Steve Albini, Indie Music Pioneer And World Series Of Poker Bracelet Winner, Dead At 61

Written By Phil West on May 13, 2024
Silver microphone and guitar symbolize Steve Albini, Chicago area punk and poker legend's, death.

Steve Albini, the Chicago-based musician whose biggest claim to fame was engineering records by indie music titans like Nirvana, the Pixies, and PJ Harvey but who also gained renown as a two-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner, died of a heart attack last Tuesday at age 61.

The news came as Albini prepared for a long-anticipated album release and tour for his band Shellac. The album, due to be released next week, is that band’s first offering since 2014.

Albini Found Joy In Punk Music And Poker

Steve Albini first came to Chicagoland to attend Northwestern University. In 1981, while still a journalism student, he founded Big Black, one of the decade’s most searing and influential punk bands. Albini segued into engineering work—he preferred that term to “producing”—before the end of the decade. He worked with numerous musical acts, ranging from obscure independent artists to Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin.

Albini entered the WSOP arena in 2010, according to his bio. His fame in the music industry turned him into an Illinois poker celebrity. He netted wins in the $1,500 Seven Card Stud event in 2018 and the 2022 $1,500 H.O.R.S.E. event, contributing to lifetime winnings of more than $370,000. The bio also notes that his great-grandmother sparked his interest in the game when she taught him poker in 1969.

Albini, who transformed in recent years from the acerbic and provocative personality that gained him both admirers and detractors in his punk heyday, found poker a helpful outlet in his evolution, according to an expansive 2023 interview in The Guardian.

In that interview, he said,

“In poker, there’s a layer of deception where you sometimes do things that are intended to be misleading. In my regular life, if I tell somebody something, I want them to believe me. I’m not trying to induce mistakes in the people I interact with.”

He told after his 2022 victory,

“Everything in my life comes in pieces, in parts. Poker is one part of my life. So when I’m playing poker, I try to commit to it. I try to take it seriously. I try to make sure I devote the attention to it that it deserves as an occupation. But it’s only part of my year. I only play tournaments at the World Series of Poker. I play cash games informally in Chicago. It’s a part of my livelihood, but it’s not my profession.”

His social media on X (formerly Twitter) and later Bluesky was @electricalWSOP, combining Electrical Audio, the name of the Chicago recording studio he opened in 1995, and the poker series in which he carved out part of his complex legacy.

Albini is survived by his wife, filmmaker Heather Whinna.

Photo by Shutterstock
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Phil West

Phil West is a longtime journalist based in Austin, Texas, whose bylines have appeared in The Daily Dot, Nautilus, Pro Soccer USA, Howler, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Antonio Express-News, Austin American-Statesman, and Austin Chronicle. He has also written two books about soccer.

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