Rock Label of the Week is focused on highlighting some of the biggest – or most obscure- labels that you may – or may not – have ever heard of. 

  • Name Of Label: Matador Records
  • Founded: 1989
  • Location: New York City, NY.
  • Label Type: Independent
  • Distributors: INgrooves, RED, ADA
  • Genre of Focus: Indie Rock
  • Current Roster: Belle and Sebastian, Cat Power, Interpol, The New Pornographers, Pavement, Queens Of The Stone Age, Sonic Youth.
  • Inactive Roster: Arsonists, Neko Case, Jaguar Love, Lou Reed, Mogwai, Pretty Girls Make Graves, M. Ward.
  • Website:

Matador Records was founded in 1989 in under the bright lights of New York City. Founder Chris Lombardi began the record label under the roof of his apartment, and shortly after Matador’s inception, Homestead Records manager Gerard Cosloy would join in on the fun. Through hard work and connections, Matador was able to release albums from Superchunk (self titled LP) and Teenage Fanclub (A Catholic Education) in 1990, which would both turn out to be unexpectedly successful. The inflow of cash would allow the label to afford an office space, and sign Pavement. Pavement’s release Slanted and Enchanted in 1992, the label became a known force in the industry.

This success would be followed with the successful signing of Liz Phair. While Liz Phair’s biggest single “Why Can’t I?” doesn’t put her on the map as a “rock artist”, her earlier work under Matador was grungy (like a combo between the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s and Garbage). The singer songwriter released album Exile In Guyville in 1993, and was fairly revolutionary for female artists:

“Calling Exile In Guyville a “song by song” response to the Rolling Stones’ swaggering, staggering “classic” Exile On Main Street, Phair dared rewrite rock’n’roll’s heinous clichés from the lady’s perspective. Her blushingly frank take on modern sexual entanglements —sung with plenty of frank sailor-talk and confessionals overshare— gave a face, a voice, and a name to the women who, 20 years earlier, could’ve only found one place in rock culture: groupie.” [Matador Top 20 Albums

Through its successes, Matador partnered with Atlantic Records. Eventually, the partnership ended and the label was partially purchased by Capitol Records in 1996 (eventually Lombardi and Cosloy bought back full ownership of Matador, but lost Liz Phair to Capitol in the process). In 2002, Matador split ownership with by Beggars Group (Beggars also co-owns 4AD, Rough Trade, and XL Recordings) and through this venture, a London office for Matador was established in order to handle worldwide distribution/marketing for the label.

Matador Merch

Matador Records Merch.

 One of the keys to Matador’s success is that the label focuses on signing artists that have already released music prior to any deals being made. Chris Lombardi discloses the reasoning behind this choice:

“There’s something infinitely more attractive in an artist that already has a completed album, that has a record that we already know and like. We’re not A&R men in the archetypal sense: we don’t handhold the artists, sculpt them in the right image. We simply let them be as they are.” [Alt Music Matador History]


Queens Of The Stone Age live at Letterman.

Matador independently handles their own A&R, art production and direct-store distribution with no outside influence, while Beggars handles the responsibilities of Matador Europe.

Matador also created one of the most beneficial marketing strategies for their label: The Matablog. With the Matablog, users that were selected by the admin (this role has been taken on by Patrick Amory, general manager of Matador) and are invited to blog openly on the website. Bloggers are encouraged to post material about Matador, including new releases, tour dates, etc. Record exec’s for Matador and artists on the label are also encouraged to post any relevant information about themselves/the label. The Matablog has created immense amount of traffic for the labels website, and Patrick Amory indulges in the purpose of the blog:

“The personality of the label – essentially the combination of all these factors – is, in turn, an important way of conveying to the public why they should be interested in buying our music.  Matador releases are not just a collection of songs or albums – they are part of a larger community of interesting, interested people.” [Hypebot Interview]


Ceremony article on Matablog.

Matador Records is here to stay. With signed acts like Cat Power, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Pavement, the success of Matador has never faltered. On the labels website, the FAQ of the label ends with this:

“Throughout the label’s history, Matador has been a champion of artistic freedom, diversity and innovation. The label’s catalog and release schedule reflect the tastes of the company’s owners, Lombardi and Cosloy, and their longstanding commitment to sharing the music they love with as many others as possible.” [Matador Website]


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