Desert Island Disc #2 – Slowdive ‘Souvlaki’

Slowdive - Souvlaki

When Souvlaki was released in the spring of 1993, I couldn’t have been any less interested. Shoegazing was now a dirty word and all my friends and I were frequenting clubs like Sabresonic (Andrew Weatherall’s night in Vauxhall) and Megadog (at The Rocket down Hollaway Road). Why would I want to listen to some has-been NME band when the likes of Underworld and Orbital were creating all these new sounds? Even Slowdive’s peers like Ride and The Boo Radleys were totally reinventing themselves trying to move away from the sound of 1991. So too it seems were Slowdive, but you’d have had no idea from the sleeve or any of the press (if there was any) at the time, in summary, I didn’t hear the album until several years later.

Souvlaki is Creation Records’ crowning moment for me, it captures the sound of the original shoegaze bands and adds a whole new flavour with dub and ambient sounds. Infact the album should of wiped the boards as the ultimate post-club chill out album, but we all ignored it. If m b v had been released in 1993 I doubt that would have much attention either, hence we ended up with Britpop. It was all about Nirvana in 1993 as everyone awaited the follow-up to Nevermind and in the Brit corner were Suede who I never really got along with. I was trying to remember exactly what I was listening to in 1993 and I can’t quite remember. I can recollect loving the Trans Europe Express 2CD compilation, Swervedriver’s second album and Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream.

I was first introduced to Slowdive when strolling into the Town & Country Club in Kentish Town whilst they were on stage opening for Ride and Bleach. The band had minimal lighting and washes of dry ice, my intial impression was one of style over substance but it was a style I definitely liked. Rachel Goswell was clearly the main focal point with her laidback vocals and surrounded by moptop haircuts and loud chiming guitars. Opening for Ride at this time must have been tough, here was a band who were still in their teens and they were having top 40 hits and in my eyes they were capable of achieving the success that Oasis did five years later. Their debut album Nowhere scaled heights that their influences only ever dreamed of, but we’ll save that for the inevitable post I’ll write about that album later. Within a few weeks of that gig I purchased the debut 12″ by Slowdive after discovering they were on Creation, I even went out and bought a few guitar pedals to try and replicate their sound. For me that first single was to be their peak moment for several years, their debut album ‘Just For A Day’ lacked the songwriting skills that Ride possessed and compared to Nowhere and Loveless it just didn’t cut it. In retrospect I was being very harsh but you have to remember this was a time that in order to hear a full album you had to buy the flippin’ thing and albums were £12-£17 (between £21 and £27 in today’s money) for a poor quality CD, so other than the Catch The Breeze 7inch it would be a good few years before I purchased any more of their recordings again.

I saw the band again several times including the now legendary Slough Festival but I didn’t check out Souvlaki until the late 90s. This was a time when I finally had access to the internet and could read all about the bands I loved without relying on publications like the NME. eBay was also still relatively new so it was easy to pick up bargains. I purchased a copy of Souvlaki and Just For A Day online, but it was the former than was transferred to my mini disc player and was played relentlessly. The album taken away from the grunge and britpop sounds of 1993 is perfect, an album that transcends all fashions and sends you away into a calm dream like place. I really don’t think its the fact that the album was ignored upon release that makes it even more special, I just genuinely think the combination of Neil Halstead’s songwriting along with the bands experimenting makes it sound completely unique, despite it having been copied numerous times in the last decade. The first time I’d heard the album replicated was in Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’ Listening to the closing feedback Karma Police and you’ll hear the closing notes of Souvlaki Space Station, infact its such a close copy the band should almost get writing credits.

If I had to criticise the album, it’s the fact that the opening track was the big single, only major labels do that. It rarely works as albums need to build just like a good film. Creation were part of Sony in 1993 and only the band will be able to tell you if that played any part in the running order.

Whenever I update the Creation site these days its always the Slowdive updates that generate the biggest volume of hits, in many ways they have become the Velvet Underground of their generation. All the media attention came too early and by the time they’d finally created their masterpiece the public had moved on. The press were already discussing the bands of the shoegazing scene in a mocking “where are they now” context. Ride had to drastically change their image and sound to remain relevant and despite still making the top 5 the media were patronising them as they’d a new bunch of bands to love.

It would be easy for Slowdive to reunite and be a major player on the festival circuit for a year, just as the Velvet Underground did the same year Souvlaki was released. When Lou Reed and his bandmates reformed they cancelled the tour half way through the dates as they knew they couldn’t recreate their past, I saw their Glastonbury set that year and it was underwhelming. However there’s been a string of bands from the Valentines to The Stone Roses who’ve managed to buck that trend, so maybe we’ll get to see them again some day.

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2 thoughts on “Desert Island Disc #2 – Slowdive ‘Souvlaki’

  1. I agree with many things you say in this article. I was a late bloomer to the sounds of shoegaze, or what ever (genre) people want to call it. When I first heard slowdive back in the early 90’s I wouldn’t have cared much about them.

    Yet there was something there that drove me back to the space station. I think it may have been hum’s “downward is heavenward” record that came out in the late 90’s. I recall going to tower records in hawaii looking for it only to find ONE cd. after hearing the melodic sounds of such a great band, i had to time travel to seek those familiar rythms, and found them in slowdive.

    to this day from those moments of realizing how stupid i was as a child i consider slowdive’s records as monumental achievements to a greater sound that bands like pink floyd would be proud of.

  2. Such a beautiful song. And I think that’s why Souvlaki is Slowdove’s best album bsucaee Neil Halstead (mostly) focused on writing song rather than *soundscapes* (emphasis bsucaee it sounds like something David Sly would’ve written in the Advertiser circa mid 90s, probably prefaced with *sonic*). Anyway, despite all the shoegaze typecasting, it turns out Halstead’s strength was songwriting and not effects pedal selection. Cf Mojave 3 wildly unappreciated.

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