Popular indie music site Pitchfork announced it will launch Altered Zones, a sister site dedicated to DIY sounds so obscure not even those on staff at Pitchfork have heard of some of the bands or dreamt up cool new tags for the zany new tunes. Pitchfork has some lofty goals for the site, which will premier online July 7:
Uniting an international team of bloggers whose individual sites have proven among the most consistently rewarding outposts for unique and leftfield music, this new site will highlight the most notable and adventurous new artists, serving as a focal point for the flood of creativity coming from deep within the music underground.
Though I don’t doubt the positive intentions behind Pitchfork’s Altered Zones, and though the idea is certainly novel, I can’t imagine anything more detrimental to the idea of the blogosphere than Altered Zones.
One of the many rewarding aspects of music blogging is the conversation that occurs among countless bloggers delving into little niches. It’s created a gorgeous kaleidoscope of perspectives on everything from American pop to Angolan hip-hop, and it’s fostered a dialogue wherein individuals are both experts on a specific sounds and newbies eager to learn about other genres.
Pitchfork, by and large, has stayed out of this conversation. The site will give credit where credit is due, linking to blogs that find the latest radio rip of a new LCD Soundsystem song or ones that post a new Animal Collective video from a European performance. But, the buck stops when it comes to the critical analysis of music. They are the authority on all things music, so why would a reader want another opinion? That authoritative voice is even a part of their editorial voice:
Launched in 1996, Pitchfork is the essential guide to independent music and beyond, and is widely regarded as the music world’s primary tastemaker.
Prior to Tuesday’s announcement, it was easy to find practically any independent blog “at war” with Pitchfork. The site is, to many, the exemplar of “the man.” And they certainly act the part. Though music is, and always has been, an individual choice, many blogs (and music writers for that matter) drew lines in the sand with specific bands.
The blogs boosted bands like Cold War Kids and Sound Team to heights previously unimagined by some dude with a domain name and love for music, and Pitchfork decimated those bands with a couple swift negative reviews. Yes, taste is in the eye of the beholder, but it wasn’t beyond some skeptical individuals to ponder the question of whether or not Pitchfork handed down these negative reviews as if to show the burgeoning blogs who’s in control.
It’s with Altered Zones that Pitchfork appears to be hijacking the conversation occurring on the music blogosphere. Pitchfork’s attitude of absolute authority in deeming certain sounds as credible has been extended to the still-unwieldy world of the blogs, and somehow the folks at Pitchfork believe they can trade some popular web space for a real, authentic blog voice with 14 popular blogging sites.
Thank goodness, the benevolent Pitchfork has arrived to pull some of our blogging brethren from the depths of this cruel CSS-fueled community! Right?
Wrong. Though I don’t doubt Pitchfork’s attempts to get the best coverage of the ever-growing music world, their ideal to provide a closed forum with their 14 favorite blogs on tap is hardly any improvement over what they are currently engaged in.
A better choice could have been a universal forum, where bloggers can submit content that a select few editors could sift through and find the best content. Even though some system like that would merely continue to validate Pitchfork’s supremacy in the modern musical conversation, it’s certainly more appealing than Pitchfork’s ill-minded presentation of the blogosphere. There are hundreds of thousands of music blogs covering valid musical content: To say only 14 blogs, no matter how popular and well-conceived they are, is an absolute fallacy.
Then again, this could be a good thing for music. Not in terms of the music being covered by Altered Zones, although I’m sure there will be artists with great voices that receive some well-deserved exposure on the site. It could be a good thing for the evolution of alternative and independent music not being covered by Altered Zones.
The history of alternative music has been one of an underground culture ignored by the critical elite, allowed to fester and grow in the corners of basements and find audiences in zines. Those zines are now the countless blogs waiting to be discovered, those basements are filled by bands simply not covered by Pitchfork’s all-knowing hand. And 14 hand-picked blogs can’t be expected to cover everything, especially when Pitchfork’s editorial voice has made an effort to ignore certain aspects of modern music.
Sure, if I want the latest Wavves sound-alike or a Wu-Tang Clan solo project, I’ll go to Gorilla vs. Bear. But, if I want a spec of info on current world electronic and hip-hop, I’ll go to wayne&wax. If I want anything metal-related, I’ll see what former Pitchfork-writer Brandon Stosuy is up to. Experimental and noise? Anti-Gravity Bunny. Emo? Certainly not Pitchfork, or any of the Altered Zones-related blogs for that matter. And I’ll take Algernon Cadwallader over Real Estate any day of the week.
So, what’s the fear? Well, Pitchfork does have pull. And the idea that they can claim to present the only reputable voices on the blogosphere is less dangerous for bloggers than music listeners. Technology has made instant gratification not only easy to achieve, but a desired goal. By aggregating a select number of blogs into a single site and using their significant pull in the music world, Pitchfork’s Altered Zones could cut music listeners’ web browsing down to size. With everything supposedly worth listening to available on a single site, why would you want to even think of exploring elsewhere? Sure, online searches are easy, but visiting a single site is even easier.
Although many blogs won’t get the Pitchfork seal-of-approval, I’ve got my fingers crossed that they will carry on without a second thought. Music bloggers have dedicated weeks, months and years to their beloved sites. Pitchfork’s sudden “validation” of a “lucky” few sites shouldn’t change things. Frankly, it shouldn’t even matter.