Local Music Journalist
The late 80s and 90s saw a rise in artists and bands defining the genre that we’ve known to come and love as “shoegaze.” The term shoegaze or shoegazing, as I’m sure you all know, comes from the musicians, specifically guitarists, looking down at their shoes as they change the controls of their effect pedals on the floor. Some of the bands and artists that are credited for establishing and setting the foundation for the specific sound of this genre are My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins, Jesus and Mary Chain, as well as Slowdive. These bands all originated from the U.K where shoegaze first emerged and while I love and appreciate all of these bands for the role that they played in defining one of my favorite genres, there are some shoegaze bands of this time that did not get the recognition they deserved among their more successful counterparts. These bands being black led A.R. Kane and The Veldt.
A.R. Kane was a duo from East London that consisted of members Alex Ayuli and Rudy Tambala. Ayuli is of Nigerian descent and Tambala is of Malawi and English descent. They met each other in primary school and as adolescents were quickly enveloped in the vibrantly ever changing diverse music scene of London. After witnessing Cocteau Twins performance on Channel 4 in the 1980s, Tambala and Ayuli were quickly inspired to start making music of their own. Being influenced by the likes of the Velvet Underground, Cocteau Twins, Miles Davis and Joni Mitchell, A.R. Kane wasted no time setting out to find their eccentric and unique sound.
They first released their debut single, When You’re Sad, under the record label, One Little Indian in 1986. The following year, the duo was signed by the same record label as The Cocteau Twins, 4AD, where they produced their EP Lollita with the help of Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie. I can only describe this EP as being very sensual and somewhat erotic in nature as that seems to be a common theme throughout their discography. For Example, the song, “Lollita,” features lyrics such as “Hey there winkie girl/Rose bud for a mouth and eyes of pearl/You know how to make me twirl/Cos you’re my winkie girl” that are hypnotically and slowly sang as drowsy and fuzzy vibrational instrumentals play in the background. Furthermore, one of the other songs off of that EP is titled, Sado-Masochism is A Must, which well… I believe the title speaks for itself.
In 1988 they released their first debut album, Sixty Nine, which topped charts and received very high acclamations by review critics. The next year they released their second album, I, which featured their most popular song, “A Love From Outer Space”. This song, as well as most of the album, is more on the upbeat and danceable side with funky catchy beats, paired along with even catchier and fun lyrics, which leaves no question as to why it became their most popular release. This album is full of hidden gems that will have you enthusiastically nodding your head along to the jazzy, pop, groove filled instrumentals. Fun fact: Ayuli is credited with coining the term “dream pop” used in an interview to describe their music, as none of the genres that journalists were trying to label the duo were appealing to him or Tambala.
In 1994, A.R. Kane produced their last album together, New Clear Child, before Ayuli and Tambala would eventually break up and go their own respective ways in the music industry. In 2012 they released a compilation of all their singles called, The Complete Singles Collection, which includes some of my favorite songs by them which are “Green Hazed Daze” and “Haunting”. As much as the Cocteau Twins influenced A.R. Kane and as much as I love Elizabeth Fraser’s otherworldly vocals, I only wish that this duo had received even a quarter of the attention that their admired icons experienced during the 1980s and ‘90s, as well as now. Although the popularity of A.R. Kane was very short lived, they would go on to influence a new generation of dream pop and shoegaze bands, some of which being the very distinguished Slowdive and the next black led band I’ll be talking about, The Veldt.
The Veldt was a shoegaze/soul band that started in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1986 and was made up of black identical twin brothers, Daniel Chavis who does vocals/guitar and Danny Chavis on lead guitar – kind of funny how their names are Daniel and Danny, guess their parents weren’t the most creative with names — as well as a handful of members who have come and gone in the past. When they first started making music in the early 90s, the brothers struggled to find acceptance and approval within record labels despite having worked with Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins on their initial albums as well as opening for them and Jesus and Mary Chain on their respective tours. People were confused by the music the Chavis brothers produced, as it wasn’t what they thought black artists were supposed to sound like. They deemed the music as “unusual” and “odd”. As the brothers tried to integrate themselves among the rest of the ever-rising bands of the 90s shoegaze genre, they were only met with confusion and downright prejudice.
Their first two albums, the ones that managed to be published by record labels at least, were Marigolds, released in 1992 and Afrodisiac, released in 1994. The first song I ever listened to by them was “Soul in A Jar” off of Afrodisiac, which is their most popular song. I’m unable to recall how I stumbled across them whether it was a simple recommendation made by Spotify or I just went down a very deep rabbit hole trying to find a new underground artist that would become my unhealthy obsession to listen to for weeks on end. Whichever it may be I’m glad to have found them as “Soul in A Jar” was nothing like anything I’ve ever heard before and I could say that for the rest of the Afrodisiac album as well. As the name implies “Soul in A Jar” is a very intense soul driven song with heavy, powerful instrumentals to back up Daniel Chavis’ strong vocals. Almost all of the tracks on this album are just incredibly amazing and I recommend that you really just listen to the album in its entirety. With that being said if you need a short list of my absolute favorites to get you started, I would reccomend “Heather”, “Juicy Sandwich” and “Until You’re Forever”. It’s hard to label and describe The Veldt’s sound even now as it’s an interchangeable mixture of multiple genres: soul, funk, rock, punk and of course shoegaze, so it makes sense as to why people two decades ago were perplexed on The Veldt’s very eclectic style…they were just too ahead of their time and too good for the cliche norms the 90s had for black artists. Marigold, their first album, is just as good of a listen (if not better) when listened to in its entirety, but as I did with Afrodisiac I’ll try and name a few of my favs and some reasons why you should give them a listen:
Although The Veldt continued to make music throughout the early 2000s, their efforts were unfortunately in vain. Despite them implementing new changes to their bands brand such as undergoing a name change to “Apollo Heights” when they released their 2007 album, White Music for Black People, they sadly were unable to gain commercial success due to the inability to categorize their music once again. Although they had many hardships throughout their musical career, the brothers are still actively producing music and The Veldt has had a handful of singles and EP’s released since 2017. After almost 30 years, they released their third full length album in 2022 titled, Entropy is the Mainline to God. They also released their single “The Everlasting Gobstopper” earlier this year which they had originally worked on with Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie back in 1989, but regrettably their record label, Capitol Records, never published it for unknown reasons. Last year in 2022, the brothers decided to reconnect with Guthrie and he recovered the track back from Capitol Records and remastered it. It was released on streaming platforms on May 5th and I finally listened to it for the first time the other day and…I don’t even know what to say, other than it’s CRIMINALLY underrated. If I wasn’t the good samaritan music sharer that I am I would almost consider gatekeeping. Jokes aside, after reading this article you need to give this a listen. It’s a perfect song to add to that summer playlist and the perfect song to accompany your daydreaming! I say that it’s the perfect song to daydream to, because not only does it have those mesmerizing vocals and instrumentals that will simply make you stare off into space, the song is also quite literally about dreams as the lyrics say “Dream keeper/How do you keep her/When you dream so long/When you dream so long.” My only complaint is that I wish it was longer. With the amount of daydreaming I do, this song has been a constant play on my rotation!
I could go on and on and on about how great The Veldt, as well as A.R. Kane is, but I think this article is long enough. It’s a disgrace that they never got the recognition they deserved during the 80s and 90s because they were just as talented, if not more, than the bands that did get the spotlight for being the pioneers of shoegaze and defining the sound/voice of the genre. The Veldt and A.R. Kane played a huge and important role in establishing shoegaze, but they are often overlooked when it comes to discussing this genre. I really wish that weren’t the case. These are two groups who in the face of adversity, persevered to create music, that many other black artists of that time simply weren’t creating and which society didn’t expect them to. They inspired and paved the way for many other black and non-black artists alike that came after them and if you haven’t already started listening to them as you finish reading this sentence…what are you doing?!?
Written by: kadencemakenna