Pitchfork just announced the top 200 albums to have come out in the past 15 years, according to it’s readers. I’m not the first person to point this out, and I’m sure Pitchfork won’t hear the last of it for some time, but the problem with this list is that Pitchfork’s readership represents a limited scope of global music fans. I consider everyone to be a music fan so we’re talking about, what, 6 billion people altogether? Something like that.
Pitchfork & Co. would like to say that the survey only reflects those who chose to respond online. This may explain why a paltry 12% of respondants were women. Another explanation might be, that Pitchfork’s readership is overwhelming male. Men have been a tap-into-able market for the music industry for a long time. Historically men have had the bulk of discretionary income in households, and purchasing music is an “extra”, a “treat.” Even though the economics of gender have shifted dramatically, with women earning and controlling their own finances more than ever before, purchasing music remains largely the province of men. Perhaps more importantly, being knowledgable about music remains something of a boy’s club.
Having run a record distro for 7 years, and most recently having operated a record store in Denver, I’ve experienced this firsthand. It’s not that I don’t enjoy talking about music with men, or that I don’t appreciate their feedback on this or that album; it’s that I notice the absence of women in the store, in the conversations, and online. I have not met any other record store owners who are women. I have never tabled a show where there was another woman also carting around a distro. I have not spoken to any women running record labels. I have met just a handful of women music journalists. And more startling, is the frequency I do encounter women at shows and at the store and they do NOT engage me in conversation.
Grant you, sometimes people are just shy, or in a bad mood, but I’m talking about a noticable pattern. I believe that women have been taught that they have no right to be an authority on topics such as music. In fact I remember well feeling intimidated at record stores before I started selling records myself. I thought that if I didn’t already know who a band was I couldn’t ask the dude behind the counter. I thought he would just roll his eyes and think, “God, another dummy wasting my time.” I just assumed that all those dudes talking about this band or that, somehow knew everything about this band, that band, and all bands that were “cool.” I’ve since realized that guys aren’t afraid to ask questions. Often, dudes come into the record store and frankly ask me, “Hey, what do you recommend?” That usually sparks a great conversation about who’s been listening to what and what they think about it. I love it; this is how I’ve learned about a lot of bands far outside of Radiohead, Pitchfork People’s darling.
If I am able to, I want to encourage all women to make of themselves authorities on art, music and literature. Your tastes and preferences are valid. Furthermore, you are as entitled to ask questions as anyone else, so you really ought to. Then the next step is talking about it with others – like you know what you are talking about, of course!
Pitchfork neither seeks out a female audience nor female artists. I think that they are left with the same ol’ voices harping out the same ol’ opines. But, then, this isn’t really a “people’s list,” now is it? I feel it’s equally important to point out that there is one African-American in the top ten, and the rest of the list of 200 is dearth of people of color. Out of 200 albums, 135 are from US based artists. Furthermore, the age group that responded more than any other was ages 21-25. It’s worth noting, that they would have been between five and nine in 1996, the first year the survey covers. This may be why Vampire Weekend appears on this list not once, but twice, which is simply a crime of the humanities.
I was a senior in high school in 1996, already a ready consumer of music. I am just one person who has loved music for a long time, but I am a person whose life was made much, much better by it. I didn’t respond to the Pitchfork survey myself; possibly like yourself, I had no idea it was going on until the results were announced. Like most folks, and what I rest my case upon, I don’t read Pitchfork but on rare occasion. Nonetheless, here are a few of my favorite, personally influential albums, that came out in the past 15 years, all of which, incidentally, were omitted from the people’s list:
Julie Ruin s/t, released in 1997
Le Tigre s/t, released in 1999
Refused“The Shape of Punk to Come”, released in 1998
Deltron 3030 s/t, released in 2000
The Gossip “Music for Men”, released in 2009 (album title ironic, no?)
Ballast “Sound Asleep”, released in 2005
Anti-Product “The Deafening Silence of Grinding Gears”, released in 1999
This is a small number of the albums I could list. If you are interested in more of my faves go to my youtube channel “Best of ’96-’12, my list.” More added as I think of them.