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Steve Albini

Influential rock sound engineer Steve Albini attended Hellgate High School, where he stirred up controversy as a student journalist.

Before Nirvana and the Pixies, there was Hellgate High School.

Steve Albini, who served as sound engineer for seminal records by those and many other bands, attended the Missoula high school after his father moved here to work for the U.S. Forest Service.

After graduation, he moved to Illinois, where he studied journalism at Northwestern. Later, he became a mainstay of underground rock, whether in his own groups like Big Black and Shellac, or recording others at his studio, Electrical Audio. 

Albini became famous not just for his sound and ear, but for his principles and strong opinions. For instance, he insists that he's an engineer, not a producer, and that the bands themselves make the important choices about how their record should sound.

Even within the confrontational style of punk, Albini was notoriously provocative in style and substance. One album by Big Black was titled "Songs About (Expletive.)"

Shades of that attitude were visible early on. In 1980, the high-schooler was the subject of a full-page profile in the Missoulian with the headline, "Hellgate kids either love him or hate him."

It opens with several letters complaining about the student journalist's work for the Lance. "I polarize people," he told reporter Kathleen Key. "They either respect me or hate me. I'm polite when politeness is called for, but I'm not delicate when there is no reason for delicacy." He added, "I'm kind of strange."

A negative review of a Boston concert apparently upset some readers, but Albini care in the slightest.

"I thought it was an atrocious concert -- down and out rotten, a waste of time of an otherwise productive evening," he told Key.

While on staff, he wrote articles, a column, shot photographs and drew editorial cartoons.

According to the profile, Albini wrote more serious work, like an article about the gay community in Missoula that he said was "well-received," except for some adults who said it "shouldn't have been published in a student newspaper to be read by 'impressionable children,' " he said.

"I had a friend who was gay who told me that growing up and realizing that you're different is something that should be talked about more," he told the Missoulian.

He also discusses hobbies, including state championship performances in drama competitions.

One quote has a noteworthy mention of a local artist.

"My art teacher, George Gogas, always complains that I violate the medium I'm working in," he said.

In a 1984 Missoulian article, reporter Sam Richards checked with in Albini, then 21 years old. He said that in general, he's found more of an audience around Chicago. "Fewer people want to kill me here than wanted to (there)," he said.

He talks about forming Big Black with guitarist Santiago Domingo. Albini said his own guitar contributions are "screaming death noise ... very loud, beating you about the face and neck."

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