Led by guitar visionary Kevin Shields, My Bloody Valentine were one of the most unique bands of the alt-rock era, introducing a groundbreaking concoction of discordant effects and fragile melodies and kick-starting Britain's late-Eighties dream-pop scene.
After moving from New York to Ireland at age six, Shields befriended Colm O'Ciosoig, who shared his obsession with pop music. In 1984 the two formed My Bloody Valentine, named for a B movie, with singer Dave Conway. It wasn't until 1988's Isn't Anything, however, that MBV locked into its unusual, influential sound, inspired equally by the churning guitars of the Jesus and Mary Chain, the melodic sensibilities of the Cocteau Twins, and the dissonance of Sonic Youth. The album also featured Bilinda Butcher, whose voice alternated with Shields' vocals. (All of their U.K. releases from 1988, including the essential You Made Me Realise EP, were subsequently released in the U.S.)
Sire signed MBV that same year for the States, but it took three years for the band to complete its full-length magnum opus, Loveless, which cost a reported $500,000 and nearly sunk its British label, Creation. (The LP reached only Number 24 in the U.K. and didn't chart in the States.) Despite its difficult birth, Lovelesswas a sensation, setting a new standard for what rock music made with guitar, bass and drums could actually sound like. Onstage, MBV played deafeningly loud but its members were nearly motionless, inspiring the phrase "shoe gazers" to describe the band's (and their followers') passive, introspective demeanor.
After a 1992 tour, the band essentially dropped off the face of the earth while trying (unsuccessfully) to complete the follow-up to Loveless. MBV's mystique only became more powerful due to the hiatus, during which Shields would occasionally turn up guesting on other artists' albums (J Mascis, Primal Scream, Gemma Hayes) or contributing music to film soundtracks (Lost in Translation), only to vanish once more.
Without warning, MBV returned to the live stage louder than ever in the summer of 2008, playing its first show in 16 years in London on June 13. Shields curated the American version of the All Tomorrow's Parties festival, which took place in September 2008 and was the setting for My Bloody Valentine's first American show in 16 years. A successful world tour, including an appearance at the 2009 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, followed, as did assertions from Shields that the band would finally release new music in the near future.
Portions of this biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001). Jonathan Cohen contributed to this article.
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