Pitchfork through the eyes of the artists

A&E flipped the script at Pitchfork Music Festival and let musicians critique their critics.

Chicago-based DJ Chrissy Murderbot, right, is attacked by his Pitchfork Music Festival hype-man MC Zulu.

Jules Ameel

Chicago-based DJ Chrissy Murderbot, right, is attacked by his Pitchfork Music Festival hype-man MC Zulu.

Mark Brenden

It would be bad form for sports writers to walk out on a team that is simply having an off game, or for White House reporters to snub a failing president. But for music critics, this is the vocation. They essentially make a living out of fair-weather fandom.

This is a major reason why musicians have always had a certain hostility toward the critic, or âÄî as theyâÄôre often affectionately referred to âÄî âÄúthe enemy. âÄúFor most intents and purposes, the relationship between the artist and the journalist is strictly business: You give me press; IâÄôll give you quotes.

ThatâÄôs why Pitchfork Music Festival is such a unique event. The annual indie showcase, now in its sixth year, blurs the line between those that critique musicians and those that book them.

ThereâÄôs certainly the possibility that this culture of hip ephemera will turn on itself, and umpires of cool like Pitchfork will one day be uncool. But for now, the media giant remains one of the chief gatekeepers to independent success.

While on the ground at last weekend’s Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago, A&E staged our own little version of “Trading Spaces,” asking several artists on the bill to analyze their analyzers.

What is your take on âÄúindieâÄù or âÄúhipsterâÄù culture?

Chrissy Murderbot: ItâÄôs not the world I come from; itâÄôs not my main interest or anything, but itâÄôs a lot of fun. When you can do something that overlaps [dance music and indie] and brings people from both sides together and exposes them to new things, thatâÄôs awesome. I love anything that mixes peopleâÄôs crews up and exposes people to new things.

ST 2 Lettaz of G-Side: ItâÄôs cool because where we come from we donâÄôt even have this scene. We didnâÄôt even know this existed. So itâÄôs really dope to be rappinâÄô to people that arenâÄôt just in your [expletive] city or people that donâÄôt look like you or act like you and they can just enjoy good music.

What does a good or bad review from Pitchfork mean to you?

Murderbot: I have no idea. Sometimes theyâÄôll give an album a 10, and thatâÄôs like a news event and sometimes theyâÄôll give an album a 0 or a 2 and thatâÄôs a news event. But anything between like 6 and 9.5 kinda blur out. It might just be the whim of that person; I canâÄôt tell.

ItâÄôs like when a guy whoâÄôs sitting next to you sees a girl walking down the street, and heâÄôs like âÄúOh sheâÄôs a 10,âÄùâÄú thatâÄôs meaningful. Or like âÄúOh sheâÄôs a 0,âÄù thatâÄôs meaningful. If he says that sheâÄôs a 6, itâÄôs like, is she empirically a 6, or did you just throw that number out there? MightnâÄôt she be a 5 or a 7?

But [expletive], then again, itâÄôs music; itâÄôs not [expletive] physics. ItâÄôs like you can be empirical about it. They try; they do their best.

That answer wouldâÄôve been totally different if they wouldâÄôve given me a 3. [Laughs]. IâÄôm totally biased.

Jon Barthmus of Sun Airway: I think itâÄôs definitely helpful to get a good review, obviously, but I feel like you really wouldnâÄôt be made or broken by Pitchfork. But itâÄôs definitely been helpful for us. They just do so many things like this [festival].

But they have made and broken several bands.

Patrick Marceillof Sun Airway: You can make it without Pitchfork. ThereâÄôs different routes you can take. Usually if youâÄôre not on their list of best bands and youâÄôre doing well then you are probably on an NPR channel or some major media channel.

How do you feel about Pitchfork being an outlet that both books and judges you?

Eric Cardona of Twin Sister:

Well theyâÄôre just ruling everything arenâÄôt they? [Laughs]. I donâÄôt know; itâÄôs great. I mean, we feel so lucky that they wanted us to play here. ItâÄôs cool because thereâÄôs a lot of variety, so for them to pick up, it kinda feels like we have something to offer to the roster.

Murderbot: There could be a perception of a conflict of interest. But I know from my personal experience with [Pitchfork Music Festival] that the people who booked me and the people who are in charge of doing the lineup are very different people in a different time zone (because they have multiple offices) than the people who were responsible for reviewing my album. And I know the review was already scheduled before the [festival] thing happened. And it wasnâÄôt written yet. I donâÄôt think there was a, âÄúWeâÄôre gonna give this guy a good or bad album review to either promote him at Pitchfork or give him a controversy that will bring him to Pitchfork.âÄù I donâÄôt think there was a plot like that. I donâÄôt see cynical jockeying or conflict or interest surrounding it. But there is the question of, say, a guy works for Pitchfork and is charged with reviewing an album and sees that that person is on the lineup and will that affect his review? I have no idea. I mean, they gave me like a 7, a pretty middle-of-the-road review.

Barthmus: Yeah thatâÄôs a little weird. I mean itâÄôs only a good thing because they obviously like you enough to book you. But I guess they wouldnâÄôt write a really bad review of their own festival.

For awhile this hipster/indie scene was kind of an exclusive cool kids club, but, as evidenced by the wide range of people and demographics [at Pitchfork Music Festival], it seems to have really spread. Your thoughts?

Cardona: I think itâÄôs great. To me that just sounds like these bands are getting into more peopleâÄôs heads.

Bryan Ujueta of Twin Sister: ThereâÄôs only so many cool people until you gotta get to regular people. What was the joke we had the other day? Like imagine going to Madison Square Garden and everyone there was like [expletive] cool. ItâÄôs impossible; there arenâÄôt that many cool people, even in New York. IâÄôm sure some uncle would be there and a bunch of girls from college âÄî thereâÄôs only so many people. If you wanna grow, thereâÄôs no other way.

Is there anything you particularly dislike about the culture?

Murderbot: You know, I could say thereâÄôs so many trend-[expletive] hipsters who donâÄôt have any genuine taste in anything and they pretend to like things because itâÄôs cool and that bothers me. But that is everywhere. I just notice it in indie culture because itâÄôs not the culture I come from. And IâÄôm so used to it in dance-music culture that itâÄôs passé to me, you know? [Laughs]. It doesnâÄôt even show up on my radar anymore. The annoying [expletive] about every scene is the same annoying [expletive] about every other scene. ThereâÄôs nothing exceptionally different; itâÄôs just different instances of the same phenomena.