Big Black

From Academic Kids

Big Black was one of the most influential noise rock bands of the 1980s. They were formed in 1982 by Steve Albini, and broke up in 1987. They found little mainstream success (and never really sought any), but Big Black's snide, malevolent singing, piledriver drum machines and brutal, slashing guitars were hugely influential, especially on industrial rock.

Albini made a name for himself for his controversial "Tired of Ugly Fat?" column in the Chicago 'zine Matter, as well as irregular contributions to Forced Exposure. At the time, the band consisted of Albini and his drum machine, Roland. The Lungs EP, the first effort to appear under the Big Black name, was used primarily to recruit members to fill out the band, and was released by Ruthless Records. The record is famous for the variety of inserts, which included a lyric sheet in most copies, plus extras like condoms, dollar bills, stickers, concert tickets, photographs, silverware, razor blades and squirtguns.

In 1983 Jeff Pezzati and Santiago Durango, both of Naked Raygun, joined the band on bass and guitar, respectively. They recorded two EPs together, switching to Homestead Records, and soon after Pezzati left the band. He was replaced by Dave Riley.

The band made a name for themselves nationally with their Gang of Four influenced music and controversial lyrics. Some didn't understand that their songs were either social commentary or sarcastic jokes (often both), and assumed that the band was sexist and racist. Albini responded to these accusations by making his lyrics even more offensive than before. Albini has stated that irritating "squares" was no challenge, but he took specific glee in offending "hipsters".

The band had been unhappy with their share of the profits from the successful Atomizer release, and switched labels again in 1987, this time to the cult Chicago-based indie label Touch and Go Records. Big Black then released the Headache EP, which bore a sticker reading, "Not as good as Atomizer, so don't get your hopes up, cheese!". This was not a gimmick; Albini truly thought Headache was inferior, and wanted to warn fans.

Shortly after, Durango announced that he was leaving the band to attend law school. The band realized this would be a good time to stop, not wanting to turn into the Rolling Stones. They broke up, and then released one final album, Songs About Fucking.

Steve Albini went on to become a successful recording engineer (he dislikes the term "producer") for bands like Nirvana, Jesus Lizard, Slint, P.J. Harvey and the Pixies, as well as playing in Rapeman and Shellac. Dave Riley had a stroke and fell in (and out of) a coma in 1993. Santiago Durango is still a lawyer. Touch and Go Records acquired the rights to the Big Black back catalogue, and reissued these (by this time) hard-to-acquire classics.

Big Black's career is chronicled in Our Band Could Be Your Life, a study of several important American underground rock groups.





7" Singles


External links

  • Big Black fan site ( with discography, interviews, links.
  • Action Park (, a comprehensive information site for Albini-related projects.
  • Touch and Go website ( offers several Big Black songs for download

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