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INTERVIEW: @PitchforkMe, On What Makes Pitchfork Tick

By Jon Graef in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 23, 2012 6:20PM

2012_10_pforkme.jpg @PitchforkMe is an anonymously run Twitter account that takes taking them at their word to a whole new level. The account simply quotes some of the more egregiously wordy or ponderous or absurd single lines from Pitchfork music reviews, without comment. It’s all in good fun, and Pitchfork writers and fans shouldn’t take it personally, according to the Chicago-based anonymous music omnivore who runs it. We recently did an email interview with @PitchforkMe, addressing the intentions behind the account and the choice to stay anonymous, among other topics.

CHICAGOIST: Who are you? Are you involved with the music industry, or are you just a fan? What is your involvement/engagement with so-called indie music? (Or metal/hip-hop/punk/etc?)

@PitchforkMe: I’m just a huge music fan, not involved professionally with the industry at all (I work in finance/investing). I listen to all kinds of music, always have. I favored punk/indie rock in high school and college (late 90s, early 2000s) and still listen to that stuff a fair amount, and I’m actually getting back into it a bit lately. I also really like pop, and am starting to figure out hip-hop. I go to shows when I can, too.

C: What hip-hop are you exploring? Chicago's got a very vibrant hip-hop scene right now.

@PitchforkMe: Chicago does have a very vibrant hip-hop scene, and I’m still learning the very basics from popular artists from all over. Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Mos Def - I saw him at the Shrine last week and have been looping tracks from Black on Both Sides, The Ecstatic, and Black Star ever since. I also like Common, Wu-Tang Clan, Gang Starr, Kanye West, Living Legends, Jurassic 5, Nas… I’m really excited to see Pete Rock and CL Smooth next month at the Shrine, because they’ll be performing all of Mecca and the Soul Brother, which I love.

C: When/Why did you start the account? What do you think of the response to it so far?

@PitchforkMe: So a couple of things led to the start. About five years ago, a friend of mine was just starting to get into indie-rock and somehow we got around to talking about how insane some lines from Pitchfork reviews were. For a while, we’d turn any description into something in mock-Pitchfork-style, like for example:

- “it feels like driving in the rain but you're not frantic and there is no traffic, but the windows are fogging up”
- “or maybe like sitting in an old leather couch in a cigar bar puffing on a decent but acrid, not fantastic cigar jingling the rocks in your cheap scotch and uncomfortably contemplating what the lady across the room is thinking”

(Those are my friend’s actual words, thanks to a gchat transcript)

I then dropped out of indie rock stuff for a few years, but have been recently getting back into it. Because I work in finance, I follow the Twitter feed of Josh Brown (@TheReformedBroker) who wrote a blog post about Pitchfork (available here)

In my email to him about the post, I actually discussed Pitchfork ratings and proposed the @PitchforkMe Twitter account idea, and he was supportive. I realized Pitchfork has been writing this way for so long, so there would be endless material. I started the account that day. I created it solely for entertainment purposes, because it really makes me laugh, even re-reading some of the quotes just now.

The response has been amazing and really surprising. I figured I couldn’t be the only one who has read more than one Pitchfork review and is capable of observing a pattern. However, I didn’t expect so many people to enjoy it as well. It could be that I just didn’t recognize the reach of Pitchfork itself when I started the account. Tweets about @PitchforkMe also crack me up, by the way. Stuff like, “I assume most of @PitchforkMe is just [Brent DiCrescenzo], writer of my favorite, and least favorite, reviews there” and “I wonder how many of these are Ian Cohen quotes.”

C: In your bio, you state "Pitchfork is onto something...I don't know what, but." What do you mean by this?

@PitchforkMe: I just mean to suggest these quotes sound crazy out of context and it’s up to the reader to decide to how to interpret them: as crazy talk, something deeper (and so deep that we’re too dense to get it), or just funny/pretentious bullshit imagery.

C: When did you start/stop reading Pitchfork? How do you choose the review excerpts to post?

@PitchforkMe: I started reading Pitchfork when I was in college, I think (early 2000s), but only here and there. I’ve never taken their actual ratings very seriously, to be honest. When I can, I read Pitchfork’s features, news, and interviews.

On which reviews I’ve selected/targeted, a few notes: first, I read reviews of the releases I care about, followed by recent reviews by the reviewers who consistently write tweet-able lines. Sometimes strangers on Twitter will point me towards certain lines, and other times, I’ll go back and search for reviews still memorable to me, even years later (e.g. the review for Radiohead’s Kid A). It doesn’t take much time at all -- at this point, the lines jump out at me when I am quickly skimming.

C: What do you think that the excerpts you post reveal, if anything? Is it just about posting goofy-sounding, pretentious wordbites? Or is there a greater satirical point?

@PitchforkMe: The tweets, as a collection, show Pitchfork’s peculiar, quirky style of writing. Most of the lines I pick out are the funny or nonsensical ones, and those are lines that I hope people will read and laugh aloud about. Other lines are selected because of how pretentious the writer sounds, and I don’t have any commentary beyond that. It’d be unfair because I’m taking these lines out of context. Also, I imagine it’s difficult to find something original to say and an original way to say it when you’re writing about music on a daily basis.

I feel there is a consistency to the overall writing style, and it seems to have been a very successful marketing scheme. However, there are times when these super casual, overly revealing descriptions seem crafted to drive clicks, rather than to convey something resembling an opinion. I suppose they are trying to achieve both. Most Pitchfork writers sincerely make an effort to turn a sound/emotion into words, into a snapshot/scene the reader has experienced. And when the reader has actually shared that experience, I think it makes the review/rating easier to buy into. Pitchfork has built a business around its writing style, basically, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for that.

C: What's the biggest criticism/point of praise you have for Pitchfork?

@PitchforkMe:I think this is largely addressed in the question above, but in addition to that:

Praise: I genuinely respect and appreciate Pitchfork for its features, interviews, and news/reviews coverage. Its scale is tremendous, aggregating content for not only indie rock, but a lot of other popular music too. It doesn’t cover every review, but it has one of the most comprehensive review archives on the Internet.

Criticism: There are times when I question the writer’s real tone/take of a review, because it seems like he or she is writing solely to stir shit up. My hope is that Pitchfork writers don’t take themselves too seriously and that they’re writing for their own enjoyment as well. I know what it’s like to put your writing out there and be judged on the Internet, where everyone has an opinion.

C: Do you think you'll stop? Or out yourself at some point? Why or why not?

@PitchforkMe: I’ll stop when it’s no longer amusing to me. For now, it's a fun, easy distraction. I have no plans to out myself because honestly, I’m not sure anyone cares to know! It’d probably be way more interesting if I were secretly working at Pitchfork or something. I’m just someone who loves words and music.