Steve Albini: 1962–2024

Super-sad news today out of Chicago, where word came down that musician, recording engineer, writer, designer, professional poker player, and all-around iconoclast Steve Albini died of a heart attack yesterday. He was just 61.

I didn’t know Albini well, but we had some good interactions over the years. He was a big fan of my 1990s zine, Beer Frame: The Journal of Inconspicuous Consumption. When the first six issues of that zine were compiled into a book, Inconspicuous Consumption: An Obsessive Look at the Stuff We Take for Granted, I asked Albini to write the foreword, and he graciously agreed.

More recently, a little over a year ago, I did a really fun, freewheeling interview with Albini. We talked about the visual aesthetics of bands and records, the uniforms worn by the staff at his recording studio, the virtues of DIY design, and lots of other uni-adjacent topics. (That interview, which was published on my Substack, is available without a paywall here.) I’m proud to say that he owned a Uni Watch seam ripper and even prouder that he referred to it as “an incredible merchandise option. I mean, I can’t honestly can’t think of a merchandise item more specifically arcane than that.”

Like a lot of indie-rock fans of my generation, I was a huge fan of Albini’s first Chicago band, Big Black. But his writing always interested me more than his music. His mid-1980s articles in Forced Exposure, Matter, and other zines were hugely influential on me when I was in college, and I was always interested in reading pretty much anything he had to write, because he had such a fertile, interesting mind and such a palpable intelligence. Even when I didn’t agree with him, I felt like I always learned things from him.

Albini was fiercely loyal to people he liked, but he didn’t suffer fools gladly, had zero patience for bullshit, and could sometimes be acerbic, confrontational, and offensive, especially when he was younger. More recently, he recanted some of the more inflammatory and morally questionable positions from his youth while maintaining his uncompromising advocacy for the better, smarter world he wanted to see. I have nothing but respect for how he handled all of that.

Now that I’m about to leave Uni Watch and am getting ready to transition back to Inconspicuous Consumption, I was hoping to interview Albini again at some point in the near future. My idea was that I’d get together with him during my next visit to Chicago and have him take me on a tour of his favorite inconspicuous architectural details and design flourishes around the city. I know it would have been great, and it sucks to know that we’ll never get the chance to do that. R.I.P., buddy — you’ll be missed.

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