Geography of Pitchfork – Hidden Agendas

A doctoral student at UCLA, a mister Patrick Adler, recently decided to go through and chart out by city where every act on Pitchfork‘s Top 100 Tracks of 2011 list is based. The results, while unsurprising, do bring up some interesting questions.

Looking at the results (above) the first thing you’ll notice is that New York eclipses the rest of the list, almost doubling the figures of London, its nearest competitor. Far from indicating that New York has the most vibrant music scene in the world though (a claim that I would disagree with even if it did), what the results signify to the discerning eye is that Pitchfork may indeed have an agenda that dictates what music they promote and report on.

Let’s back up a little first before I get too deep here. First off, what do the results of Adler’s report tell us about Pitchfork? Well, first of all it tells us they really like New York, with London and LA coming in almost half a lap behind. With London being the only city outside of North America to have more than two mentions on the list, it also tells us they really like American music.

Looking at the list itself however, it’s clear that it is very diverse, with Cass McCombs sitting right between Beyonce and Azelia Banks, so there is no bias toward a certain style or genre. Instead the figures suggest a different type of bias, Pitchfork’s attention and affection seemingly being very much based around the music communities that they are best positioned to influence and therefore profit from. Now this is not news to anyone, in fact I’m sure it was blatantly obvious to most people who read the site that they have their eyes set on New York so that they can find the next Grizzly Bear, Animal Collective or TV On The Radio. The real question is: why are they so focussed on keeping track of the trends and why trends in this one particular city? What’s the incentive?

One of the main criticisms that has been levelled at Pitchfork is that they manipulate or distort their reporting so as to promote and then influence certain scenes, and nowhere would this be more present than in New York, especially Brooklyn where the site has had a name in the popularisation of everyone from MGMT to Das Rascist. Take for instance the site’s well publicised deleting of articles and reviews that are out of line with the cultural paradigm they’re promoting. There’s the famous Zaireeka review where the writer gave the album a 0.0/10, while also deriding Flaming Lips fans in general. That has now been removed and replaced with almost unilateral praise of Wayne Coyne and his troupe. There is also the deleting of two By Divinge Right albums after members Brendan Canning and Leslie Feist found success with Broken Social Scene, the original review describing the band as “retard(s) with a guitar” who “wouldn’t know Rock and Roll if she broke into their house and beat up their children,” rating the album 1.8/10. I could go on.

Their favouring of New York then can be seen as an effort by Pitchfork to bolster the reputation and popularity of artists who they can in turn influence. Imagine you’re an artist who blew up overnight thanks to a Pitchfork review. I’m sure you might feel some kind of debt to the site, and therefore try to repay said debt either with exclusive material, priority access or even discounted performance fees to play one of Pitchfork’s many music events.

Looking at the company’s live music interests as the main, if not only, incentive driving the site’s coverage, New York’s dominance starts to make even more sense. The annual Pitchfork Music Festival happens once a year in Chicago and benefits a lot from Pitchfork’s connections within the music industry and especially New York’s music community, while their events that they run in Europe are in no doubt made all the more easier due to their access to London’s music world. This also explains why LA, currently a hotbed of creativity within music, has such a poor showing compared to New York as Pitchfork have no events nearby, festivals such as Coachella and Sasquatch already eating up their market share. Looking, for instance, at their nearly universal dismissal of Stone’s Throw artists, one has to wonder how they would treat the label if they were from New York, where artists with similar styles such as Mr Muthafuckin’ eXsquire receive praise and support.

As deplorable as such behaviour is, it’s important to put Pitchfork in context with the rest of the music media and the media in general, as their actions are relatively benevolent when compared to their peers. First cab off the rank would have to be Rolling Stone, which did the same thing back in its heyday and has now sold whatever integrity it once had to advertising interests to the point where almost anyone with an understanding of the magazine’s history looks at it as a joke or a farce. NME is another good example of a terrible publication motivated by self-interest and trend following/setting who are even more narrowly focussed than Pitchfork in terms of geography and genres. Moving out of music then, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Empire continues to make bids for world domination while simultaneously lowering the brain function of the populace by flooding us with sensationalist crap. So really Pitchfork aren’t that bad.

What I think get’s a lot of people upset is that they feel the site is masquerading as some kind of infallible barometer of the shifting climate in music, some tome of taste written in the blood of Robert Johnson and bound in the flesh of every other deceased rock star that followed in his footsteps. Maybe it was trying to be once upon a time, but now it’s a business and a fairly profitable one at that, and seeing it as anything else is foolish and naive. In the end, any appearance of credibility in the site is more in the eye of the beholder than anywhere else, so it’s best to just use it as a resource and not put too much stock in what they say or try and shove down your throat, and the same goes for any media outlet in existence, even this one. What did you think that the people running these sites just want to share good music with you all? The sooner you unburden yourselves of any delusions of journalistic integrity the sooner you can live a life free from their corrupting influence.

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