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30/06/2015 07:43 BST | Updated 29/06/2016 06:59 BST

Steve Albini: A Solution to the Problem With Music

Musicians are usually deeply flawed or immensely tedious. Steve Albini is neither. Since the 1980s, he has been a guitarist and singer in three seminal bands and the recording engineer of some of the most important alternative music of the past 30 years. He's also an essayist, restaurant critic, public speaker and skilled poker player.

Now aged 52, sporting a comfortable midriff and piercing blue eyes set under extraordinarily curly eyebrows, Albini was in Istanbul for the second time with his band Shellac for a concert at IKSV's Salon earlier this month.

I have followed his work in front of the microphone and behind the mixing desk since I first heard his band Big Black in the mid-1980s. During a long chat ahead of the show, which included a dinner of spicy meatballs and haricot beans, we not only talked about music but also karaoke, baseball and local politics.

Shellac emerged towards the end of an era when there was a genuinely independent music scene and when it was still possible to make a modest living as a musician. Since then, things have changed radically both in the mainstream and on the fringes. Now it's much harder to survive on income derived from music, and Albini doesn't think it's digital downloading that's to blame.

When the conversation did turn to music, he dismissed the old revenue stream that mostly favours labels and called for a change to the system. It's an idea he elaborates upon in his keynote speech about digital downloading at the Face the Music conference in Melbourne in 2014, which has been viewed nearly 66,000 times. In the speech, he's enthusiastic about downloading - the bête noire of the mainstream - for its potential to redistribute control and resources back to musicians and fans.

Albini has a long history as a vehement critic of the music industry. His seminal 1993 essay "The Problem With Music", which gives my old group Stereolab a gentle poke, attacks the industry's coercion of bands into believing they must sign opaque contracts at all costs. He also calculates the meagre earnings a band would make after securing what appears to be a very lucrative deal.

The gig in Istanbul was as self-assured as the many times I've seen them play previously and as energetic as a band half their age.

"Playing live is a way to move my body without actually dancing," Albini said. Still, it takes its toll. "I promised [bassist] Bob that I'd be able to go on for 100 years. Now I'm not so sure," he said. (He suffered a bout of food poisoning early in the tour and tore a muscle straight after.)

The band played familiar songs interspersed with some from their most recent album - "Dude Incredible," released by Touch and Go in 2014 - and one still a work in progress.

New songs evolve in the rehearsal room and on stage over a period of many months. "The one thing that most bands have, which is when one person goes away and writes a song, has never happened to us," he said, accounting for Shellac's sporadic output.

They have released five albums (compared with 13 Stereolab albums in the same period) with gaps of up to seven years between them since their first full-length release "At Action Park" in 1994.

Much of Albini's time is spent working in his steadfastly analogue recording studio Electrical Audio. It means the band gets together for writing and rehearsal infrequently, with drummer Todd Trainer travelling the 800-mile round trip from Minneapolis to Chicago every few months. But the effort is worth it.

"I'm very glad we never made a career out of being in a band. Every now and again I hate my job but I would never want to hate being in Shellac."