Why we hate Pitchfork

Let’s start with defining the “we” in that title above. We are the people who listen to the sort of music labeled independent or alternative. We gravitate towards the stuff that doesn’t get radio airplay outside of your local college station, but we occasionally over-intellectualize pop music and write long blog posts justifying our affection for someone like Lady GaGa. We discover and talk about music on the internet. We also acquire it using the internet, via torrents and other methods of piracy. We might talk about supporting local record stores, and many of us buy vinyl, but the majority of the music on our omnipresent MP3 players wasn’t paid for. We go to general admission shows at our local rock clubs where we see the bands that we read and talk about on blogs and forums.

We hate Pitchfork because they are tastemakers. We hate their influence. We don’t like the idea of a casual music fan turning to Pitchfork for all their indie rock needs. We have nightmares about kids in skinny jeans and monochrome American Apparel t-shirts permanently plugged into iPods that exclusively contain albums given the honor of Best New Music. We hate their decimal points and how almost every album they review gets something between a 6 and 8 on the 10 point scale. We don’t like the bitch slap reviews, either. We hate the snarkiness and arrogance of that Black Kids review, even though we also hate Black Kids.

These are all pretty good reasons to hate. Pitchfork bashing is similar to Starbucks bashing in the sense that both sets of haters are rejecting the pre-fab identity that both entities offer (not that these are distinct groups of haters by any means – surely lots of overlap). Getting your new music from Pitchfork is like stopping at Starbucks daily for your morning coffee. It’s convenient, but not very creative and maybe a bit lazy. The choices have mostly been made for you.

What we the haters tend to overlook is that the music that Pitchfork pushes is better than most of the other shit out there. It’s like Starbucks’ coffee – you might be able to find something better at a local coffee house, but Starbucks is still better than most of the gas stations and fast food places you pass on your way into work.

The announcement of Altered Zones this week caused some predictably polarized reactions. To keep talking in coffee terms, it would be like if Starbucks announced that they were going to open a counter in all local stores that will sell coffee from popular local coffee houses. Maybe it would work better if this hypothetical local stuff they sold was all esoteric roasts and strange flavors Or maybe it would just be pastries.. Whatever. It made a lot of people angry, which made a lot of defenders defensive. Both sides are blowing things out of proportion, though, because it’s just the same old Pitchfork argument at this point. Nobody actually knows what effect Altered Zones is going to have, or what it’s really going to look like. Right now, everybody could be wrong.

Altered Zones might end up broadening Pitchfork’s coverage of noise, drone, and other experimental genres. The existing coverage is superficial at best. Major releases by notable bands (Black Dice, Excepter, Emeralds) might get reviewed, but it occasionally happens months after the albums actually come out. These albums are just part of the story anyway. Artists working in these genres are almost uniformly prolific, and Pitchfork almost never covers the CD-Rs, cassettes, and limited pressings they put out. I’m not blaming them – it’s exhausting enough keeping up with these releases as a fan, and Pitchfork only has so much space to devote to genres their primary audience has limited interest in.

Altered Zones might allow some of these side releases to get a little coverage. The bloggers Pitchfork has picked that focus on the noisier stuff might pick the cream of the crop and winnow out the inessential crap (because there’s always inessential crap). It could also make space for the less major artists that currently get no love. Currently, in order to get mentioned on Pitchfork, a fringe artist needs to already be a superstar of whatever scene they operate in.

That’s best case scenario. Worst case scenario is that Altered Zones becomes an extension of what Pitchfork already is. There would be more chillwave MP3s, more hype. Whatever bands or movements that Pitchfork is currently jocking would just get jocked harder. The Forkcast/Playlist/Track Reviews/whatever would just be expanded into a separate site. Instead of blog buzz bands getting a track posted on Pitchfork and then breaking into the next level, Pitchfork (supreme indie tastemakers) would be involved in the blog buzz from the ground up. This would be a bad thing, because it would just make Pitchfork that much louder when they shout, “You are an indie fan, so you will now like this indie band that we have decided to shove down your throat.”

Here’s my confession: I’m not a card-carrying member of the “we.” I don’t read Pitchfork, but I’ll check in to generally see what kind of stuff they’re covering and what ratings they’re giving major indie releases. I don’t read features and interviews unless they’re linked and recommended elsewhere, and I don’t watch their Pitchfork.tv videos. It’s not my favorite site, but I don’t actively hate them. I just don’t pay them much attention.

I am going to their festival, however. The lineup is too good to deny, and I’ve got a couple of close friends in Chicago I haven’t seen in awhile. LCD Soundsystem, Liars, Lightning Bolt, WHY?, Raekwon….none of these can be considered “Pitchfork bands.” They existed and had strong fanbases before the site really championed any of them. I’m excited for some of the bands that Pitchfork did help break, too (Beach House, Wolf Parade, Broken Social Scene). They can’t be wrong all the time.

Maybe I should be more militant regarding Pitchfork, but I can’t muster up the anger to really rage at them. I might superficially judge someone who listens to exclusively Best New Music the way I would judge someone who passes a great local coffee shop en route to Starbucks, but what’s the point of getting really mad at them? Isn’t it possible that when a real love of music or coffee takes hold those people will eventually dig a little deeper? Would the surface fans even listen to indie rock if there wasn’t an indie monolith like Pitchfork, or would they still just be listening to Coldplay?

Maybe Altered Zones will change my mind one way or the other, but right now I’m still ambivalent.

    • emilyhogan
    • July 1st, 2010

    I really like what you’ve said here. It definitely puts it in perspective. I read Pitchfork daily and for me it’s a site I love to hate. They mostly align with my tastes, but sometimes they give something incredible a low rating. And I think that makes me upset because I know so many people put a lot of stock in what Pitchfork said and it’s annoying that they might overlook something awesome because Pitchfork doesn’t think it’s cool. They definitely have an MTV effect right now and for some bands that’s a pretty sweet deal.
    I’m really excited about Altered Zones and I really think (and hope) it’ll be like what you described as the best case scenario. Mainly because I follow most of the bloggers involved with Altered Zones and Ryan Schreiber of Pitchfork knows what’s up, even though sometimes the contributors Pitchfork has do not. The idea behind this collective is great and they are bringing together both well known and not so well known bloggers in order to shine a light on music that people may not know about.
    I guess only time will tell.

    • Felley
    • August 31st, 2010

    I too fall into the category of casual Pitchfork reader and I do hold a fair degree of animosity towards their utterly predictable style of music journalism.

    A few of my friends have fancied themselves as journo’s in the past and it seemed so easy for them to fall into the trap of being desperately alternative. Pitchfork do this to the point where they are openly slating something that would be otherwise considered good in the consciousness of most alternative music fans.

    The Black Kids thing was an obvious farce, but it has been done before and will happen again. Most of their decimalised number crunching is more of a statement than an actual empirical judgement anyway.

    Time and time again I read up on an album I enjoy only to spot the Pitchfork review has absolutely slaughtered it. Thems the brakes I know, but my personal favourite album ‘The Stone Roses’ got a 10/10 so i’m kinda inclined to occasionally trust their judgement.

    I guess what really grinds my gears is the way the reviews meander through meaningless ‘scene-setting’ writing tricks and just plain rude jabs at respected artists. It’s gonzo journalism to it’s logical extreme and unfortunately it gives the impression that all alternative music fans are bitter and will quite happily spend every waking moment slagging off established artists in favour of the ‘gems’ they have discovered themselves.

    • Tim
    • January 18th, 2011

    Great post; I agree with a lot of what you said. I read Pitchfork not because I’m some sort of indie poser. I just happen to like a lot of the music they publish. Are they setting my taste? Maybe. But for me thats not such a bad thing. I don’t have the time or patience to go digging around every indie niche on the internet to find music. So I just check Pitchfork. Really, there could be a much worse indie “taste-making” sites to use.

    • troy the invincible
    • March 22nd, 2011

    pitchfork are a website full of shortmemoried tosspotpots. Looking thru their best ofs trail of the dead got the ‘magical’ 10.0/10.0 yet only got 100 in the best albums of the 2000’s that means fuck there must have been 99 10.1 or mores. They also make comments about bands when they know they have no recourse, full of fucking cowards!

    • Pete Bondurant
    • August 29th, 2011

    Good article – however the Starbucks comparison is inappropriate I reckon. Anyone who knows a bit about music knows Pitchfork, while wanky and inconsistent does some “good”. Anyone who knows a bit about coffee knows Starbucks is just poo. Not because it’s pre-fab or commercial, it just tastes like anus (heated to 1000 degrees). Where I come from, If you see someone with starbucks coffee, you can bet they are a shit-muncher who would never have even heard of Pitchfork. It honestly is far closer to gas station swill than something from a real coffee shop. Having said that I still get your point.

  1. It seems to me that there are gradations to the media covering music: corporate radio stations, MTV-VH1, RollingStone and 10k other glossy mags, internets, local papers and stations, venues and retailers.

    It is easy to make generalizations about various media ( x sucks, y is good), but these probably don’t always hold true.

    I think it boils down to a good writer getting out her point. If Pitchfork occasionally covers a band I like, and does it in whatever convoluted way they think is appropriate for them… well, I still like the band, and maybe other folks will find them due to their indentured servitude.

    Just cuz a band blows up (become tasteful), doesn’t necessarily make them suck. If they react poorly to the attention (make a sucky album), then we pass and move on to the next shiny thing.

    It is not like these bands are sacred to us, right…

    • Andy Hinton
    • March 20th, 2012

    I don’t really get the Pitchfork haters and the whole ‘they’re a hipster band’ thing. Many of their albums of last year, ie. War On Drugs, Kurt Vile, Destroyer, Shabbaz Palaces were in my list. They are a website that are popular and review alternative music in the same way that say the NME is a magazine that reviews music and decent record shops have albums of the week. The stuff they like is generally the stuff I like but often their best new music in my opinion is crap but it’s up to me to listen to it and decide. They also often love some rubbish commercial hip-hop which I find strange but it’s just their opinion.

    Like someone else said, who has the time to sift through the enormous amount of music that appears online now and any blog’s opinion is just that, an opinion.

    Living in England I used to use Dround In Sound more and you see a lot of Pitchfork hate on there but it is increasingly plagued by amateurish, badly written so-called reviews which are more about the ego of the wanna-be reviewer.

    And as for the Starbucks comparison that is just nonsense. Starbucks coffee is crap and certainly not hip over here and I shouldn’t think most Starbucks drinkers have even heard of Pitchfork or the music that it covers.

    • jimmy metterman
    • July 15th, 2012

    its on its way out….”let the needle drop” on youtube is by far the best thing to happen to indie and alternative music. Please show some support to that channel, and pitchfork will start to crumble.

  1. July 15th, 2010

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