes – people thought it was a one big technical hitch – no guys, it’s s’pose to sound like this, so fuck off! A.R.Kane music was always for a younger fan base, so that seems quite natural. Look, when I plug in, switch on, feel the rush, and look up … I feel like a kid on Christmas morning. I am excited and surprised and overwhelmed and I smile. I don’t really care who listens, I want them to feel what I feel, because it’s lovely. Because it makes all this crappy world shit make sense, it gives life meaning and magic, and it make me whole.
DKFM: Tell us about recreating the classic sound you’re known for in these festival settings. What does A.R. Kane live 2016 sound like with this lineup?
Rudy:Last year we used seven people, in an attempt to recreate the studio recordings. This really was a ritual to evoke the spirit of Kane, and in truth I now see that it was my personal lack of confidence and a process I just had to go through. This year we are three, and we are doing a new sound. All I can really say is that we aim to create an experience, to let people feel something now. Not nostalgia. I know what used to work, it will be interesting to see how it works now. Our set is short and intense, and the Kane tracks are all pretty pop songs that would sound good in any setting. Yes, even Country. I think the tech has improved our live sound, and like with the early Kane gigs we have foregone a rhythm section for the hip hop/ Cocteau Twins approach; drum loops, samples and sequenced sub bass. The guitars are still bloody painfully loud, and sometimes painfully soft. We all sing, and Maggie is central now.
DKFM: Finally, there’s a new squad of musicians in big cities and small towns around the world who have taken their cues from the kind of sound you forged decades ago, each with their own unique take on the form. Any advice to the kids who want to make magic, but do it their own way?
Rudy:I think we all start off imitating something … a pose, a style, an attitude, a sound … but at some point it is important to go beyond the inspiration, the surface, and put in some hard graft, to create something new. Follow the artistic compass, I guess. Sound, or music, is a particular art form, a specific human mode of expression. It is probably our best art and the most human thing we can do. There are rules. It has not – as many may say – all been done. Meditate on that, children.
We’ve been following Toronto’s Soft Wounds since their first demo EP release, and were lined up in anticipation of the first proper long-player. It’s no cookie-cutter shoegaze or dream pop release, as it features some solid songwriting, using genre identifiers only to draw curious listeners into their sonic world. The reverb is warm and generous, the feels are real.
“Baby Blue”, the teaser single released last week, gives a pretty good idea where this project is headed, with a respectful nod to forbears like Ride, and the soft/loud dynamics of Teenage Fanclub. It’s an anthem for the cool kids, who wouldn’t be caught dead listening to generic indie dreck at frat parties.
The real highlight of Soft Wounds is the churning storm of “You Can’t Stay Here”. The hook is undeniable. It feels both familiar and classic, but without being a rehash/recycle, and jangles to a full stop after a rollicking ride. Probably a lock for regular airplay rotation in no time.
It’s not a perfectly-formed album, by any means. Not all the choices make immediate sense, but the songs grow on you. There are ebbs and flows to Soft Wounds, as hard-charging tunes give way to slow-burn torch songs, but the imprint here is strong, the identity fixed. Soft Wounds does what they do, and are fully comfortable expressing themselves within the parameters they’ve set. They’re not looking to reinvent the sound, but they will draw you in to their version of it.
So has Toronto become Canada’s shoegaze capital? Hard to argue, with a list of luminaries like Indoor Voices, Beliefs, Iris (R.I.P.), Rituals, Elsa, RLMDL and Lust. Whatever’s got into the water in Toronto, we’ll have some of that.
Available now. Buy Soft Wounds debut S/T LP on Bandcamp, and follow their exploits on Facebook.
Los Angeles dream pop quintet Slow Coda tease their upcoming EP, You Again, with the streaming release of the first single, “Shimmer”. You Again is slated for July 7th release as a name-your-price purchase on the Slow Coda Bandcamp. At the risk of redundancy, “Shimmer” features a shimmering slow burn of guitar interplay supporting an angelic choral line. The beat skips and dances, as Slow Coda grabs your hand and leads you down the path. The jangle is strong in this one, and as a taster for the upcoming EP, “Shimmer” checks all the right boxes.
Since the release of their Night Window EP in 2013, Slow Coda have continued to explore the contours and corners of the sound that makes them unique. This is simply the next chapter in an impressive sonic and structural evolution.
The third and final installment of our series on the epic Roogaze festival in Melbourne on May 9th (event link: Roogaze 2015) features our chats with Kigo, Miners and Contrast. If you’re just catching up, check out our previous installments here and here. As we’ve described before, Roogaze is the largest shoegaze / dream pop themed event of its kind since LA’s Shoegaze Fest three years ago, and featuring heavyweights in a scene that crosses arbitrary national boundaries. We’ll shut up and let them tell the story.
DKFM: How’d you get all mixed up in this sprawling blissful mess of a show?
Jack Crook, Contrast: I got really excited about an idea to do a Cure tribute show after I was overseas and missed a Mary Chain one featuring some of my favs like Black Cab and Bloodhounds. I pitched it to a bunch of the bands on the bill and they were all super into it. I kinda got buried down with work and recording so Gabe from Lowtide kindly took the reigns and whipped it into the show it is now, which is far beyond what I was capable of anyways. Hats off mate. Nick Johnson, Miners: Gabe from Lowtide actually messaged me personally about the show, which was a pretty neat surprise. I forwarded it on to the others and we all pretty much jumped at the opportunity, we’ve never played Melbourne before and thought this would be the perfect introduction for us. We thought it was really nice of him to consider us. Dwayne Pearce, Kigo: Gabriel from Lowtide asked if I’d be interested in playing, and I jumped at the chance to be a part of this festival.! It was opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.
DKFM: Have you ever been involved in a shoegaze-specific event of this size?
Dwayne Pearce, Kigo: I’ve never played something this big before; I feel a little overawed at the moment. I’m really nervous to be honest; super keen to play, though. Nick Johnson, Miners: Nope, never before. Most shows we play in Sydney tend to vary a bit stylistically. We usually play with people that aren’t necessarily in shoegaze-sounding bands, but they’ll have a vague connection to us sonically and we all end up complimenting each others’ music in different ways. Zeahorse, Beast & Flood, The Nuclear Family, Caroline and Hound are all perfect examples to name a few, we love those guys and the shows we’ve done with them have all been awesome! But to get the opportunity to jump on something that’s unapologetically and emphatically designed to celebrate shoegaze music; it doesn’t come up much, if at all, so it’s awesome. Jack Crook, Contrast: We once played a show similar on Australia Day involving some of the bands on this bill and a few other main Melbs contenders like Flyying Colours and VHS Dream, but it wasn’t run by the bands, which seems to really shine through on this particular show and even though it was still a great day, this one seems to be executed in an exceptionally razor fashion. There is more focus on how special it is that we have all these bands in Australia.
DKFM: Are you familiar with the other bands on the bill, and who are you most looking forward to seeing?
Nick Johnson, Miners: We’ve played with Lowtide and Day Ravies before in Sydney, so to be able to play with them again and watch them play too is always a good thing. I think we’re all pretty excited to see Contrast, they’re pretty great. Personally I’m looking forward to seeing Kigo a lot as well. From what I have heard he doesn’t play live much, so I’m very excited to see what it’s like, knowing I may never see it again. Luna Ghost and Bloodhounds should be awesome too, we haven’t heard Hideous Towns before so looking forward to checking them out as well. Fuck it, the whole day is going to be great, we’re pretty excited to meet and hang out with everyone and watch their sets. Jack Crook, Contrast: We’ve had the pleasure of playing with all the bands on the bill besides Miners and Kigo, so it will be great to see them. All the bands on the bill are incredible in their own way so I can’t wait for all of them, but I don’t get to see Day Ravies as often as the others from Melbourne and in my eyes they’re the bloody cats pyjamas. Dwayne Pearce, Kigo: I am familiar with most of the bands on the line-up. I can’t wait to see Lowtide again, and the other interstate bands I haven’t ever seen before. Each band brings something different to the table, and I can’t wait to see everyone on the same bill.
DKFM: Do you think it’s possible to pull off an event this size, and this focused, again?
Jack Crook, Contrast: Yeah definitely. Australia is outta control with this sorta shit. Plenty of my fav Aussie bands could be mentioned for round 2 like The Laurels, Parading, Flyying Colours, VHS Dream and my little brother’s band Mosaicz just to name a few. Nick Johnson, Miners: Yeah, I think there’s a definite interest. And this lineup is just the tip of the iceberg, there’s so many bands doing really great stuff that’d fall under the ‘roogaze’ bracket for sure, you could put this bill on for at least another couple years and still stop short of the awesome stuff that’s floating around at the moment. Bands like Cull, Blonde Tongues, The Laurels, Roku Music, Love of Diagrams, Beaches, T54 and Popstrangers over in New Zealand – the list goes on. Dwayne Pearce, Kigo: I’d hope so. I can totally understand if this is a once only type thing, though. I can only imagine how tough it was to organise this. I really think that it will be something truly extraordinary, and who knows, it may NEVER BE REPEATED – hint – buy a ticket as soon as you can!
DKFM: Do you realize that fans around the world are right now looking at Australia, and talking about THIS event? How does that make you feel?
Nick Johnson, Miners: It’s pretty exciting. It’s easy to internalise all the music and forget that people are actually interested in what we do, so to know that even people on a local level are interested, let alone anyone around the world – it’s a great feeling. Dwayne Pearce, Kigo: It feels both terrifying, and surreal to be honest. I feel like such a small part of such a thriving scene. As far as the show goes, I really can’t wait to see everyone play. Maybe we should take this show on the road sometime? Sounds like fun to me. Jack Crook, Contrast: It seems like the psych/shoegaze/dreampop scene in the UK and America is thriving and fans of the genre are really engaged with who and what is happening all over the world. It just so happens a bucketload of it is going on here. To me I think we’re lucky to have such great likeminded bands we can go watch all the time, it’s just a shame our country thrives on a mainstream-radio-based market and it feels underappreciated here. Even though I guess its a ‘shoegaze revival’, I think everybody in Aus has a knack for acknowledging influence but not abiding by it. Because there is certainly a formula to this music, but it needs to be fucked with and I’m glad people overseas have recognized Australian bands are doing that. There’s this supportive, non-competitve community here for it to exist in. I think that’s the key.
Set times have been announced for Roogaze 2015, and are posted here. All times Melbourne local. Given the intense international interest, it is advised that those planning to attend purchase tickets in advance through this link.
12:00 Day Ravies
10:30 Bloodhounds On My Trail
8:15 Blush Response
6:00 Luna Ghost
5:15 Hideous Towns
Top 20 tracks for March (the week ending March 29th). Gives a snapshot of where we’re at in the year, what releases WE’RE pushing, and what our listeners are responding to. Some tracks here have climbed up and down these charts in the last several weeks, so the rankings themselves are less important than landing on the chart itself. Three tracks have carried over from February to March, and held their own. Why even pay attention to semi-monthly charts? Gives a clear indication of what tracks will slug it out for our year-end best-of honors.
No commentary, just the list. If you hear the tracks, you’ll fully understand why they’ve charted, and hopefully you’ll find a new band to love. Webradio programmers who follow us? You probably know 85% of these, but a few selections may help fill out your playlists. Trust me, we learn as much from you as you from us. Terrestrial radio programmers? Sorry, this is probably too cutting-edge for you. Good luck.
* 2nd month on chart ** Denotes new add in the last week
What makes this show “historic”? It’s not, really. At least, it’s as historic as Jay Z’s announcement of another paid streaming service. But, if that’s historic, so is this. Who said history couldn’t be entertaining?
Ultimately, this is what we care about. You may have a well-regarded LP or EP, but this is radio, and we don’t play LPs. Here, it’s all about the songs. You either have it, or you do not. There is no in between. And, yes, we take this list more seriously than any other.
Listed below, the top 50 songs for the year based strictly on direct listener feedback, total spins, and upvotes using the Live365 player widget. There is no cheating this list. Many you’ll know simply because they graduated to our “That Song” station IDs, which showcase the best that the genre has to offer. Below, find our original broadcast aired 30 January 2015. Special thanks to The Yellow Traffic Light, who graciously allowed us to borrow their #30 charting song for the show’s intro and outtro.
Is there a lot NOT on this list? Sure. It was a damn good year. It’s only a crime that some quality releases didn’t quite make the cut. But we’re not going to apologize, we’re going to say THANKS. Thanks not only for the artists and quality releases listed here, but for the top-notch tracks that didn’t make the cut, but should have. Congratulations to the artists and labels that helped make it a banner year. Here’s to 2015!
It’s that time. No more fussing about. And this is the list we take more seriously than any other.
As per usual, you are able to vote for up to three tracks. We do have some built-in cheat detection, so it’ll be difficult for a band or a fan to game the listener poll. In this instance, we’ve disabled ability to add your own tracks. This helps us cut down on “poll spamming” by bands with tracks you’ve never heard of. Fear not. Add a comment to this post, and, if qualified, it will be added posthaste. Poll closes 27 January. Shortly thereafter, we’ll post results, along with our list of what tunes fully broke our airwaves, and our hearts. Because we do this every day.
Feel free to share with only your most tasteful friends.
Phase Two: The EPs. We’re compiling the best shoegaze and dream pop EPs of 2014, and as always, we need your input. Some of the best music released this year was done in EP format, and this is by no means a complete listing. You may select up to three, and you are welcome to add EPs not already listed. We do have some built-in cheat detection, so it’ll be difficult for a band or a fan to game the listener poll. For our purposes, an EP is a release three tracks or longer, usually limited to seven tracks max. The only cheat here is the Bloody Knives / Screen Vinyl Image split, which could ordinarily count as an album, but is more akin to a double EP. Please note: you can vote for three. If you vote for more than three, your votes beyond the first three are ignored by the polling program.
Voting closes in one week (Sunday, December 21), so vote, and share with the most tasteful people you know. Singles (two or fewer tracks) are not counted in this poll, and, if added, will be disregarded in the results. If we’ve missed something important, please feel free to add it in the format: Artist – Title for consideration and voting. Thanks for your help!
It’s that time of year, dear listeners, and as always, your votes count! We’re compiling the best shoegaze and dream pop albums of 2014, and we need your input. There’s a lot of great music out this year, and this is by no means a complete listing. You may select up to three, and you are welcome to add albums not already listed. We do have some built-in cheat detection, so it’ll be difficult for a band or a fan to game the listener poll. References to Ariana Grande will be removed, unless she’s suddenly found the religion of reverb.
Minutiae: Albums count as a release of six songs or greater in one release. EPs are not gathered in this poll, which will have its own post. This poll closes December 5th, results will have a permanent home on this site.