Saturday, December 27, 2008

variations on a theme: Iain Burgess

edit: New post here with a much more comprehensive compilation of Iain's recordings, in light of his recent passing...


Iain Burgess, for many years, was the "architect" of the Chicago classic punk sound in the 80s and early 90s. If your record wasn't engineered by Iain, it seemingly didn't exist. Virtually every Chicago punk/alternative band used him at one point or another.

Iain in 2003-ish, at his residential studio Black Box in France

Oddly there's little to no biographical information about him on the internets. I do know he came to Chicago from the UK, did a lot of production, and eventually moved to France to open his own studio. Steve Albini credits Iain for introducing him to a lot of recording techniques he uses today, especially about preserving the sound, presence and impact of a loud punk band playing in its element - live.

Iain in 1988 behind the boards at Chicago Recording Company, recording the Poster Children (see below)

Having searched the vast, wide web of the world, I do believe this is the first blogpost ever to spotlight Iain Burgess's works. Hooray!

So enough blathering - what about the music?

EFFIGIES / "Fly on a Wire"

(from the 1985 Ruthless LP Fly On A Wire, long out of print)

Chicago's Effigies were among the first postpunk bands to make a name for themselves outside Chicagoland. This is a terrific proto-indierock blast that shows how they've moved on from hardcore to something maybe more melodic.


BIG BLACK / "Kerosene"

(from the 1986 Homestead LP Atomizer, currently available on Touch And Go on vinyl, and on CD as part of The Rich Man's Eight Track Tape)

From their first real full-length (not counting Lungs or Bulldozer), really, what else is there to do in tiny smalltown America than jump kerosene? Iain really makes the guitars scraaaang and that walloping piledriving drum machine hammer.



(from the 1987 Pravda 7" EP Hang Ten, long out of print)

I saw these guys open for Naked Raygun at the Riviera, Chicago in 1989 and ever since been on a quest for Defoliants material. Even then you couldn't find the records, and even today the utter lack of Defoliants--age on the internets is disappointing. This is the only track I could find and it just doesn't do the memory of these guys live-on-stage justice. Think Dick Dale fronting a punk band. Amazing stuff.


NAKED RAYGUN / "Soldiers Requiem" and "Vanilla Blue"

("Soldiers Requiem" from the 1988 Caroline LP Jettison, "Vanilla Blue" from their 1987 self-released 7", also on the CD issue of Jettison)

The torch-bearers of the Chicago punk scene, probably the band with the greatest national and international recognition. These guys were/are something else live, yet they never were afraid to themselves laugh at the whole spectacle of it all - even having John Haggerty's guitar lowered to him from the rafters at the Cabaret Metro. Amazing, amazing band, this lineup was their classic lineup that lasted from 1984-1989. 1989 saw Haggerty quit to form Pegboy (see below).



(from the 1989 Limited Potential LP Flower Plower, currently on the band's own Twelve Inch Records label)

Formed at University of Illinois - Champaign/Urbana in the late 80s, this band really lived (and still lives) by the Minutemen "we jam econo" credo. This track is from their first full-length record and a great snapshot of the energy and spunk the Poster Kids carry.


PEGBOY / "Through My Fingers" and "Strong Reaction"

("Through My Fingers" from the 1990 Quarterstick EP Three-Chord Monte, "Strong Reaction" from their 1991 Quarterstick LP Strong Reaction)

Pegboy was formed in 1989 after John Haggerty quit Raygun, joining up instead with his brother Joe on drums and two ex-Bhopal Stiffs on vocals and bass. Really, the only reason to listen to Pegboy is Haggerty's guitar sound, he's got one hell of a roar and his playing style is perfect for the music.


JAWBOX / "Static"

(from the 1992 Dischord LP Novelty)

The first non-Illinois band here, Jawbox came from the Washington, DC Dischord scene and in fact J Robbins was former Government Issue - another key hardcore touchpoint band. Dischord and the Chicago Touch And Go scene shared a lot of friends, commonality and ethics and they cross-pollinated quite a bit. Here we have these guys traveling to Chicago to record with Iain, on their last independent record before skipping Dischord and signing to Atlantic.


After the mid-90s Iain was relatively quiet production-wise, concentrating on building his own studio in France. There have been a a couple really fantastic records made there and with his assistance, including.....

NINA NASTASIA / "Superstar"

(from her 2003 Touch And Go LP Run To Ruin, recorded by Steve Albini and Iain Burgess at his French residential studio)

This Brooklyn, NY singer/guitarist is amazing - and this record is a perfect example of how you cannot pigeonhole Steve Albini's production style.


Like these? Thoughts?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. real late on this but thanks. i have a live tape of the defoliants at exit circa 1988. let me know if you're interested.

  3. I have all the Defoliants material available. Drop me a line at andy at

  4. RIP Iain. Your name graces much of my vinyl and I think you for it.