If you care, here’s how it all went down.
April 13, 2016 12:00 PM   Subscribe

 
I really loved both Saturation and Exile in Guyville. Of course, I no longer have copies of either so maybe I am remembering their awesomeness through the halcyon glow of nostalgia for being 17 at the time.
posted by Kitteh at 12:26 PM on April 13, 2016


Nope, Exile is still a kickass album.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:30 PM on April 13, 2016 [25 favorites]


It was a dumber time, I gotta say. I remember a lot of that feuding nonsense, and it felt stupid even at the time - this big zine editor doesn't like that minor label person and they both hate the reviewer for the local free paper over basically some bullshit, and everyone else takes sides. I mean, at least now when various famous people snipe at each other on Twitter over nonsense, it's much glitzier and more theatrical; nobody really believes that it means anything.

I do think this was something that riot grrrl was trying to get around - there wasn't nearly so much of that scene nonsense, at least that I knew about.

I guess I'd say I like my music giant or tiny - either everybody knows it or ten people know it. It's this middling stuff where people are sorta famous and get macho about it that's annoying.
posted by Frowner at 12:31 PM on April 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


Exile is still one of the best albums ever and I've never understood Albini's not just dislike but apparent rabid hatred of it.

Then again, I've never cared too much about the concept of selling out; it's just useful shorthand for "band, now big, that sucks" or "band that aspired to be big and in doing so, sucked". I'd love to hear more good rock on the radio again: I miss those days. I imagine being concerned about the commercial status of a band, as opposed to whether or not they were any good, would give you a skewed perspective. It strikes me as the indie equivalent of the Def Leppard argument:

"Def Leppard is awesome."
"Def Leppard is actually fucking terrible."
"Dude, their drummer has only one arm. That takes a lot of skill."
"Yeah, but they're still terrible."
"Dude--one arm!"

But maybe I'm just reading Albini badly via thirdhand info.
posted by Palindromedary at 12:46 PM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Before Nirvana, pressure had been building a long time. Back in the 1980s, there were all these cool bands—the Pixies, Sonic Youth, the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, Black Flag, Fugazi—and gazillions more lost to history. Some of the music was tuneful, a subspecies of mainstream rock or even pop; some was harsher, with subject matter to match.
Here’s the thing, though. Whatever the sound, none of this stuff got played on commercial radio. Period.


Did Chicago not have its own version of WLIR?
posted by lagomorphius at 12:48 PM on April 13, 2016


Every time I read another reflection on 1993, Liz Phair, Exile and all that from the position of 20, 25 years later, I just find myself inarticulately screaming about patriarchy and women whose pretense at submitting is not good enough to pass.

"Man, I miss 1993 Bucktown and my shitty apartment, my dumbass dog and even the only not-so-bad ex I ever had." is the other thought I have.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:55 PM on April 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


Wyman's sideswipe at Tom Petty is kind of bullshit, though.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:57 PM on April 13, 2016




Wyman's sideswipe at Tom Petty is kind of bullshit, though.

Some people are just Petty, I guess.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:33 PM on April 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


I had the idea that Albini hated the Pumpkins for their maximalist production values and other non-punk derived aesthetics at least as much as for being successful, but who knows. Not me. Personally I've always thought that becoming a millionaire by playing chords that only have three notes in them is A-OK .
posted by thelonius at 1:36 PM on April 13, 2016


I had the idea that Albini hated the Pumpkins for their maximalist production values and other non-punk derived aesthetics at least as much as for being successful

And see, this is precisely the kind of thing that I find to be such utter, macho bullshit. "I don't like maximalist production because [reasons] and I don't like this album", sure, fine. But "I hate you because of your musical stylings and I will never miss a chance to run you down in public" is such a childish, childish way to behave, and it was absolutely endemic in sort rockist/punkist circles around that time. I had forgotten about all that business, but remembering has killed a certain amount of nostalgia for the time. Pretending that because someone makes different production choices than you do they are - for that reason alone - a particularly immoral person....boy, I remember those days, and they were dumb-ass days.
posted by Frowner at 1:51 PM on April 13, 2016 [10 favorites]


Did Chicago not have its own version of WLIR?

College radio stations, primarily. XRT was possibly the closest thing on commercial radio at the time; Q101 was the “mainstream alternative” station. FWIW, I heard and saw a lot of great artists and videos on JBTV – that was where I saw things like Urge Overkill videos and the like.
posted by hijinx at 2:08 PM on April 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


The list of reasons to hate Smashing Pumpkins is long and varied and "maximalist production values" is not on it.
posted by oh pollo! at 2:12 PM on April 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


And vague criticisms! Vague criticisms were also big! Like that bit in the article about Liz Phair being all style and no substance or whatever. What does that mean when someone has actually produced an album? I really, really dislike Liz Phair's music and public persona, but for heaven's sake, "has no substance" is a critique of her that you should really back up with more detail. "A chore to listen to" - what does that mean, Steve? I find Taylor Swift a chore to listen to; I also find Faust a chore to listen to, and frankly even though it's a fantastic album, I really have to make myself sit still to get through Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy. So what precisely does that mean? Nothing, that's what it means.

Augh, this is bringing back all the bad memories. Hot days in smelly buildings, ugly cod-mod nineties fashions with those fucking racing stripes, the whole horrible loucherie of Urge Overkill, Cupid Car Club, etc etc. I had some good times in the nineties, but those were not them. Black platform boots in cheap leather with rigid platforms that were super uncomfortable to walk in. Wax Trax. Terrible coffee and unmerited snobbism at...uh,what was it? Earwax! That's what it was called. Man, my experience of Chicago at the time was like if you took the absolute worst of a much larger city and rolled it together with the absolute worst of a small provincial place.
posted by Frowner at 2:24 PM on April 13, 2016 [9 favorites]


It's funny looking back and realizing you were in the middle of something only after the fact.

Billy Corgan went to the high school the next town over from where I grew up. Liz Phair, Urge Overkill, and Veruca Salt all came to prominence while I was in college at the UofC. I still see the goddamn concert poster in movies and tv shows where UO and VS performed in hutch court in front of an audience crowded around a fountain, Liz Phair visible in the wings. That poster is typically used as visual shorthand for hipster record store clerk (see High Fidelity, but there have been many others). I remember friends of mine desperately trying to keep crowd surfers from being dumped into this hole where a stone ledge and statues waited to bust someone's head open. It was intensely stupid and dangerous and they moved subsequent shows indoors in later years - but so, so much fun.

Now, I don't know that I'd pull out any of that music now (with the exception of Liz Phair's stuff) - but fuck the haters. That was undoubtedly a moment and I'm glad I got to live through it.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 2:24 PM on April 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


Oh man, Earwax was the shittiest. It finally closed about 8-10 years ago. It was still shitty.
posted by crush-onastick at 2:44 PM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


I really loved both Saturation and Exile in Guyville. Of course, I no longer have copies of either so maybe I am remembering their awesomeness through the halcyon glow of nostalgia for being 17 at the time.

Just listen to This American Life. They've used samples from Exile for segues pretty much ever since.
posted by msalt at 2:49 PM on April 13, 2016


Oh lord teenage me was so into this scene, from afar and so not understanding that it constituted a "scene." Smashing Pumpkins and Liz Phair and Veruca Salt and on and on, and never knew about all the high-school level backbiting and acrimony until I was old enough to roll my eyes halfway to Chicago themselves over it.

And Steve Albini, great as he is at many things, is a guy who clearly chose "supreme asshole arbiter of cool" as his personal brand and has been running with that as hard as he could all of his life. Unless you need him producing your album I just don't understand the point of taking his sniping seriously.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:50 PM on April 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


Caught Millie's Orchid Show a couple times. Great stuff. Eric Bogosian and a high school marching band in full uniform, performing up and down the aisles. (not at the same time)
posted by jeff-o-matic at 2:50 PM on April 13, 2016


I know someone who has worked closely with Albini for ~10 years. Steve is an odd guy. For example, he had to be persuaded to take money for some Mtv production that wanted to shoot in his studio. He didn't want to take money from Mtv! He gave them a pittance and didn't negotiate.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 2:52 PM on April 13, 2016


Not Albini's finest moment, for sure. He seems to have something very personal against Urge Overkill - they were also his answer when someone asked his least favorite band to work with - but he was hardly fair to Liz.
posted by atoxyl at 2:53 PM on April 13, 2016


Albini is the Rorshach of music. If you know that, everything he does makes sense and his reactions to things are clockwork level predictable.

"There is good and there is evil and evil must be punished. Smashing Pumpkins, for example."
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:55 PM on April 13, 2016 [7 favorites]


I guess he can also be seen as the Holden Caulfield of music, but Rorshach works better to my way of thinking.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:58 PM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


He's like an unyielding Paladin for an all-but-dead religion.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:59 PM on April 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


College radio stations, primarily. XRT was possibly the closest thing on commercial radio at the time; Q101 was the “mainstream alternative” station.

And let me just say that XRT pretty much sucked, from what I remember of those years, playing in band on the lower level of that scene. Seems whenever I put on XRT they'd be playing "Skin Deep" by the Stranglers. That was their idea of edgy. They may have buried a local show late on a Friday night, I can't recall, but in general it was U2, the Police, and the like. They didn't play anything local until it got big nationally, so maybe Albini should have directed his vitriol there.
posted by stargell at 3:00 PM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Whatever the sound, none of this stuff got played on commercial radio. Period. (...) There was word of mouth, a few battered photocopied fanzines, maybe a show or two on a local college station and, once in a while, some airplay on MTV’s weekly “120 Minutes.”

Riiiiight.
Commercial radio was and still is one long, huge sucking sound and it was never where the cool stuff starts. Never with the cutting edge bands that give you that thrill of hearing someone making the next new sound for the first time, just stadium rawk and old bullshit.
Speaking for Vancouver, BC we had CiTR (out of University of BC), CJSF (out of Simon Fraser University), and CFRO Co-op Radio overlooking the glamour of Pigeon Park (out of the Downtown East Side). They all played various shows with old and new alternative stuff. Oh and CBC's Night Lines was pretty ok.
There was Odyssey Imports, Zulu, and Scratch Records for all the cutting edge alternative stuff and all the expensive music mags from Europe. I think High Life Records and Neptoon were around then too and others I've forgotten. You could actually get news on the music scene by talking to the people in the stores for free!
We had the Discorder mag, and that other one I've forgotten, and the Straight, sort of (as it wasn't the living abortion it is today) and MAXIMUMROCKNROLL for all your punk rock needs.
Much Music had an alternative hour, but whatever, and Nite Dreems and Soundproof predated any MTV bullshit and played Siouxsie, XTC, Undertones, Skinny Puppy, Residents, and DOA.

TL:DR It was sometimes a pain to get to the good stuff and you had to work for it, but it sure as hell wasn't the musical desert of alt.rock as he's painting it.
posted by Zack_Replica at 3:01 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


I know someone who has worked closely with Albini for ~10 years. Steve is an odd guy. For example, he had to be persuaded to take money for some Mtv production that wanted to shoot in his studio. He didn't want to take money from Mtv! He gave them a pittance and didn't negotiate.

His time will still run you a flat $900 a day - that's actually up I think from the last time I checked - and zero points, and a lot of that's split with the rest of Electrical Audio's employees if it doesn't go straight back into the studio. There's a lot that's admirable about Steve Albini but he does run his mouth sometimes when you wish he wouldn't.
posted by atoxyl at 3:03 PM on April 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


I wasn't in love with the Oingo Boingo sideswipe in the piece; they were rather better than Wyman's dismissal of them. Otherwise this was fun to read but basically a high school reunion recounting of an old pointless argument by someone who probably should have let it go by now but still has a couple of grievances he wants to hash out. I suspect it was therapeutic.
posted by jscalzi at 3:03 PM on April 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


(in case it's not clear that's crazy cheap for someone with his name recognition)
posted by atoxyl at 3:05 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Ha! I had completely forgotten about the two Urge Overkill stalkers! Also, I didn't realize Steve Albini was ALWAYS The Old Man Who Hollers At Clouds. I thought that was a turn of the century thing for him.

I remember everyone was expecting the Chicago music scene to blow up like Seattle had a couple of years before but it turned into some cautionary tale of how a whirling shitstorm of outright loathing and indie credibility brinkmanship can be as bad as blowing up and selling out.
posted by KingEdRa at 3:41 PM on April 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


I was in my early twenties living in the above mentioned shitty Bucktown apartment when all this went down. I had good friends in a band that probably should have been mentioned in this article so I've hung out with a lot of the people written about. It was a crazy time.

One band friend described Siamese Dream at the time as "the album a Packard Bell computer would make" which I've always thought was a funny and accurate description. The opening chords of Cherub Rock still get my heart pumping though.

Oh and Nash Kato threw up in a urinal next to me one night. That guy is a piece of work. Good times.
posted by MarvinTheCat at 4:24 PM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Seems whenever I put on XRT they'd be playing "Skin Deep" by the Stranglers.

I think you meant to say Talking Heads. There is a CD player somewhere in that studio that has a Heads CD in it, welded to the producer's console. Efforts over the last 30 years to turn it off have failed.
posted by JoeZydeco at 4:25 PM on April 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


Ah...that being considered selling out just seems so quaint now.

Then again, all the crankiness about selling out did help foster lots of independent music which was done for no money. That kind of attitude just doesn't exist anymore.
posted by destro at 4:29 PM on April 13, 2016


So much nostalgia reading this.

I actually remember when this letter was published! Reading parts of it out loud to my roommate in Boystown and both of us laughing hysterically. I don't really have an opinion about Smashing Pumpkins or Urge Overkill but Exile was a perfect record. I still listen to it a couple times a year.

I miss what the Chicago Reader used to be. They still publish one section, but it's just a collection basically of what was on the blog the week before. Back then it was three or four big thick sections. You could spend all week reading it and in doing so find all the shows, movies, restaurants, bar you could possibly need. I still haven't found anything that comprehensively lists all the music happening in Chicago as well as it did in its prime.

I didn't realize that article was hosted at New City until I got to the end. I hadn't thought about that alt weekly in years.

And somehow Lounge Ax still has a website!

Sometimes I miss the 90s.
posted by great_radio at 4:32 PM on April 13, 2016 [4 favorites]



I miss what the Chicago Reader used to be. They still publish one section, but it's just a collection basically of what was on the blog the week before. Back then it was three or four big thick sections. You could spend all week reading it and in doing so find all the shows, movies, restaurants, bar you could possibly need.

And most importantly apartments!
posted by MarvinTheCat at 4:36 PM on April 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


Q: I always heard [Corgan] was kind of reviled by the 'real underground' Chicago bands for being a sellout...

Steve Albini: The first part is true, but not necessarily because of the second part. You are asking about historical perspectives, and I happened to be around while this was underway, so maybe I can shed some light.

In Chicago in the late 1980s, there began to develop a kind of budding professionalism that struck us in the punk/underground scene as distasteful: Bands with managers, publicists and other agents were encroaching on a self-made scene that had previously been by, for and about the bands themselves.

The Smashing Pumpkins personified this creeping professionalism, having a management relationship with a creepy local music business player who was also responsible for booking the biggest venue in town. As a result, any decent touring band that came through town would have the Smashing Pumpkins added to the bill as a support act. This was rightfully seen as an imposition, and patrons learned to arrive at the Metro an hour later than usual in order to miss them. It isn't overstating things to say they were something of a joke in Chicago -- a band imposed on an existing audience by the music business rather than a band building its natural audience through accretion.

Additionally, early on they were associated with the exceptional band the Poster Children, through some shows and a shared label. The Poster Children (and other bands from the same downstate scene, like Hum) were an obvious and direct influence on the Smashing Pumpkins' sound. For anyone familiar with both, it is hard to see how the a lesser derivation of the Poster Children's sound could be hailed as some kind of revolutionary genius, except by rock critics and music business people unaware of anything at the street level.

In some of those public statements I mentioned earlier, Billy Corgan has derided the underground scene of the day, saying it was clique-ish and insular, and that he wanted to rebel against it by going through conventional rock star channels to become a conventional rock star. Well, bully for that kind of thinking, I guess, if you think being a retrograde reactionary and joining the suffocating mainstream culture and business is some kind of rebellion, and if you think the penthouse of the managers and lawyers is somehow more open and inviting than the open field of the DIY scene.

For those of us involved daily in bucking that system, it was gross.
posted by anazgnos at 4:37 PM on April 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


a friend wrote a song, 'RE: Steve Albini' and it features a lot about his "enormous penis" and how he has to "special-order his pants, analog pants, custom analog pants"
posted by gorestainedrunes at 4:50 PM on April 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


I felt okay not responding to Steve’s missive then, and still don’t feel I have to now,

Uh. What is this article exactly, then?
posted by lumpenprole at 4:54 PM on April 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


Steve Albini is sometimes wrong, but he's never boring.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:43 PM on April 13, 2016 [7 favorites]


"Steve Albini is the go-to guy for that "IN YOUR FACE" sound."
posted by ovvl at 6:16 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


It fascinates me that the person probably second only to Ian MacKaye in terms of how much they have told you about themselves and where they're coming from, that all of this reinterpretation still goes on. I'm not really even sure that he ever speaks outside of opinion, which always casts a pall for me on any accusations of him being "wrong." I must have a tremendous blind spot.
posted by rhizome at 6:23 PM on April 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


Hey, if we wanna get into that 1990's regional-metropolitan-weekly-culture-newspaper-music-criticism squabbling thingy: Now Magazine in Toronto is an interesting long-running left-leaning cultural weekly, and in my personal view their music critics were really awful in the 90's. Almost every amazing show or concert that I saw with my own eyes turned into vinegar in their print comments afterwards. They saved the piss for any local artist releasing their first album, except for some people they knew personally. And that, kinda essentially, seems to be 90's regional music criticism.
posted by ovvl at 6:56 PM on April 13, 2016


I've enjoyed Albini's opinion on a lot of things, but in Phair's case, you can hear the recordings that led to her debut. I remember hearing Exile In Guyville in 1995 and being pissed none of my friends had recommended it, and that I'd ignored all the reviews. It was a long time later that I discovered her Girlysound tapes, (previously, though they are actually here, and it's worth googling to get scans of the covers,) which she recorded when she was 16 and 17. It's a small wonder based on them that she had a lot of industry buzz, and thankfully Exile came out so brilliantly due to Brad Wood's help. The rest of her output since her debut hasn't been as well produced.
posted by Catblack at 7:17 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Steve Albini might also be this guy from Mr. Show
posted by destro at 7:41 PM on April 13, 2016


Wyman's anecdotes about Urge and Phair kind of support rather than refute Albini's apparent take on them, that they (at least) were slightly careerist, slightly calculating, industry-cozy types rather than just pure straightforward, plainspoken DIY. If Wyman hadn't been so charmed by her tape it seems like Phair would have just been another wannabe cornering a journalist and zapping him with her affected persona rays, rather than honing her stagecraft and "building an audience through natural accretion" in Albini's parlance.

Wyman seems to just want to like what he likes without having to look too deeply into motivations or behavior, which is fair enough I guess. But overall he seems a little too eager to give them a pass and, worse, mystify the creative process with fluff about "how they heard a sound nobody else heard".
posted by anazgnos at 9:56 PM on April 13, 2016


I think that Albini's breakdown of how the music industry rips off bands that it signs is still very useful, even if the numbers are (possibly) outdated. But I'm not terribly interested in anything he has to say in his apparent self-appointed role as Pope of Real Music.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:20 PM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


If only there were a way to make rock more like a small town filled with jealous people who hate each other!
posted by thelonius at 11:06 PM on April 13, 2016 [7 favorites]


I wonder if such a thoroughly accomplished curmudgeon as Albini can resist the temptation to reply. Curmudgeon used with a fair bit of affection as Albini has, in one way or another, provided great entertainment to me for the last twenty five years.
posted by o seasons o castles at 11:14 PM on April 13, 2016


JoeZydeco: "There is a CD player somewhere in that studio that has a Heads CD in it, welded to the producer's console."

You say that like it's a bad thing.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:20 AM on April 14, 2016


If it didn't go off every 20 minutes, I'd agree.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:26 AM on April 14, 2016


I LOVED the Earwax Café and all y'all dissing it can kiss my sari-silk-patchwork overalls-wearing ass. Except I don't wear that shit anymore.

I still miss their hummus. So garlicky you'd smell it out your pores for days. Also the zines. I miss the zines.

It was my second home, since I lived round the corner from 1990-1995, and the el made it too loud to work in my apartment sometimes.

posted by RedEmma at 8:28 AM on April 14, 2016


So, I'm an infrequent, but regular participant in a forum attached to Mr. Albini's studio. I counted it as a personal win when he called me an idiot. He's not shy about doing that, and he can be scorching in his takedown of anything he thinks isn't approached with intellectual and moral rigor.

That being said, I've had the pleasure of interacting with him in person a couple times and he's always been unfailingly warm, polite, and surprisingly generous with his time.

I also understand the criticisms of him. He can be completely colorblind and wrong-headed on gender issues. His 'take no prisoners' writing style can sometimes be applied to things that really don't need a black and white approach. But, he's a human being. And one who's navigated the public eye in a surprisingly frank way for a very long time.

Anybody who would like to listen to him talk directly, and not one of the various people who feel like he's the biggest con in music prison and they have to fight him to get respect, should check out his appearance on Maron's podcast. Maron gave him some space to talk and the conversation feels very genuine. He also did a good keynote at Face The Music a couple years back.
posted by lumpenprole at 9:16 AM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Late-'80s WNUR DJs represent!
posted by AJaffe at 9:51 AM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Kreative Kontrol did a nice two-part roundtable with Albini and Ian Mackaye recently.

http://vishkhanna.com/2015/11/12/ep-223-ian-mackaye-steve-albini-part-i/

http://vishkhanna.com/2015/11/17/ep-224-ian-mackaye-steve-albini-part-ii/
posted by anazgnos at 2:28 PM on April 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Late-'80s WNUR DJs represent!

HOLY SHIT WNUR.

Can I just say, as a scrawny white kid living in a milquetoast suburb about 20 miles due west of NWU, that you were an airborne miracle? My folks listened to AOR FM radio in the car and at home - I had no exposure to anything else until some friends at school started passing around airchecks of the punk shows on NUR. We were all blown away.

Thank you thank you thank you thank you.
posted by JoeZydeco at 3:32 PM on April 14, 2016


This is both the worst of "white guys who can't get over their own shit and will not let anything go" and the best of "Chicago can be so unforgivably, artfully, hyperbolically petty" and I hate/love and also love/hate it.
posted by elr at 11:04 AM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's a pretty tedious and exhausting article.
posted by rhizome at 1:01 PM on April 15, 2016


Yeah, I was pretty interested at first but literally fell asleep about 20,000 words in. I've written books shorter than that article.
posted by msalt at 9:53 PM on April 15, 2016


I think that Albini's breakdown of how the music industry rips off bands that it signs is still very useful, even if the numbers are (possibly) outdated.

He made some more recent comments on the subject in this forum thread from 2012 (starting on page 2): The Problem With Music: Still a Problem
posted by homunculus at 10:26 PM on April 20, 2016


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