The Revival of Slowdive

From being dropped by their label in 1995 to finding a new following two decades later, Slowdive bassist Nick Chaplin speaks about the band’s unexpected comeback

Slowdive photographed by Ingrid Pop

The first time that I heard ‘Alison’, the soul-stirring first track from Slowdive’s career-defining album Souvlaki, was as a YouTube recommendation. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was listening to the song a decade and a half after the English rock band, formed in 1989, were dropped by Creation Records in 1995.

For me, like so many others who were getting into indie music in the late noughties, the genre of ‘shoegaze’ – with its distorted guitars, drowsy vocals and chilled out vibes – provided the ideal soundscape for the sixteen-year-old condition. Indeed, in the noughties a new generation were beginning to discover Slowdive for themselves. 

“We kept getting told from people in the industry, who we knew from the 90s, that there was a whole new audience for us out there,” explains bassist Nick Chaplin. “People who, like you, discovered us via the internet, or who listened to bands that had been influenced by bands like Slowdive, and went back and listened to the older bands as well.”

To understand the significance of this is to understand that Slowdive, and the genre of shoegaze more generally, was widely ridiculed at the time Souvlaki came out. With Britpop on the rise and the winds of fashion well and truly changing, they became infamously uncool. One journalist famously wrote that he would “rather drown choking in a bath full of porridge than ever listen to again.”

“It happened at a time when bands needed to have sound-bites and political statement to make and that wasn’t us,” ,’ says Chaplin. “We were, admittedly, five middle-class kids from the Thames Valley, and a lot was made of that; like we these over-privileged rich kids, which just wasn’t true.’ Once they’d fallen out of favour with the all-powerful music press of their day, the band all but disappeared for 20 years. 

And yet, in the years that followed, a crop of new bands began to emerge who incorporated the short-lived Slowdive sound into their own. From Deerhunter, Tame Impala and Beach House to Rush of Blood To The Head-era Coldplay, the influence of the band stretches from the early noughties well into the present day.

After being pressed repeatedly for at least ten years to get Slowdive back together, the band decided in 2013, after various side-projects, full-time jobs and children, that it was finally time to give it a go. The 2014 Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona was prepared to book them (“on the condition that we put the original line-up back together”), and they were introduced on stage to a sea of fans both new and old.  

“Neil was pretty clear that he didn’t want to do this as a legacy reunion act,” notes Chaplin of the group’s primary songwriter, Neil Halstead. “He was happy to play a couple of shows but if we were to be doing it for more than a couple of months then he wanted to write new tunes.” With more and more live dates piling up, however, and the chance to “pay off the mortgage” while playing music around the world, it’s taken three whole years for a comeback album to surface.   

“I think it’s just a bit more grown up than before,” Chaplin explains of the new record. “We’re talking about people who are in their mid-40s now, and when we recorded Souvlaki we were 22/23 years old.’ 

The term ‘shoegaze’ was coined to describe the way that bands like Slowdive would stand still on stage, looking down at the guitar pedals beside their feet. But Slowdive stood out from others in the scene with their unashamedly classic song structures and lofty pop melodies. The new self-titled album, it’s safe to say, stays true to these roots, but trades the hazy melancholy of Souvlaki for a more upbeat charge. The result is shoegaze for the 21st century. 

“We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive experience getting the band back together over the last three years, which I think is reflected in the songs as well,” Chaplin tells me. “I think a few people have been disappointed that we don’t sound exactly the same, but I think, well, how can you?” 

Slowdive by Slowdive is out now on Dead Oceans

Behind the Best Record Covers of the 70s

The album artwork that cemented design collective Hipgnosis as the visual arbiters of the progressive rock scene 

When Pink Floyd asked friends and graphic designers Storm Thorgerson and Audrey Powell to create the cover art for their second studio album, A Saucerful of Secrets, they set in motion a design legacy that produced some of the most memorable record covers of the 60s, 70s and 80s. Hipgnosis – a play on the words ‘hip’ and ‘gnostic’ – combined the cool and occult, and was a word first coined by Syd Barret, who shared a flat with Thorgerson and Powell in Cambridge at the time. Barrett scrawled the word onto their front door one day and the name was born.  

In the years that followed, Hipgnosis built a reputation off the back of their characteristically enigmatic album covers. Using photography to blend elements of surrealism, sex and postmodern elbow-nudging, their quirky sense of humour and willingness to break boundaries was both a sign of the times and a revolution in itself. Here, we look at some of the best examples of their work from the 70s.

Syd Barrett, The Madcap Laughs, 1970 – Photography: S. Thorgerson © 2017 Hipgnosis Ltd

Syd Barrett – The Madcap Laughs

In preparation for this album shoot Syd Barrett painted the floor of his bedroom in orange and purple. When photographer Mick Rock arrived to shoot Syd, he found a naked woman in the kitchen known only as “Iggy the Eskimo”. Fittingly, she features on the back of the sleeve. 

10cc, Deceptive Bends 1977 – Photography: A. Powell/S. Thorgerson/P. Christopherson – Graphics: G. Hardie – Retouching: R. Manning © 2017 Hipgnosis Ltd

10cc – Deceptive Bends

In the days before photoshop Hipgnosis were pioneers of the cut-and-paste method, creating surreal collages by sticking conflicting images on top of each other. The artwork for Deceptive Bends features three separate images: the diver and the woman (shot in a studio), the jetty (shot on location by the River Thames), and the sky (taken from a photo library). 

Peter Gabriel, Peter Gabriel (2) 1978 – Photography: A. Powell/P. Christopherson – Graphics: Hipgnosis/C. Elgie © 2017 Peter Gabriel Ltd

Peter Gabriel – Scratch

The unofficial title of Peter Gabriel’s second self-titled album, Scratch was inspired, undeniably, by the artwork of Hipgnosis. The ‘tearing’ effect from Gabriel’s fingertips is actually white paper, torn and adjusted onto the original image .

10cc, How Dare You! 1976 – Cover design: Hipgnosis/G. Hardie – Photography: A. Powell © 2017 Hipgnosis Ltd

10cc – How Dare You!

The concept for 10cc’s How Dare You! was entirely based upon the strength of the music. The use of phones refer to the song ‘Don’t Hang Up’, which opens with a woman picking up the phone, while the people on the front and back refer directly to certain characters that pop up throughout the album.

Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon 1973 – Graphics: G. Hardie © Pink Floyd Music Ltd

Pink Floyd – The Dark Side Of The Moon

Perhaps the best known of Hipgnosis’ work, the artwork for Pink Floyd’s seminal The Dark Side Of The Moon is a graphic representation of both the band’s light-infused live shows and the heartbeat that begins the album. The spectrum of light reflected from the prism on the cover to the the back, provides a suitably cryptic image to fit the mysterious title of the album.

Vinyl. Album. Cover. Art. is out now, published by Thames & Hudson