Above a pilates studio in Wicker Park sits the headquarters of Pitchforkmedia.com, more resembling a warehouse than an office: With the high ceilings, evenly spaced desks, giant music posters lining the walls and countless crates of promotional CDs on the floor, it’s like a factory whose product is information about obscure bands.
In the 13 years since its founding, Pitchfork has become one of the preeminent sources for discussion of independent rock music on the web, gaining a reputation for both creating and decimating bands’ reputations with raves and pans. The Pitchfork brand has quietly expanded into a media giant, providing a constant stream of news updates, MP3s, columns and interviews alongside its reviews. And this past April, Pitchfork launched “Pitchfork TV” — a video site packed with music videos, original footage and little-seen documentaries.
Pitchfork’s rise has not been without backlash, however: It’s often accused of pretension, elitism and only liking music that the rest of the world would call noise. With 1.2 million unique visitors per month, though, it’s hard to deny the site’s impact on music culture. NBN talked to senior news editor Amy Phillips to find out the source of the publication’s power.
NBN: What does Pitchfork do best?
Phillips: I think what Pitchfork does best is discovering new bands and presenting them in an informed critical capacity. Not just saying “here’s a new band, they’re awesome!” but getting a little deeper than that.
How has the site changed?
It’s changed a lot. It used to just be Ryan [Schriber, editor-in-chief] in his bedroom. Now, there’s a full-time staff of about 15. There’s an office in New York as well.
It’s just gotten way, way, way more content then it used to be. There’s a music festival now and Pitchfork TV, a second website — so just a lot bigger.
What are the goals?
The goal is to turn people on to new music and engage in informed, critical discussion about that music and to give our opinions about how we feel about music and — from my perspective, I run the news section — just to keep people up on bands they care about, or don’t care about.
Pitchfork is often viewed as the tastemaker for underground music. Why is it so influential?
First of all, I don’t think we’re the only tastemaker out there. I think we’ve had some influence because, one, Ryan stuck with it through thick and thin and never gave up and never “sold out.” We’re not controlled by MySpace or Microsoft or Buzznet or something, and I think that people like the integrity of the site in that we’re not afraid to say bad things. We’re not afraid to give strong opinions.
I think what appeals to people is that we’re fans first before anything else. Music is our number one love.
We’re not trying to be cool. We’re not trying to be trend setters. We are just really enthusiastic about music and want people to share our enthusiasm.
Is there a Pitchfork sound?
I don’t think you can say that anymore… nowadays, if you look at what gets our Best New Music or what ends up on our year-end list, you know, everything from Kanye West to Vampire Weekend to Burial. I don’t think you can pigeonhole it anymore.
Pitchfork is sometimes tied to an underground, hipster culture. How do you feel about that association, for better or for worse?
If you know any of us you know that we’re just huge, huge music nerds. Just, music is our number one love and what we care about. Sure, music can be cool, and knowing about certain bands can give you cred in certain circles but I don’t think most of the people on our staff would identify as hipsters or trend setters or anything cool.
I don’t know if that’s necessarily a stigma, “oh, you guys are cool.” I guess that’s good.