Last week cult indie fest All Tomorrow’s Parties announced that it was staging a fourth full-length UK event this year, December’s Nightmare Before Christmas at Butlins, Minehead (Dec 4 to 6) now something more like the Nightmare Before The Nightmare Before..., with the new Ten Years Of ATP celebration taking place the following weekend.
Containing nothing but bands that’ve played before, it’s kind of meant as a celebration of a decade of the holiday camp-based noisefest. The surprise announcement has, by-the-by, pissed off a few loyal punters who’d already forked out for the My Bloody Valentine-curated Nightmare... but maybe it’s better to view it not as a slap on the back, but as an introduction to the parallel indieverse of this most singular of festivals.
And let us take this opportunity to salute the kings of this realm: Shellac.
The trio don’t tend to get too much recognition, mostly because a) they barely ever release records, b) they barely ever play any live dates NOT at ATP and c) their brutally precise mix of stinging noise and sarcasm-drenched bile requires a cast-iron stomach and then some – every single thing about them is like a slap in the face.
Oh, and d) their singer/guitarist Steve Albini is more famous for his dayjob as a sound engineer, his place in indie history pretty much secured thanks to the recording of albums by Nirvana, The Pixies and countless others.
Nonetheless, in underground circles it's common knowledge that taking a blowtorch to the gloss of 'Nevermind' and helping fashion the desperate howlings of 'In Utero' was just Albini paying the bills – he himself called Nirvana “REM with a fuzzbox”.
Shellac piss on Nirvana’s MTV-approved whining, and here are ten reasons why:
1. They’re one of the best bands on the planet - and they only do it part time
Albini and bassist Bob Weston spend their days recording bands at Electric Audio Studios in Chicago. Drummer Todd Trainer is a frickin’ bartender. They are as tight a band as you will ever hear, drums like buildings undergoing controlled demolitions, streaks of abrasive guitar whipping like barbed wire in a hurricane.
2. Despite this you might not even consider them ‘good’ musicians
Or at least you can’t imagine them fitting into another band – the songs are all based around weird chords and strange, staccato rhythms that rely on the moments of silence as much as the brutal noise on either end. It sounds like evil aliens coming up with their own idea of rock. Trainer would make no sense in any other band for sure.
3. They wrote a tribute song for John Peel
Listen out for 3.20 in the implacable trudge of their almighty 'The End Of Radio', the lead track on most recent album 'Excellent Italian Greyhound' – “John was a hell of a man” snarls Albini in a very very very VERY rare example of his actually liking someone.
4. You should never, ever heckle them
Just don’t – after the below happened, a (clearly pretty wasted) Todd Trainer went out into the audience to try and beat the posh little dick up.
5. They have a Q and A session at every gig
It’s not entirely clear why, but they do. Answers invariably withering.
6. They go above and beyond the call of duty
At an ATP gig in London last Halloween, they came on dressed as The Mummy (Albini), Frankenstein’s Monster (Weston), and The Wolfman (Trainer). Weston didn’t drop character all night, conducting the Q&A in groan; Albini only broke cover for his vocals.
7. They do virtually the same set every time, and it’s always brilliant
They’ve only amassed four albums in a near two decade long career, with most of EIG written years before they recorded it. Certain songs – 'Prayer To God', 'Squirrel Song', 'The End Of Radio' – are virtually always played. Yet the intensity and bile they pile into their sets makes each one fresh; a boxer doesn’t get bored of somebody trying to pummel shit out of him, and you won’t be bored of Shellac.
8. They have the best endings to shows ever
Skip to 8.20 if you can’t handle the whole thing, ya wuss.
9. Nothing is sacred
Albini has maybe mellowed a little since his days with Big Black and, er, Rapeman, but it’s all pretty relative: in ‘Prayer To God’ he graphically demands the Almighty slaughter a couple – the chorus simply runs “Just fucking kill him, fuckin kill him, Kill him already, kill him.”
10. They know where their loyalties lie
You’ll only catch Shellac at ATP because Shellac like the music there and know ATP won’t screw them over. Listen to these wise words from Albini on why booking agents are EVIL.