Pavement Vs. Pitchfork: Why It Matters

Pavement at Pitchfork; credit: Daniel Boczarski / Redferns i i

Pavement -- (from left to right) Stephen Malkmus, Steve West, Mark Ibold, Bob Nastanovich and Scott Kannberg -- perform during the third and final day of Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago last weekend. Daniel Boczarski / Redferns hide caption

itoggle caption Daniel Boczarski / Redferns
Pavement at Pitchfork; credit: Daniel Boczarski / Redferns

Pavement -- (from left to right) Stephen Malkmus, Steve West, Mark Ibold, Bob Nastanovich and Scott Kannberg -- perform during the third and final day of Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago last weekend.

Daniel Boczarski / Redferns

The Pitchfork Music Festival played to 54,000 fans over three days in Chicago's Union Park and in a nice surprise, Pitchfork also streamed audio and video of last weekend's concerts on the two main stages live on their website. The video — and the audio quality even more so — were fantastic. But in a not-so-nice surprise, anyone who tuned in at 8:30 p.m. Chicago time on Sunday to see the festival's closing set by Pavement got a message that the streaming video for the day had concluded.

Why? Between the Chicago Tribune and VanityFair.com, we got an answer: it seemed Pavement guitarist Scott Kannberg felt stung by Pitchfork's editorial coverage, and decided to take it out on the site.

First the Tribune's Greg Kot reported that someone in Pavement — against the advice of their booking agent — had nixed the webcast of the band's performance. Kot said it wasn't lead singer Stephen Malkmus, but didn't narrow it down further. Then Juli Weiner at VanityFair.com put together a catalog of evidence that the band member was most likely Kannberg (a.k.a. Spiral Stairs).

Weiner's rundown of snarky quotes from negative reviews on Pitchfork was convincing enough to earn a response from Kannberg himself, who told VanityFair.com that the band "only found out the day of the show about the live webcast and I personally thought that it was not something that Pavement should do."

So, mildly diverting feud between totemic indie band and leading music website aside, why is this important? As Jon Caramanica pointed out in The New York Times just before the festival, Pitchfork has grown from an upstart into a powerhouse, one with an interest in cultivating "its own galaxy of stars."

In its festival, the site's power becomes a product (exposure for bands who perform, tickets to the show for fans, reputation and traffic for the site itself) that opens the door to potential conflict of interest — which could be deadly to a site sustained by widespread acceptance of its credibility.

(Note: when programming shows at festivals and streaming albums, NPR Music deals with this issue too.)

Is it easy to forget all this while you're reading a review on the site or watching a band perform at its festival? Sure. But it's something Pitchfork's editors have to keep in mind. In a 2008 interview, Jim DeRogatis (then of the Chicago Sun Times) actually put the question to founder Ryan Schreiber:

Q. O.K. But what if Animal Collective was a headliner of the Pitchfork Music Festival, and they said, "No, we don't want you to film any of our concerts." And whoever was chosen to review their next EP gave it a 1 out of 10 on your rating scale. Would you have any problem with those three things overlapping?
A. I mean, they would have to be completely … Two of those things would never occur as a result of one or the other. You know? Because again, as I said, it's very separate. People are always going to try and theorize about these things. But the fact is we do take these things into account and everything that is up on our site is very genuinely sincere. You can use the same argument for, "If X record label doesn't advertise and suddenly you give their records a 0" — that's the same thing. It's a matter of just defining things and separating things from one another so that they don't interfere.

Can Pitchfork — one of the few journalistic success stories of the last decade — maintain that separation? You can bet plenty of people will be watching.

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