Steve Albini: a pure punk who couldn't stand assholes

Steve Albini: a pure punk who couldn't stand assholes

Steve Albini has always started arson. He passed away at the age of 61. He has never been capable of throwing water on the flames, but as he told The Guardian, in a beautiful and intimate long form article published last year, he was able to analyze his bombing past more severely. There are several reasons why he is considered and revered as one of the most important protagonists (even if outside a certain circle he has been underestimated and unfortunately little known) of the international rock scene in the last thirty years and more: his works as a musician, with seminal bands such as Big Black, Rapeman and Shellac, and as a studio wizard, with Nirvana and Pixies above allbut also with a myriad of independent bands from all over the world, including Italy (Uzeda, Three Second Kiss and Zu to name a few) speak for themselves.

Those noise, industrial and hardcore sounds are there, reminding us once again of its propulsive force. Shellac's sixth album, entitled “To All Train”, will be released on Touch & Go on May 17th and arrives ten years after “Dude Incredible”. It would be significant, as Nicholas David Altea of ​​Rumore wrote, if this year, from the stage of Primavera Sound, the “home” of Shellac's improvised concerts, their music was still played, to celebrate it. “He would probably be annoyed by this sort of idolatry but it would be the least. Shellac will always be there at Primavera”, the journalist wrote on social media.

Over time, however, what made the musician of Italian origins, born in California but resident in Chicago, unique was his attitude. A tough, a pure. An artist, first and foremost a man, who has never held his tongue, a passionate lover of provocation and dialectical clash. Albini was infamous in the rock and punk world for harshly criticizing the music industry, as highlighted in his controversial 1993 essay “The problem with music,” but also “alternative” festivals themselves such as Lollapalooza as well as for the merciless judgments often reserved for many of his illustrious colleagues: from Sonic Youth, guilty in his opinion of having “sold out”, to the Pixies, defined as “a band that at its best makes bland college rock”to Nirvana dismissed as “REM with the fuzzbox” and “an insignificant version of the Seattle sound”, all this before working side by side with Cobain and his companions. A collaboration that led him to retract those statements. It wasn't the first nor the last time the “Albini-thought” changed after several experiences and reflections. His jabs and his aphorisms on production and industry are also famous.

In recent years Albini, as always reported by The Guardian, to whom he spoke very little in the interview but never out of turn, limited himself to making a few tweets about poker and US politics. As recalled by the British newspaper, he launched his career in the early 1980s as the leader of Big Blacka band whose sweeping sound and searing visions embodied a do-it-yourself spirit: they booked their own tours, never signed a contract, never hired a managerdidn't even consider joining a major label, all to break up at the height of “fame,” a very relative term in that scene. Then came his career as a sound engineer, which marked the era of the Pixies, PJ Harvey and Nirvana, putting some of the principles, mostly sonic, of his old band back at the centre.. The “Albini sound”, over time, has become synonymous with “truer”. A truth that was also found more in his words. The offensive names given to bands, the cruel insults, the jokes that played on racismmisogyny and homophobia have no longer been his playground, at least lately.

Obviously, as he recalled to The Guardian, he didn't really believe in any of those words: it was enough to listen to his music, his lyrics, to understand his political vision. But Albini was like that: he was convinced, in a provocative way, like the writer Chuck Palahniuk in his masterpiece “Fight Club”, that only from the clash, from the breaking of two eggs, could an omelette be obtained, something good. He had no time for individuals who “are careful not to say things that might offend certain people or do something that might be misunderstood,” she recalled. “I have less regard for the man who bullies his girlfriend and calls her miss than I do for a guy who treats women reasonably and respectfully and calls them 'Yo! bitch'“, he told the writer Azerrad.

But as the years passed, his perspective began to change. In recent years, observing musicians and pseudo-artists who seemed and seem to delight in being crass and offensive, he said: “When you realize that the dumbest person in the discussion is on your side, it means you're on the wrong side“, Albini told The Guardian. In a world in which verbal friction, as the musician conceived it, has lost its propulsive and punk energy, turning into pure ignorance, Albini looked back at his past, putting it under scrutiny like never before. And in this current bubble of shouts, insults and voices that say everything but in reality say nothing, he preferred, for just once, in that long interview, silence, broken only by music. And this, perhaps, made him still the most punk of all.

AND essentially impossible to measure the importance he had in the evolution of the American and world music scene using conventional parameters, because Steve Albini he invented neither a sound nor a style, but a method. “Yes, the band is responsible for a great record or a terrible record,” he explained regarding his philosophy: “The rights to an album belong to the groups. I want to be paid like a plumber. I do my job, and I get paid what it's worth.” It's not a question of belonging, either Rick Rubinat the beginning of the eighties, started from the niche, playing with Husker Du and Minor Threat before literally inventing what would become the mainstream of the decades to come with the Def Jam: Albini has always been extremely strict and consistent, first and foremost with himself. His intransigence not only did not elevate him – unlike his colleague from New York – to a high ranking deus ex machina (he, however, would have refused, because “being part of the mainstream music industry is like being part of a racket: there is no way to be involved in a racket without getting dirty”), but neither did it allow him to broaden his circle of potential friends – very significant, in this sense, was the clash with Amanda Palmer at the time of “Theatre is evil”.

Among the many merits he had, in Albini – guru in spite of himself for at least a couple of generations of artists – we must recognize that of having swept away that unbearable veneer of rhetoric that covers 99% of musical art projects – or so-called: he lived off music, in the sense that he paid the bills. And in another, higher sense, which concerned only him.