For some, a Chicago-based website Pitchfork is what Rolling Stone magazine was in the 1960s: a repository of musical knowledge, an arbiter of musical taste. Their seal of approval, an 8.0 or higher rating – or the lack of it – can make or break an artist’s career. Pitchfork defines what’s cool and what’s not, to some.
Others despise it – for the same reason. Too often letting fads and their own biases get in the way, Pitchfork is not exactly known for what could be called “a fair review”, rather its controversial statements and its rating system – What exactly is the difference between a 5.4 and 5.5 rating? And they certainly don’t go easy on albums, and a 0.0 rating is not unheard of. However, an artist could do worse than getting a 0.0 rating from Pitchfork: Jet’s Shine On album was “reviewed” by posting a video of a monkey peeing in its mouth.
You may be wondering who, then, managed to get a 10.0 rating? Do you remember Walt Mink’s El Producto or Amon Tobin’s Bricolage? Don’t worry, very few do, but these got a perfect score back in the day. Today, a 10.0 rating is mainly reserved to reissues – or, to Kanye West, defying the magazine’s avant-garde, indie orientation.
Many would agree that Pitchfork can be pretentious and condescending at times, with some of its readers not exactly mincing the words: “Love/hate relationship with Pitchfork stems from the fact that most of the reviewers are elitist fucking men.” Is that what lead one band to issue an open letter to Pitchfork for “giving (them) a thorough slagging on the site”? And its not surprising that controversy ensues when old reviews gets deleted because it is no longer fitting with todays reviews. Case in point, UNKLE’s Psyence Fiction which received a 9.8 score in 1998, got deleted sometime after and referenced as “one of the most anti-climactic and jaw-dropping disappointments of recent years” in 2003.
So, if you too feel ambivalent about Pitchfork, don’t worry – you are certainly not alone: Each time Pitchfork gets mentioned on our Twitter feed or Facebook page, there’s always someone letting us know its the root of all evil. Taste in music is never objective, and Pitchfork has been on the receiving end of adoration as well as disdain from both artists and its readers. For every music fan who says they don’t read it, there seems to be two who does. Even if chances are only one of those two would admit to it.
Love it or hate it, it is a fact that Pitchfork now reaches a wider audience than Spin or Vibe ever did, at least according to Mark Richardson, Pitchfork’s editor-in-chief. Even if the number of Pitchfork’s readers is not as big as claimed, the influence of this magazine is impossible to underestimate. Would Urban Outfitters, Chillwave, Sky Ferreira and FKA Twigs exist without it?
Besides, however unlikely it might seem, Pitchfork outlives the trends and their own self-generated hype bumps. They have to do something right? In 2008, they launched a video channel Pitchfork.tv. A companion site devoted to film debuted last year. Let us not forget the Pitchfork Music Festival, running for almost ten years now. Their growing enterprise now also includes a digital magazine Pitchfork Weekly for Android and iOS, and a print magazine The Pitchfork Review. Obviously, being painfully hip, or at least being a music establishment’s favorite pain is good for business.
What’s your take on Pitchfork?
Written by Anita Slacala with Staffan Ulmert. Published 2014/08/19. More articles.