But Can You Do a Kickflip, Steve Albini?
Feb 24 2012
Dear Mr. Albini,
In your storied career, you’ve left your imprint on many important musical projects. You’ve shunned the traditional producer designation your work affords, preferring instead to be credited as engineer. This is a very proletarian stance: The men and women who assembled the Gibson guitars or Tama drums or Tube Screamers don’t make “thank you” lists, and you’re willing to similarly step back and let the work stand for itself. When I read your article, “The Problem With Music,” I assumed you took this approach as a buffer, since most albums fail, and engineers, not responsible for flops, remain safe—though your name gets linked to big name artists and successful albums.
But I started thinking about you for a different reason:
On my daily visit to the Slap Magazine message board, board member Sk8nigga posted a transcript of part of your latest interview with Tape Op Magazine, the recording industry bi-monthly, where you wrote off Jane’s Addiction, all music from Los Angeles, and skateboarding. (“What’s next, yo-yo tricks?”) I came away shocked that Tape Op is still a magazine, and moreover, that one of their readers goes by Sk8nigga, and a bit surprised you didn’t/don’t like the Germs, Screamers, X, Weirdos, Dils, the Dickies, or The Bags. I was not surprised, though, that you were still going out of your way to be a crotchety asshole, by stating that skateboarding and punk rock have nothing to do with each other.
”I don’t remember one fucking thing coming out of LA that I cared about. And skateboarding. What did that have to do with punk music?”
Rather than overstate the obvious, which is that there’s an undeniable connection between skateboarding and punk, let’s focus on my reaction as both a skateboarder and writer. I’m an occasional fan of your music and your engineering (Seamonsters is my favorite Wedding Present album—this week—and maybe it was Fugazi who fucked up the “In on the Kill Taker” sessions), but I’m much less a fan of you talking. Your long history of “sarcastic” derogatory comments towards black people might not be news to you, but are worth a refresher.
In 1975, your project band Run Nigger Run released the track “Pray I Don’t Kill You Faggot.” You’re quoted in the August 1986 issue of Spin as saying you wanted to call your band Big Black’s second EP “Hey Nigger.” (You also ranted against “beatbox disco rap” as an “aesthetically empty music buoyed by white guilt.”) Later that year, in Forced Exposure you said, “I don’t give two splats of an old negro junkie’s vomit for your politico-philosophical treatises, kiddies.” (Apparently, in the hierarchy of junkie vomit, negro puke is the worst.)
Last year, you went at Odd Future on your studio’s message board, the best part of which is not the shock that young, suddenly famous black kids, fucked up at a music festival, were being disrespectful and saying nigger, but the implication you’d have had a chance in hell in a physical confrontation against even the smallest Odd Futurer. It might be some senior citizen bad memory shit, but if you did try to fight one of them, the entire Wolfpack or whatever the fuck they are called would probably have beat the shit out of your doughy black-pocket-tee wearing ass.
After verifying the quote in a physical issue of Tape Op—which looked absolutely identical to issues I’d see laying around recording studios in the 90s, despite advances in both the publishing and recording worlds—and awaiting confirmation of Josh Beagle’s Foundation Skateboards “Songs About Fucking” ripoff deck (not confirmed as an homage, but it exists), I am ready to state my challenge to you, Steven Frank Albini:
Let’s agree to exist in a world where skateboarding and punk rock do not have any connection, as you insist. In that world you have a recording studio, in that studio are the same microphones, amps, cables, and whatever else you use (more or less) to make every album. Those studio pieces will be placed in a familiar configuration and your Albini sound, or non-sound, will happen. A band you recorded in the 1990s relayed the story of their recording session: You said you weren’t interested in them or their sound, and instead played Nintendo in your bedroom, only charging them the standard day rate. They were shown how to “press the red button” (your words) to record, after which their instruments were mic’d by your assistant. To their surprise, that thin, boring signature sound of yours came through.
(An aside: Has anyone ever noticed that Mr. Albini is essentially a budget version of Rick Rubin? They both live clean lifestyles, talk about their diet, and have a similar minimal-manipulation approach to producing/engineering their contemporaries. Every record they work on is the anti-Sgt. Pepper’s. The results are always dry sounding, with punchy drums and little left to the imagination. The major difference is that Rubin can make something sell, and that he’s not afraid of black people.)
Mr. Albini, in my small Brooklyn apartment is a skateboard comprised of standard market components. Just a plank of wood with urethane wheels, ball bearings, and aluminum trucks. My challenge for you is to get on my skateboard and perform anything I can do on it at age 37, without any practice or preparation, just a basic knowledge of what a skateboard is and how it works. I won’t produce you, just engineer your skateboarding experience.
I will then enter your studio and record a band with the same minimal knowledge you have of skateboarding, since it has nothing to do with punk rock. I’ll set up a skateboard for you, ready to go, you set up a studio for me ready to record. Just “push the red button” and I should be good.
The wager, and I know you like gambling, as you constantly mention your love of poker (yuck) almost as much as your fondness of food (yes, you have a food blog), is your day rate of $700. Whoever can produce the better result wins. Simply land a kickflip, ollie up a curb, a few basic things that a child can do—I realize your old body hasn’t ever used several of the muscles required to do these maneuvers, but you’re in good enough shape to beat up young black men in a festival scuffle, so there is some hope—and you can win back your day rate in a matter of minutes. Myself, I’m confident if I simply hit record, a boomy drum sound will miraculously burst from the monitors, and my version of “Tweez” 2.0 will change indie rock again, and I’ll be $700.00 richer. Well, $692 richer, since I had to buy the stupid fucking magazine to even write this shit.