Named after a word in one of Nick Chaplin's dreams -- not from a Siouxsie and the Banshees single -- Slowdive formed in Reading, England, in late 1989. The group originally consisted of Neil Halstead (guitar/vocals), Rachel Goswell (guitar/vocals), Christian Savill (guitar), Adrian Sell (drums), and Chaplin (bass). Formed when they were mostly in their teens, Slowdive was initially lumped in with the remainder of the early-'90s British shoegaze scene; Slowdive's later releases extended upon the likes of the Cocteau Twins and the more atmospheric sides of post-punk, and they closed out their career with an excellent and misunderstood ambient LP.
Signing with Creation, Slowdive's early singles received glowing press and chart placement. Their debut single, Slowdive, thinly veiled an indebtedness to the Byrds and My Bloody Valentine, with no traceable punk influence. (In fact, they were probably amongst the first batch of young rock bands to ignore the movement.) Just after Slowdive's recording, Sell left for university. Neil Carter subbed for less than a year, lending his skills to the follow-up single, Morningrise; former Charlottes member Simon Scott hopped on board prior to the band's third single, Holding Our Breath. The sleepy escapist psychedelia of both Morningrise and Holding Our Breath made significant impressions on the British indie chart. The press dubbed them part of "The Scene That Celebrates Itself" -- a small, loose, conglomerate of like-minded bands who could be seen at each other's shows, frequently hanging out together within the same circle. This "scene" included Lush, Moose, Swervedriver, Curve, and Blur. Not associating with themselves as a move of self-importance, grandstanding, or high society, it was merely a means for those involved to get into shows for free. Most of those involved were university dropouts on the dole. A dastardly move by the press, the tag just made it easier for them to lasso a group of bands into the to-be-expected derision. With the Brit-pop trend close behind, they could cast aside their champs of yesterday with one fell swoop.
Slowdive's debut LP, Just for a Day, was released in September of 1991. Though it placed in the Top Ten of the indie chart, the press backlash was beginning to surface -- shoegaze was beginning to fall out of favor, and when bands put out a full-length, it's typically an ideal time for the British press to decide you're no good. Regardless, it was a fine debut. Months later, the Blue Day compilation appeared on the racks. It combined the bands first three singles, leaving off their version of Syd Barrett's "Golden Hair" and the instrumental version of "Avalyn."
The band's sound tightened for Souvlaki (named from a favorite Jerky Boys skit), released in mid-1993. (Initial copies included Blue Day as a second disc.) With assistance from Brian Eno on a couple tracks and an excellent mixing job from Ed Buller, it was a marked improvement from their earlier material. It wandered less, but didn't sacrifice their sense of woozy atmosphere for it. Troubles with U.S. label SBK prevented Souvlaki from being released anywhere near it's U.K. street date and U.S. dates with Catherine Wheel that had been intended to promote Souvlaki proved to be another incident of bad timing; at that point, they were playing in a country where their record wouldn't be available for months. Souvlaki was finally released eight full months later in the U.S.; SBK tacked on four bonus tracks, including 3/4ths of the 5 EP. By this time, Scott had amicably parted, leaving to cater to his jazz instincts in Foxy Brown. (He would later join Inner Sleeve.) Ex-Mermaid Ian McCutcheon signed on.
SBK had been shafting Slowdive from the get-go. Their marketing scheme for Souvlaki will undoubtedly go down in industry history as one of the laziest ever. The band's mailing list was sent a flyer announcing the release date. Anyone who made 50 copies of the flyer, posted them around their town, and photographed them would win a copy of the record. The label obviously hadn't considered that this would be a more costly venture (and quite time consuming) than buying Souvlaki, a disc they had probably purchased on import eight months prior at an exorbitant enough price.
Botching numerous U.S. tours and decimating the itineraries at Spinal Tap-like levels, the gaffes culminated with SBK pulling financial support from of a Souvlaki support tour. Determined to not screw their U.S. fans over, they funded a two week tour on their own. The band sold a live tape to help pay their way and also put together a tour program that included a blurb about their beloved American label. Despite poor exposure in the States, the band had cultivated a sizeable following through word of mouth and short tours with the aforementioned and Ride.
The band's third and final studio outing was released in 1995. Pygmalion was essentially a solo ambient record by Halstead; the only detectable contributions were courtesy of Goswell's vocals and occasional patterns from McCutcheon. Within a couple weeks of release, Creation dropped the band. SBK had since given them the boot as well, but their U.K. label had been expecting a song-based affair. Slowdive had clearly turned into something separate from what they had been signed as. Taken further than the intelligent techno slant of the 5 EP, the record was often beatless. Unhappy with this shift, Chaplin and Savill left during the recording. The remaining members continued as Mojave 3, signed by 4AD on the strength of a demo that basically became their stellar debut LP. ~ Andy Kellman
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