Matador RecordsIconic American Indie Label
Possibly the best American indie of the last 21+ years.
Of the Big Three early '90s indie labels, Matador Records wasn't inextricably tied to an identifiable scene the way Sub Pop will forever be associated with Pacific Northwest grunge. Nor did it have a single band at its heart like the symbiotic relationship between Merge Records and Superchunk. And while all three labels are thriving over two decades since their initial heyday, Matador is the one that rarely faltered in the intervening years; even when it was no longer the cutting edge of indie-rock hipness, Matador kept expanding its musical parameters. Founded in 1989 by Chris Lombardi (formerly with the UK indie Fire Records), who soon brought on board former Homestead Records head and fanzine editor Gerard Cosloy, Matador wasn't completely brilliant straight out of the gate--many early releases featured the same sort of anonymous sludge-noise bands that littered Homestead's roster--but before too long, acts like Pavement, Guided By Voices, Yo La Tengo, Helium, Pizzicato Five, and Liz Phair called Matador home, and that lineup's admirable diversity defines what made Matador special: they were more interested in good songs than uniformity of vision. An ill-fated distribution deal with Atlantic Records (who only seemed interested in Liz Phair) was followed by an even more misguided period where Capitol Records (who only seemed interested in Pavement) owned a 49% share in the company, but after Lombardi and Cosloy bought their label back in 1999, Matador thrived anew with acts like the New Pornographers, Belle and Sebastian, Interpol and Kurt Vile.