Our Band Could Be Online: My Bloody Valentine Returns To StreamingMay 7, 2021
By Connor Millsom
Graphics by Chelsea Rozario
my bloody valentine returns to streaming, records six new music videos, teases two new releases.
Fortunately for me, everything that can be said about my bloody valentine has already been said: they’re the Irish-English ur-shoegazers who miraculously broke onto the UK Indie Charts in 1986 with The New Record by My Bloody Valentine. The band’s mid-80s sound was characterised by a promising commingling of goth, punk, and noisy pop, but their career-defining moment was yet to come. In 1988, after signing with Creation Records (Oasis, Ride), my bloody valentine released the landmark albums Isn’t Anything and, three years later, Loveless.
Isn’t Anything proved the potential of the band’s rabid guitar-effects experimentalism, providing listeners with twelve tracks in the style of the band’s previous singles ‘You Made Me Realise’and ‘Feed Me With Your Kiss’; but Loveless perfected that potential. Their sound, which would come to be called ‘shoegaze’, is characterised by distorted guitars, heavy (yet precise) drumming, and sweeping, ethereal vocals. To the credit of my bloody valentine’s sound: it is impossible to describe in words.
In the thirty years since its release, no band has come close to utilising this type of sound to greater effect than my bloody valentine did on Loveless. The band almost single-handedly created this genre, shoegaze, yet since late 2019 they have been completely absent from streaming services. That is, until April of this year.
The absence of important music from streaming services raises questions about digital licensing and the listening habits of music fans. Extremely enthusiastic listeners have always trawled the internet for good music and good writing about music. This search necessitates discovering not only the tip of the iceberg—bands like my bloody valentine—but also the submerged bands partially birthed from the influence of my bloody valentine: Swirlies, Asobi Seksu, etc. But for casual listeners, or those without the time to pursue music deeply, what happens when even the tip of the iceberg is submerged? This phenomenon is not exclusive to my bloody valentine, either. The discography of This Heat has only surfaced on streaming recently, while various moments from the disparate discographies of Swans, Death Grips, and My Dad Is Dead are still missing.
The other part of the problem can be attributed to digital rights and licensing. Too many comprehensive articles have been written elsewhere for this article to offer new insight, but the complex nature of licensing is quite well contained in the recent re-recording of Fearless, by Taylor Swift. Swift originally recorded Fearless with Big Machine Records as part of a contractually agreed-upon six studio albums, so ownership of those first six albums remained with Big Machine after Swift moved on to Republic Records in 2018. Reportedly, Swift was interested in acquiring those six albums herself, yet was denied this opportunity after Ithaca Holdings, backed by private equity, acquired Big Machine Records for (reportedly) $300 million dollars. Denied ownership of her own recordings, Swift recently re-recorded Fearless, one of those original six albums, in its entirety; she may not own the songs as they existed on the Big Machine Fearless, but she does retain the right to her own songwriting. This whole ordeal does not even touch upon when Swift pulled all of her music from Spotify in November of 2014.
For the happy Spotify user, these complex mechanisms mean very little. Streaming services, in spite of anyone’s criticisms, do a remarkable job of providing large quantities of music at previously impossible prices. For one person’s complaints about poor algorithmic recommendations and the absence of certain albums, there is a multitude of happy users checking out their Release Radar every Friday. These different preferences articulate the difference between casual and enthusiast music fans: those who are happy with the music they can access through Spotify’s algorithm, and those that will dig through Discogs in search of unreleased Smiths bootlegs. If music augments our sense of self, as I think it does, then the ways in which we build our musical sensibilities are an inherent part of that individuality. That some people are happier spending their spare money on vinyl and their spare time on niche internet forums is not wrong; it’s pretentious in a way that many music fans would like to be—a means of possessing and guarding the things they care about.
Even if they’ve been absent from streaming, my bloody valentine have continued to be possessed and guarded by their fans. Their superb early cut ‘drive it all over me’ appeared in skater Sean Pablo’s ‘Converse Cons “Purple” Video’ in 2018, and their album covers featured on Supreme jumpers and jackets in a collaboration launched early last year. Finally, a cover of the aforementioned song recorded by school portraits seemed to capitalise on the absence of the original, being—at the time of writing—school portraits’ most popular song. In my view, their true absence was most notable on Spotify’s ‘Shoegaze’ playlist, which (until now) made do with entries from Lush, Slowdive, and Ultra Vivid Scene (the last of which is alternative rock, at a stretch). It was a shoegaze playlist without shoegaze.
But what can be said to sell new listeners on my bloody valentine? Is it enough to say that they changed alternative music forever with their innovative guitar techniques and laborious production? That they spent so much time and money mixing Loveless that they bankrupted their label? That the album sold a vision of love to teenagers that was more perfect than anything they could ever have in their high school relationship? If not, perhaps a Spotify playlist will just have to do—that is, until it doesn’t.