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Big Black

Jeff Pezzati and Santiago Durango with Big Black in Chicago, 2006
Background information
Origin Evanston, IL
Genres Noise punk, post-hardcore
Years active 1982-1987, 2006
Labels Touch and Go
Blast First!
Former members
Steve Albini
Dave Riley
Santiago Durango
Jeff Pezzati
Patrick Byrne

Big Black was an American noise punk band founded in Evanston, Illinois, United States, that was active between 1982 and 1987.[1] They were headed by singer, lyricist, guitarist, and co-songwriter Steve Albini.

They sought little mainstream success and found as much, but the group's piledriver drum machines and brutal, slashing electric guitars were widely influential, especially for industrial rock. Albini's vocal style and provocative lyrics garnered much attention.

They were a formative influence on industrial rock,[citation needed] but the band members have always described the band as punk rock; in the notes for Pigpile, a live recording of their final London performance, Albini explicitly describes Big Black as "punk."



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, a Roland TR-606. (All of Big Black's recordings credit "Roland" as if "he" were a member of the band.)

The Lungs EP, the first effort to appear under the Big Black name, was recorded by Albini in his dorm room at Northwestern University.[1] Intended primarily to recruit members to fill out the band, Lungs was released by Ruthless Records. The record is infamous 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, bloody bandages, and squirt guns. Heavily influenced by Public Image Limited and Killing Joke, Albini describes the amateurish Lungs as one of his few artistic regrets.

Guitarist Lyle Preslar, previously and later of Minor Threat, was briefly a member of Big Black during his semester at Northwestern, though after a few tempestuous practice sessions, he and Albini parted ways. In 1983 Jeff Pezzati and Santiago Durango, both of Naked Raygun, joined the band on bass and guitar, respectively, and the drum machine was replaced by Pat Byrne.[1] They recorded two EPs together, switching to Homestead Records, and soon after Pezzati left the band. He was replaced by former Savage Beliefs member Dave Riley, and Byrne also departed to be replaced by a new drum machine.[1]

Steve Albini performing with Big Black in 2006

Riley was a longtime funk fan and had worked at a Detroit recording studio frequented by Sly Stone and George Clinton. His bass guitar work with Big Black was, to a degree, influenced by funk—not to suggest that he played like Bootsy Collins or Larry Graham, but he did bring a sinuous quality to the music. Even before Riley joined, there was evidence of an interest in funk: Big Black had already covered James Brown's "The Payback".

The band made a name for itself nationally with its first album Atomizer, which featured more controversial lyrics by Albini, and strong contributions by Durango and Riley to the songs and arrangement—a working scheme the band had settled on because it took advantage of each member's strengths. Some listeners did not 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. Michael Azerrad writes that, to Albini, irritating "squares" was no challenge, but offending "hipsters" was more intriguing.[2]

Albini drew much lyrical inspiration from misadventures and escapades he observed during his teen years in rural Missoula, Montana: for example, "Cables" was inspired by acquaintances who would visit a slaughterhouse to watch cattle get killed..

In 1987 the band switched labels again, this time to the cult Chicago-based indie label Touch and Go Records, when the band became disenchanted with Homestead Records after the label illegally released promotional-only copies of some of limited-edition recordings. 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; the band truly thought Headache was inferior, and wanted to warn fans. The EP's original sleeve art, based on a photograph of an accident victim's head, was so controversial that it was released in a black sleeve.[1]

Shortly after, Durango announced that he was leaving the band to attend law school.[1] Figuratively replaced by "Melvyn Belli" (a parodic pseudonym for Durango in light of his impending attendance of law school, referencing the famous lawyer Melvin Belli), and after recording a final album, Songs About Fucking, Albini disbanded Big Black.[1]

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

After Big Black

Steve Albini went on to become a successful recording engineer (he dislikes the term "producer") for bands including Pixies, Nirvana, The Jesus Lizard, The Auteurs, Slint, Membranes, P.J. Harvey, Joanna Newsom and many others, including Melbourne band, My Disco, who are named after the Big Black song of the same name. In addition to recording engineering, he formed new bands Rapeman and Shellac.

The band is mentioned in the 1988 Dead Milkmen song, Sri Lanka Sex Hotel, in the line: "Let's play Big Black at 3 a.m., And tell the neighbours they can all get fucked".

Dave Riley has largely recovered from a stroke he endured in 1993[3] and has since released a CD and a book. [1]

Durango released two EPs as Arsenal on Touch and Go, and is still a practicing lawyer. In his first case he helped recover Cynthia Plaster Caster's bronze casts of the genitalia of various rock and roll artists, including that of Jimi Hendrix. He handled some litigation for Touch and Go, and as of April 2008[4] is an Illinois state appellate defender.

Touch and Go acquired the rights to the Big Black back catalog, and reissued these (by this time) hard-to-acquire classics.

Big Black have been posthumously successful, with Q Magazine's August 2007 issue naming Songs About Fucking as the fifth loudest album of all time, just ahead of the Who's Live at Leeds and Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.


Big Black briefly reunited to play a few songs at Touch and Go Records 25th anniversary celebration on 9 September 2006. The line up was Steve Albini, Santiago Durango and Jeff Pezzati. They played "Cables," "Dead Billy," "Pigeon Kill," and "Racer X," in that order.

"I know what you're all thinking... 'what was all the fuss about?'" Albini said onstage that night. He later said that the reunion would not have happened but for the Touch and Go anniversary, and said the record label is "the most important thing to happen in music in my lifetime." Pezzati and Durango nodded in assent.


Studio albums

Live albums



  • Tonight We Walked with Giants Live in England 7-24-87 (Unknown, Unknown) (Contains a portion of the pigpile live release in inferior sound quality. also contains an "Exclusive" track also available on the pigpile DVD)



Various artist compilations

  • Big Payback (The Middle of America Compilation WNUR 89.3FM Evanston-Chicago, H.I.D. Productions, Ltd., 1984)
  • Hunter's Safety (Tommy Bartlett Dies In Pain) (The Middle of America Compilation WNUR 89.3FM Evanston-Chicago, H.I.D. Productions, Ltd., 1984)
  • Every Man for Himself (Gods Favorite Dog Touch and Go, 1986)
  • Crack Up (Gods Favorite Dog Touch and Go, 1986)
  • Il Duce (The Wailing Ultimate Homestead, 1987)
  • Kerosene (live 1986) (Nothing Short of Total War (Part One) Blast First/Mute, 1989)
  • He's a Whore (Nothing Short of Total War (Part One) Blast First/Mute, 1989)
  • Burning Indian Wife (Happiness Is Dry Pants Chemical Imbalance, Unknown)


  • Big Black Live 1986 (VHS) (Atavistic, 1987)
  • The Last Blast (VHS) (, 1988)
  • Pigpile (VHS) (Touch and Go, 1992)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Thompson, Dave (2000) Alternative Rock, Miller Freeman, ISBN 0-87930-607-6, p.194-195
  2. ^ Azerrad, Michael (2003) Our Band Could Be Your Life, Little, Brown & Company, ISBN 978-0316787536, p. 324
  3. ^ Riley, Dave. "Synopsis". Worthless Goddamn Cripple. Retrieved 2008-01-20. 
  4. ^ March 2008 Criminal Law Digest

External links

Simple English

Big Black was an American noise rock band. The band formed in 1983 with Steve Albini playing all of the instruments and a drum machine for percussion.

Big Black's music was very loud and distorted to the point where it only sounded like white noise. The themes of the music Big Black played were often very dark.

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