Famed Music Engineer and Two-Time WSOP Bracelet Winner Steve Albini Passes Away at 61

Outspoken indie titan

Legendary music producer and successful poker player Steve Albini has suddenly passed away at the age of 61. Albini’s Electrical Audio Recording confirmed to the media that he died Tuesday night; later reports added that the cause of death was a heart attack.

Albini started his famed music career as an artist himself, forming the band Big Black in the early 1980’s. He embodied rock & roll and punk, living for the art and hating the suits. Big Black named their second album “Songs About Fucking” as a middle-finger to record label execs.

“They want you to think that they are in it for art and art alone,” he told Rolling Stone in 2017. “So we were gonna put everybody on the rack. ‘Oh, your record label is about the unfettered free expression of the artist? OK, we will give you an obscene album title and horrible music, and let’s see if you live up to your word.’”

In the early 1990’s, he founded the noise-rock band Shellac, which has released five albums. The band’s sixth, To All Trains, releases next week.

After Big Black broke up in 1988, Albini focused on producing other bands’ records and became one of the most respected engineers (as he preferred to be called) in the industry. He believes he worked on over 2,000 albums, mostly indie bands that, as he put it, most people “probably never heard of.” Two of his most famous mainstream projects were the Pixies’ 1988 Surfer Rosa, which kick-started the alternative-rock movement, and Nirvana’s 1993 masterpiece In Utero.

I will bust my ass for you”

His love of the art shined through in a letter he wrote to Nirvana pitching his services: “I’m only interested in working on records that legitimately reflect the band’s own perception of their music and existence. If you will commit yourselves to that as a tenet of the recording methodology, then I will bust my ass for you.”

Poker mainstay

Steve Albini was also a successful amateur poker player, mostly sticking to World Series of Poker events when he played in live tournaments. He won two WSOP bracelets, one in 2018 in the $1,500 Seven Card Stud event and the other in the 2022 $1,500 H.O.R.S.E. event. He had $370,000 in lifetime live tournament earnings, most of which came from those two victories.

True to his indie-rock form, Albini wore shirts featuring the bands Jack O’Nuts and Cocaine Piss at his two WSOP bracelet final tables.

Albini was active in the poker community, posting frequently on the Two Plus Two poker forums under the screen name “electrical” until a few years ago. He could often be found discussing strategy with other posters about non-Hold’em games like 2-7 triple draw, stud 8, and razz.

Because it is an internet forum, Albini could have remained anonymous, but he was generous with his time and honesty. In 2007, he started an “ask me anything” thread on Two Plus Two, letting people pick his brain about his career, the artists with whom he worked, music in general…anything.

Fans are devastated

News of Steve Albini’s death has hit the music fans and industry figures hard. Musician Trevor de Brauw, who met his wife at a Shellac show, wrote on X: “Steve’s legacy is his unvarnished honesty and commitment to principles. It permeates not only every conversation he had, both in and out of the public, but is ingrained in every recording he made and ever song he wrote. Words cannot convey the grief.”

One of those principles was not taking royalties from the artists whose albums he engineered. He charged Nirvana, who was already on top of the music world with their hit LP Nevermind, $100,000 and no royalty. He considered an engineer taking a royalty “indefensible,” something he said in his Two Plus Two thread “caused some controversy within engineering circles.”

the man who made a guitar sound like an electrical attack”

Derek Walmsley, former editor at underground music magazine The Wire, said on X: “Oh my god. The man who made a guitar sound like an electrical attack; whose records felt like physical baton handed to you from the band; who could make a room with three people in it the most exciting place in the universe. RIP to a rock n roll hall of famer.”

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