You Know What

Three nice all-American boys (just heed the warning at the bottom).
Three nice all-American boys (just heed the warning at the bottom).

‘Sexist’, ‘racist’ noise rock? In fact, neither of these accusations ring true in Steve Albini’s first band, Big Black (they always described themselves as punk). If any band were misunderstood, it was this one: yet it is doubtful industrial music would have been the same without them.

Nobody can ever control. . . there is something that was quoted from some famous son of a bitch, or whatever “You can never control who your audience is going to be, you can only control your creative output’, so I never felt very responsible for people who have misinterpreted what we have done or who have taken it as a kind of stylistic raincoat that they can put on, to me that was never my responsibility. There are some bands that were inspired by the climate of music during that period that Big Black was active, which was a very fertile period of American music, there were bands like KillDozer, Big Black, Sonic Youth and other smaller bands that people probably wouldn’t be familiar with that were equally inspirational and there are a lot of bands that took their inspiration from that era and have gone on to do things that are equally noteworthy. They are not necessarily inspired by Big Black, they are inspired by the climate of music that was generated during the period that Big Black was active. (Steve Albini, interviewed by Jon Bains).

They started life in a dorm at Northwestern University, and were basically Steve Albini, he who was to produce Nirvana’s last LP, and a drum machine he called Roland (referring to it as if it were a member of the group). His derivative first effort, Lungs, is probably best forgotten (not least by Albini himself). Line-up changes abounded: Steve seems to have been a difficult man to work with, and enjoyed upsetting people, as the first ‘proper’ album Atomizer amply demonstrated (with tracks like ‘Stinking Drunk’, and ‘Cables’, inspired by visits to slaughterhouses). Santiago Durango and Dave Riley by now comprised the best-known aggregation, underpinned by Riley’s funk-like guitar work.

To say that the title to their second and last LP Songs About Fucking is misleading would be understating the case. It’s just another case of Albini trying to ‘offend the hipsters’, as the lyrical themes are wide and varied as the music is slashing and brutal. ‘Colombia Necktie’ (FF 1987 #18), for instance, refers to the gangland execution method of cutting the offender’s throat open and pulling his tongue through the wound. It pounds and crashes its way through an adrenalin rush of just 2 minutes and 15 seconds. ‘L Dopa’ (FF 1987 #42), on the other hand, concerns a prescription drug used to treat Parkinson’s disease, and at 1 minute 40 seconds is one of the shortest tracks to ever make the Festive Fifty. It puts one in mind of the next generation of drum machine terrorists, Ministry.

The LP was released on New Year’s Day 1987, and in the middle of the year the band found time to record a session in Chicago for Peel. This included a version of ‘L Dopa’, a track from the aforementioned Lungs EP (‘Dead Billy’), and one from the third EP, Racer-X (‘Ugly American’).

The band certainly quit while they were ahead: they agreed to split even before Songs was released. Durango enrolled in law school, Albini went on to Shellac, and they reunited to perform a few tracks in 2006 at an anniversary for the label it was released on, Touch And Go. Certainly, invest in their recorded output and your brain will be irrevocably scalded-and challenged.

Big Black, L Dopa

Big Black, Colombian Necktie

Big Black, Peel Session 1987-05-06
Dead Billy/The Ugly American/Newman Generator/L Dopa

By the way, I was 46 yesterday, and would like to thank you all for putting up with my ramblings for the last two years. I’ll keep my promise: we will continue.

8 thoughts on “You Know What

  1. Hi old friends, and thank you for your typically forthright greetings. I did indeed have ‘a good one’, Eduardo: and I hope the ‘old bugger’ is meant in a figurative sense, Mick…and Davy, thanks for dropping by. Hugs and stuff to you all!

  2. Thanks very much Whiteray and Adam. The prime of life? Don’t know about that, but I’m certainly not ready for the scrap heap yet.

  3. I have the Peel session on a 45 of unknown condition, but I haven’t had a turntable for years, so thanks for posting!

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