Playlist #17: What’s Up Matador?

Searching for new music inspiration? It may be wise to start by checking which label signed your favourite band…

What are the factors which dictate music taste, the type of genres we love and the bands we hold dear? The record collections of parents can sway us in one direction or another (we like Hendrix and the Beatles, not so much White Snake or Gary Moore), and the mainstream media would always assume it has a major influence in what we do and don’t spend our money on. Of course, peer group is always a significant factor. The music press, meanwhile – whether that’s the NME, Drowned in Sound, Pitchfork or whatever – provides a mainline into what’s hot and what’s not. In their eyes, at least.

Doubtless, all of the above will have had some bearing on the next cd/record/download which finds its way to our ears. However, there is one major omission from that list of potential influencers which form what, today, we’d refer to as ‘our’ music taste. No, it has nothing to do with in-show appearances for bands on 90210. In actual fact, for years, the only real barometer we used to discover our next favourite band was the record label they happened to be signed to. Of course, there’s an element of chicken and egg here. How does one decide they like a specific label without first deciding their signings are to our taste? The fact remains though; there are labels out there which scream quality and suit us down to the ground.

We know it’s not in everybody’s nature to first glance at the back of a sleeve for confirmation of quality, or the lack thereof; or to check the name of the label in brackets atop reviews before deciding whether or not to read on. But it is in ours, and after a somewhat lengthy preamble, we’ll cut to the chase.

So begins the first in a semi-regular sub-series of playlists, essentially allowing us a good rifle through our record collections and, at the same time, through some of the best and best-loved labels so intrinsic to the sounds which inhabit The Double Negative’s head. For us, there is only one place to start.

“The Matador alumnus reads like a who’s who of the best of the best in indie over the last two decades”

Matador Records came into being in 1989, and continue to champion some of the best in new music today. This period has seen Chris Lombardi and Gerard Cosloy sign and sustain an incredibly significant handful of artists, not to mention countless, and in some cases forgotten, gems.

If you’re a little less anal about your music, and – quite reasonably – judge a band on first listen before you notice who signed them, it’s sensible at this point to throw a few names into the mix to justify making Matador our first port of call, ahead of, say, Rough Trade. Cat Power, Pavement, Helium, Guided By Voices, Yo La Tengo, Interpol, Bardo Pond, New Pornographers, Liz Phair; we could go on. To our mind, the Matador Records alumnus reads like a who’s who of the best of the best in North American indie over the last two decades.

In the case particularly of Pavement, and to a lesser extent Cat Power, the label has demonstrated its ability to back a band or artist whose appeal is so great as to cross over – if only for limited periods – and enjoy a measure of mainstream success without the cynical industry manoeuvring that usually entails. For a (very short) time, many peoples’ bet for the ‘next Nirvana’ were Pavement. In reality this could never have happened. One hardly imagines Stephen Malkmus, the operation’s lead singer and songwriter, allowing a swarthy exec in a suit to pick the band’s next single. All the same, there was a fair bit of major label interest in the band at that point which must have been equal parts flattering and hilarious to all concerned.

Look closely at their back-catalogue and soon enough you’ll stumble across the likes of Dizzee Rascal or Red Snapper, Mogwai and The Fall, and you realise this rich vein they hit on inception could hardly be considered a run of good luck. It goes to show their flair, not only for spotting and incubating talent, but a real commitment to diversity. Of course, for every Teenage Fanclub and Pavement, there is a Thinking Fellers Union Local 282. In the accompanying sleeve notes for 2010’s Matador at 21, Cosloy remarked: “Every now and then (and sometimes a little more often), we release an important work that goes relatively ignored”.

Evidence, if any were needed, that things don’t always run smoothly, or go as well as hoped. The point is, for nearly a quarter of a century, Matador have continued to plough their particular furrow, unearthing, in our humble opinion quite simply some of the best indie, pop and rock ever to have been committed to vinyl, compact disc or digital. So, have a listen to the playlist, see whether you agree or not. Just don’t blame us if you spend a chunk of your next pay-cheque on artists’ signed to Matador!

Posted on 06/07/2012 by thedoublenegative