Blissed Out, Once More

Ulrich Schnauss Puts a New Swirl on Shoegaze Rock

On Sunday at the Detroit Bar, one of music's most quietly influential genres takes a bow in two distinctly different ways. Shoegaze, the messy blur of beautifully distorted guitar overdrive, was initially typified by bands such as Slowdive, Lush and, most famously, My Bloody Valentine, whose sonic experiments codified the style by default rather than intent. Opening act Film School combines that approach with an equal love for aural forebears such as the Chameleons and the Church, and their hybrid has resulted in some excellent releases in recent years. Plan to get there early for their set.

Headliner Ulrich Schnauss, by contrast, stands for a newer but now overwhelming shoegaze influence in another field: techno. From the stadium-filling exultancy of Daft Punk to the varied textural experiments of Fennesz, electronic musicians have increasingly found inspiration in the first wave of shoegaze. It's not surprising, given how many of those early bands flirted with hip-hop and house beats, and the resultant permutations have found another champion in Schnauss, with lush, understated but still energetic arrangements that aim at ever-defter syntheses of feedback sculpture and electronic pulse.

Born in Germany but now residing in England, Schnauss first came to wide attention in 2003 with the album A Strangely Isolated Place, while subsequent remixes for acts such as Depeche Mode helped extend his name recognition. His newest album, Goodbye(Domino), even more fully embraces shoegaze's roots by Schnauss' own admission, with its extensive combination of what seems like an endless series of vocal and musical parts coalescing into a flowing, endlessly echoed wash of bliss. As Schnauss explains, there's more than simply aping the past at play, especially when most of what sounds like guitar is in fact his synth work.

Ulrich Schnauss:  Bliss charming man.  Photo courtesy of Ulrich Schnauss.
Ulrich Schnauss: Bliss charming man. Photo courtesy of Ulrich Schnauss.

"I think everything you do musically is influenced by personal experiences, the music you hear and a million other things. I try not to be too calculated or analytical about songwriting—usually I just start improvising on the piano. Sooner or later, your stomach's gonna tell you whether you've been playing things that are worth trying to turn into a song or not.

"It's sometimes a little frustrating when people totally don't get what you're trying to do on a more 'conceptual' level; there was a review on Pitchfork that criticized me for not having the courage to decide whether I want to be the man with the guitar or the faceless electronica geek, while I would say that it's a most conscious decision that I very deliberately try to merge these two approaches into a hybrid form."

Said hybrid form is heightened not merely by the length of time spent on Goodbye—Schnauss talks of his goal of exploring sonic layering "to a very extreme level," only fully perfected after more than a year's work—but also by his music not being simply a solo effort. Besides the singing and guitar playing of Judith Beck throughout the album, Schnauss recently joined the U.K. rock band Longview while also working on arrangements for other performers. As he sees it, it's a healthy situation helped further by the nature of his growing fan base.

"I seem to be getting a fairly mixed audience, which is something I'm very grateful for. I never enjoyed the closed-circle mentality that seems to be common in a bigger part of the electronica scene (especially in Berlin). More than elsewhere in the U.S. and the U.K, I meet a lot of people with similar musical influences (shoegaze, ambient, early-'90s dance stuff, etc.) at gigs."

Schnauss himself is feeling he has a better ability to perform his work live than ever before; he speaks of switching from simply playing synth parts against prerecorded hard-drive tracks to a more fluid setup that allows for greater variation. In combination with Film School's rock energy, Sunday's lineup should help demonstrate that shoegaze, far from ever dying, just grew deeper roots.


ULRICH SCHNAUSS PERFORMS WITH FILM SCHOOL AT DETROIT BAR, 843 W. 19TH ST., COSTA MESA, (949) 642-0600; WWW.DETROITBAR.COM. SUN., 9 P.M. $8. 21+.

 
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