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Steve Albini, legendary producer of Nirvana, Pixies, dies at age 61

Steve Albini, an alternative rock pioneer and legendary producer who shaped the musical landscape through his work with Nirvana, the Pixies, PJ Harvey and more, has died. He was 61.

Brian Fox, an engineer at Albini’s studio, Electrical Audio Recording, said Wednesday that Albini died Tuesday evening after suffering a heart attack.

In addition to his work on canonical rock albums such as Nirvana’s In Utero, the Pixies’ breakthrough Surfer Rosa and PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me, Albini was the frontman of underground bands Big Black and Shellac.

He rejected the term “producer,” refused to collect royalties for the albums he worked on, and requested to be credited with “Recorded by Steve Albini,” a legendary label for the albums he worked on.

At the time of his death, Albini’s band Shellac was preparing to tour their first new album in a decade, “To All Trains,” due out next week.

Other acts whose music was shaped by Albini include Joanna Newsom’s indie-folk opus, Ys, and releases from bands such as the Breeders, the Jesus Lizard, Hum, Superchunk, Low and Mogwai.

Albini was born in California, raised in Montana and fell in love with Chicago’s DIY punk music scene while studying journalism at Northwestern University.

As a teenager he played in punk bands and in college wrote about music for the prescient indie zine Forced Exposure. While attending Northwestern in the early ’80s, he formed the abrasive, noisy post-punk band Big Black, known for its biting riffs, violent and taboo lyrics, and drum machine in place of a live drummer. It was a controversial innovation at the time from a man whose career would be defined by risky choices. The band’s best-known song, the ugly, explosive, six-minute Kerosene from their cult-favorite album, 1986’s Atomizer, is the ideal piece of evidence – and not for the faint of heart.

Then came the short-lived band Rapeman – one of two groups Albini led with indefensibly offensive names and vulgar song titles. In the early 1990s he founded Shellac, the ferocious, distorted noise rock band – an evolution of Big Black, but still punctuated by pounding guitar tones and aggressive vocals.

In 1997, Albini opened his famous studio, Electrical Audio, in Chicago.

“The recording part is the part that is important to me – that I create a document that captures a piece of our culture, the life’s work of the musicians who hire me,” Albini told The Guardian last year when asked about some of the well-known and beloved albums he has recorded. “I take that role very seriously. I want the music to outlive all of us.”

Albini was a larger-than-life figure in the independent rock music scene, known for his progressive productions, unapologetic irreverence, sharp sense of humor and critique of the music industry’s exploitative practices – as described in his seminal 1993 essay, The Problem with Music – net as much as his talents.

Later in life, he became a notable poker player and apologized for his past missteps.

“Ugh, man, heartbreaking loss of a legend. Love to his family and countless colleagues,” actor Elijah Wood wrote of X. “Goodbye, Steve Albini.”

Author Michael Azerrad, who included a chapter on Big Black in his extensive history, “Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981–1991,” also posted on X. “I Don’t Know What to Say regarding the passing of Steve Albini,” Azerrad wrote. ‘He had a brilliant mind, was a great artist and underwent the most remarkable and inspiring personal transformation. I can’t believe he’s gone.”

Albini is survived by his wife, Heather Whinna, a filmmaker.