RIP Steve Albini (1962-2024)

9th May 2024 · 2020s, 2024, Music, Postpunk, R.I.P., Rock

RIP Steve Albini – record producer extraordinaire (Nirvana, Pixies, PJ Harvey, Low, Manics, Breeders) and band member (Big Black, Rapeman, Shellac).

I can’t pretend Steve Albini’s trademark brand of stripped-to-the-bone hardcore rock was my personal cup of tea. But the guy was a genius at what he did, producing so many landmark albums – Nirvana, Pixies, PJ Harvey, Low – and an admirable fellow in many other ways.

I love that his approach to production was to regard himself as no more than a recording engineer whose job was to help a group get the sound they wanted, rather than impose his own ideas on them.

Accordingly, he refused to accept royalties for his production work, arguing that to take royalties would be “ethically indefensible” for someone hired for their technical prowess. As he told Nirvana after producing In Utero: “I want to be paid like a plumber: I do the job and you pay me what what it’s worth.”

He also despised big record companies and went out of his way to avoid crossing paths with them, even when making an iconic album like Nirvana’s In Utero, for which he took the band to a remote studio to deter label execs from visiting until he was finished.

His mantra was this: “Find people who think like you and stick with them. Make only music you are passionate about. Work only with people you like and trust. Don’t sign anything.”

Albini’s dedication to analogue sound over digital techniques was another of his signatures. Listen to any of the multitude of records he produced and you won’t hear bells and whistles; just the raw, unadorned sound of a band in a studio.

As for his own bands – Big Black, the regrettably-named Rapeman (and he did​ regret it) and Shellac – well, they did exactly what it said on the tin. They made big, bludgeoning sounds out of electric guitars and drums, layering them with textures and alterations in volume to make maximum use of the most valuable commodity in a studio – space.

Here’s one of them by Shellac: cricket fan Albini’s tribute to one of Yorkshire and England’s most successful opening batsmen of all time – and another guy who cared not for convention, preferring to forge his own path.

RIP Steve Albini