Collapse Board manifesto number 9: Pitchfork, the betrayal of music & some great songs
by Everett True
This is where I put forward my own humble reasons for writing about music. And they don’t include Pitchfork’s inbuilt sexism or abject servility.
There’s only one inviolate rule. (This is an unfinished article, by necessity.)
It’s about the music. (It’s never just about the music.) Don’t lose sight of that. You get the music wrong, your readers will not forgive you. (You get the music right, your readers will not forget you.) Most people who read me do so despite my gregarious self-promotion. They read me (hopefully) first and foremost because I have a clue. Not much, just enough. An iota of respect. An ability to sort. Then, and only then, they stick with me because I have a style, a ‘personality’. (I am aware this doesn’t always apply.) I’m not scared to champion new artists, not scared to go against the grain, not scared to call time on bullshit. I would like to be loved but prefer to remain True. I don’t follow a consensus. The only history I’m interested in is mine. The only folk I care to cite are those who have a personal connection to me. (Doesn’t mean I have to know them.) I have a proven track record that can be easily verified. You might not agree with me but you sure as hell know what I stand for. Sometimes. (I like to catch folk off-beam, confound expectations, challenge preconceptions … have fun while I’m fucking.) I might try everything within my power to draw attention to my musical preferences and loves, to a degree where it becomes near-parody or incomprehensible or hype or embarrassingly self-referential but I do so because it’s about the music. I care to a ridiculous extent about the fucking music. I started writing because I wanted everyone to dance down the front of shows. I still write for that reason.
Maybe every music critic does. That’d be great. (Just a thought: these people who deny music writing the chance of contextualisation via personal experience … do they also only listen to music that doesn’t contextualise personal experience? How … um … interesting.)
Case in point: Andrew Mueller. Friend, travel writer, war commentator, Australian Rules Football fan, wit, raconteur, guaranteed to light up any room he’s in and annoy/enthuse in equal measures … but Bangs alive! His taste in music. It’s not something I check in on him often for … leaving Ed Kuepper and Straitjacket Fits out of this for one second.
Case in point: Pitchfork – you know what the biggest betrayal by Pitchfork’s editors is? They run with the crowd. They edit and commission and write by consensus. They leave no room for the maverick. They believe reviewing and writing about music should simply be shelf-stacking, accountancy. Do you think they use such a small font size for their reviews because subconsciously they’re embarrassed by the writing? The point size almost implicitly states: oh, please don’t mind us, we know we’re worthless. Don’t you think it’s interesting that the font size for the all-important grade, the only part of the review that isn’t written by the writer, is twice that of the actual copy? Definitely some Freudian stuff going on there. It’s all so polite, designed not to offend anywhere – whether the review is positive or negative, it doesn’t matter, I’m talking about the language.
It’s clear that Pitchfork writers know their place in the world: and RULE NUMBER ONE is that they know they are parasites. How many times do I need to say this? Criticism is only as parasitical as you choose to make it: it is only as parasitical of music as music is of life. By behaving like second class citizens, Pitchfork writers become second class citizens. And what’s even worse, is that so many other places are in thrall to the Pitchfork template – so, by necessity, watered down. All these people will thus – and rightly so – be treated as second class citizens: and their opinions that might have had some worth before now have little or none. For why would you pay attention to the word of a self-designated second class citizen? And so they actually fail to contribute to any sort of discourse going on around music, by ducking their main responsibilities, by being so cowardly and weak and vain. Because all they do is document and neatly stack away, mark – as if they have any fucking right to do so – and assess.
Frankly, I couldn’t give a crap about any of the above – they choose the style they want to write in, and the way they want to present the writing (where those revenue-generating scores take far greater precedence over any turn of phrase): that’s their choice. They and I see different here: I think music writing should entertain first and foremost. They think it should be subservient to music.
Whatever. Pitchfork’s failings in managing to make any worthwhile contribution to the discourse around music is not their main fault. Not at all. It’s not even in the way they deny women a voice even though women make up a very sizeable proportion of both their audience and the artists they write about. (Women just aren’t interested, don’t you get it Everett?) It’s not even the lack of individuality among their writers, the fact they’ve coagulated them all into one bigger, all-encompassing brand. Though that’s crap, obviously. It’s not even the way that Pitchfork have turned the alternative into the mainstream (that doesn’t matter: there’s always another alternative, another underground, to be found). Those are not their biggest betrayals. This is.
They have no fucking idea whatsoever about music. To paraphrase David Lee Roth, Pitchfork writers all like Bon Iver because Pitchfork writers all look like Bon Iver.