‘Chain’ Reaction: Pondering the Band That Started a Genre as It Goes on Tour

Everyone has a song that changed their life. Mine came in 1985, when I was a wee lass trapped in the suburbs and, even worse, in junior high. I was downstairs in my parents’ rec room, sitting on the orange shag carpet, zoning out on MTV’s unending barrage of hair metal and wuss-pop videos. Then “Just Like Honey” by The Jesus and Mary Chain came on. I had never heard anything like it, but I knew immediately it was the sound I had been looking for: Dreamy and angry, catchy and dissonant, with the warm buzz of a Shangri-Las’ single and the sharp screech of a Led Zeppelin track.

The song didn’t just change my life: It changed music, creating a new genre—call it shoegaze (so named because the musicians looked down at their distortion pedals rather than up at the audience), feedback music, noise-rock, whatever. It sprung up in the niche between punk rock and rave culture and carved out a sound whose influence can still be heard.

Last year the Kickstarter-funded documentary Beautiful Noise was screened at festivals from Seattle to Sheffield and is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray. It features classic footage of such titans of the genre as The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, as well as interviews with musicians who were stars then as well as those who were fans then and have become stars now. Robert Smith of The Cure calls it, “culturally, one of the most successful movements of the last 40 years,” while Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails says, “It inspired me to make a record that had an identifiable sound … as soon as you heard it you knew: That’s Psychocandy!”

But it’s more than a throwback: Bands young enough to be conceived while My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless was playing—on vinyl, natch— are also embracing the sound. Brooklyn’s Sunflower Bean only has an EP and a few singles under their belt, but they’re already generating buzz. The trio offers a psychedelic version, walls of fuzz cascading into loose, echo-heavy jams behind intermittent disembodied vocals. Another shoegaze-inspired act is No Joy, a band from Montreal who count members of Best Coast and the Raveonettes among their fans. Their album, More Faithful came out last month with a more ethereal, expansive rendition.

Spectres offer up a more aggressive take on the sound, more noise than haze. Their debut album, Dying, released earlier this year, deploys plenty of minor-key, multilayered guitars and washes of distortion, backed with tribal drums and fronted by dispassionate yet doom-laden vocals. The British band played early gigs in locations such as underground crypts and empty police stations and are known for shows that whirl into borderline-painful maelstroms of feedback.

That sounds not unlike the shows The Jesus and Mary Chain gave when they rose to prominence and infamy back in the day. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Psychocandy, and the band is touring in celebration of the disc and the moment. Whether the notoriously combative brothers Jim and William Reid will survive an entire tour remains to be seen, but if you wish to wallow in the heavenly wall of noise that is Psychocandy, as well as selections from The Jesus and Mary Chain’s extensive catalog—including those tracks that deploy pedals and amps in a more conventional fashion—they will be at the Brooklyn Bowl on August 16. And, of course, so will I.

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