MONTICELLO, N.Y. — Everyone entering the Stardust Ballroom on Sunday afternoon at the Catskills hotel Kutsher’s was urged to take a pair of earplugs, and for good reason: the music at the last day of the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival here was loud and about to get louder.
The headliner was My Bloody Valentine, the 1980s Irish post-punk band that surrounded its heartsick songs with bristling layers of noise. It has released only two full-length studio albums; the second was “Loveless,” back in 1991. At the festival My Bloody Valentine was playing its first United States concert in 16 years, starting an American tour after blasting its way across Britain this summer. The band finishes a two-night stand at Roseland Tuesday night.
Earplugs were justified. My Bloody Valentine ended its terrific set with a version of “You Made Me Realise” that incorporated a flat-out 17-minute roar: Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher on guitars and Debbie Googe on bass scrabbling frantic, unremitting tremolos and Colm O Ciosoig battering his drums nonstop, with overtones and subtones rolling through the ballroom like tsunamis.
My Bloody Valentine had also chosen the other bands for Sunday’s festival lineup, and its tastes are not dulcet. The lineup included Dinosaur Jr., ... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of the Dead, Yo La Tengo, Mogwai, Spectrum and Mercury Rev, all unleashing dense drones and formidable crescendos. That meant overdriven amplifiers all day long.
Mr. Shields, 45, who leads My Bloody Valentine, is soft-spoken and shy, and he rarely gives interviews. But he spent much of the festival amid the audience, eager to hear the music he had booked. Occasionally he was recognized by respectful fans. In a brief conversation a few hours before his band’s set, sitting on the hotel lawn, where he could smoke, he spoke about the re-emergence of My Bloody Valentine.
Formed in Dublin in 1984, the group developed its initial sound as a reaction against what other bands were doing, Mr. Shields said. Most were using the cushy sounds of flangers and chorus pedals; My Bloody Valentine, using an effect called reverse reverb, strove for something “ambient but upfront, with a dryness,” Mr. Shields said. Later the band would pile up countless other effects — loops, echoes, distortion boxes — creating the sonic onslaught that has been cited as an influence by virtually every collegiate or indie-rock band that knows how to set off feedback.
“Loveless” was difficult and expensive to make. Its songs are filled with emotional turmoil and enveloped in otherworldly sounds that had Mr. Shields recording in studio after studio, perpetually dissatisfied. The album’s cost has been estimated at £250,000, about $458,000, which helped to bankrupt its independent record label, Creation. “It was a very, very damaged time for everybody,” Mr. Shields said.
His band mates have described Mr. Shields as a perfectionist, and he was equally obsessive over what would have been the band’s third album, after signing with Island Records. Ms. Googe and Mr. O Ciosoig left My Bloody Valentine in 1995; Mr. Shields kept recording on his own. But in 1997, Mr. Shields said, “the record company refused to pay for any engineers or anything.”
“That was it,” he added. “It was like the plug was pulled, ‘No money for you anymore.’ ”
But he was still under contract, he said, and extricating himself took four years. Around 2000 he started talking with the band members about restarting My Bloody Valentine, but they were all involved in other projects. Years drifted by.
In 2006 Mr. Shields started remastering the My Bloody Valentine catalog and revisiting unreleased songs to be added to a compilation album. When he listened again to material from the aborted third album, he was heartened. “I realized that all that stuff I was doing in 1996 and 1997 was a lot better than I thought.” He now plans to complete that album, and to start recording new material with the band in the fall. He has been writing songs steadily over the years. “I definitely don’t think you need to suffer to be creative,” he said. “I’ve written some of my best songs when I’ve been happy.”
During the remastering the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California made a big offer for a reunited My Bloody Valentine. “We could actually buy equipment and rehearse properly and do it really well,” Mr. Shields said. “That put the idea into our head. Last time we toured we never had equipment. It didn’t sound right. We didn’t have control of the environment. So we were kind of excited to play the songs properly.”
But the band wasn’t ready to appear at the Coachella festival in April, Mr. Shields said. All Tomorrow’s Parties had been courting Mr. Shields for years, and having attended its festivals in Britain, Mr. Shields decided to bring My Bloody Valentine to the upstate New York festival. “We had intentions to do new stuff when we started rehearsing,” he said. “But it was about finding who we were again, and that became way more important than anything intellectual.”
The band spent £200,000, about $366,000, on equipment for the tour, and Mr. Shields laughed when asked how many effects pedals he owned. “Hundreds,” he said. He only uses 30 onstage, he added.
There were no new songs in My Bloody Valentine’s set on Sunday, but as in the ’80s and early 1990s, My Bloody Valentine’s music flashed simultaneous, contradictory signals: the songs were bruised and hurting at their core but exultantly propulsive, catchy like punk and pop but spiked with fearsome cacophony. High, looping sounds skirled like Celtic reels; guitar chords hurtled forward, heaved back and forth, screeched with fury and exaltation; the drums were triumphal and implacable. “You can’t do anything with sound,” Mr. Shields had said, “unless there is emotion.”
My Bloody Valentine - "Only Shallow"
My Bloody Valentine - "When You Sleep"