London’s Sonic Cathedral clubnight has been quietly perpetuating a psychedelic shoegaze renaissance for almost five years. The nights, which have played host to such luminaries as the Mary Chain’s Jim Reid and Damo Suzuki, as well as then-up-and-coming acts like Howling Bells and Autolux, spawned a label in 2007. Cathedral Classics Volume 1, lovingly/shamelessly housed in a Loveless-aping yellow sleeve, collects the highlights from the label’s first 11 singles.
The Tamborines’ irrepressibly summery “Sally O’Gannon”, also proves to be Sonic Cathedral’s most enjoyably straightforward moment, a dazzling emulation of the Warhols at their Dandiest. The Early Years’ fascinating “Like a Suicide” also lives up to its name at first – give or take the indefinite article – kicking off with harsh analogue synths and motorik beats; the track soon careers into a melange of skronking guitars and cold Bowie-in-Berlin vocals, right down to a reference to crashing cars. In fact, it’s when the bands follow a more trad-gaze path (I’m looking at you, Daniel Land And The Modern Painters) that the compilation falters.
As well as exposing newer artists, the label also plays home to some more established names – ex-members of Ride, Slowdive, Galaxie 500 and Spacemen 3. M83′s revelatory remix of Maps’ “To the Sky” is the first time the label lives up to its name; a celestial collision of choral vocals, sweeping church organs, and a lone piano entering stage right, it’s the compilation’s most breathtaking moment. Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie, meanwhile, somehow manages to make School of Seven Bells’ “My Cabal” sound even more ethereal, remixing it into a reverb blitzkrieg which could have sat comfortably on Heaven or Las Vegas.
Unfortunately the CD, clocking in at just under 80 minutes, finds no room for the original versions of many of its remixed tracks. Perhaps the label did this in order to cram in as many of the scene’s big names as possible, living up to the old shoegaze epithet of being “the scene that celebrates itself”. In some cases, such as Ulrich Schnauss’s mix of a Mark Gardener track or Japancakes’ unfocussed My Bloody Valentine covers, the results are less than stellar. Still, when they’re as lush as Sonic Boom’s shimmering, countrified reworking of “White Horses” by Dean & Britta, it’s hard to argue.
Taken together with Rob Da Bank’s exemplary recent compilation Sci-Fi Lo-Fi, Cathedral Classics, mixed bag though it is, serves as proof that whatever you want to call it – shoegaze, dreampop, drone rock – it’s a scene that needn’t just be celebrated by itself.