Legendary Rock Producer Was 61

Photo: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS/Alamy

Steve Albini, a towering figure of underground rock who recorded some of the genre’s biggest albums and fronted the band Big Black, is dead at 61. Albini had a heart attack, staff at his recording studio confirmed to Pitchfork on May 8. His death comes just as his band, Shellac, was preparing to release their first album in a decade, To All Trains, on May 17. Albini kick-started his career fronting the Illinois post-punk band Big Black, which he formed at Northwestern University. The band became influential in the burgeoning rock underground of the 1980s, especially for Albini’s use of a drum machine in their music, a precursor to industrial rock. They released two albums, 1986’s Atomizer and 1987’s Songs About Fucking, before disbanding in 1987. Albini then formed the short-lived band Rapeman afterward (a name he since said he regrets). In 1992, he formed the trio Shellac, which steadily released albums during the ’90s. Shellac last released the album Dude Incredible in 2014. The group recorded the upcoming To All Trains sporadically from 2017 to 2022.

Albini is even better known for his work in the studio, where he was alternative rock’s most influential producer and engineer. (A critic of music-industry power structures, Albini notoriously disliked the term “producer” and shunned credit on albums he worked on, even forgoing royalties.) Albini recorded some of the albums that solidified alternative rock in the 1980s and ’90s: Nirvana’s In Utero, Pixies’ Surfer Rosa, PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me, the Breeders’ Pod, Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy, Superchunk’s No Pocky for Kitty, and multiple albums by the Jesus Lizard. In later years, he recorded albums for Joanna Newsom, Ty Segall, Cloud Nothings, Sun O))), Laura Jane Grace, and Code Orange. Albini opened the Chicago studio Electrical Audio in 1995, where he recorded until his death. In his free time, he was a successful poker player, winning two World Series of Poker bracelets.

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