Matador and Dogfish Head
When I first started this blog 52 posts ago, I had this idea that indie record labels and craft breweries were very closely related. There’s an independent way that these two industries operate in the face of gigantic corporate overlords. However, despite the odds and the crappy economy, they are succeeding. It goes to show that good products that aren’t mass produced and actually still represent some quality, a little pride are worthy of folks’ dollars no matter how bad things are economically.
So, to demonstrate this relationship between labels and breweries, I worked out in my head parallels in both industries. I go back and forth on a few, but a few others have stayed constant. I debated a long time ago laying out all my correlations in one post, but have decided that a post to feature each label/brewery relationship would be best. For my first installment in what I hope to be a regular series, I’ve chosen Matador Records, just coming off their 21st anniversary, and Dogfish Head, makers of off-centered beer for off-centered people.
Founders: Chris Lombardi (later joined by Gerard Cosloy) and Sam Calagione
Matador was started by Lombardi in 1989, while Dogfish Head got its start in 1995. Both of these time periods are significant in each industry’s history. While 1989 for indie labels and 1995 for microbreweries were not the genesis for each industry, they were the moments when something big was about to happen. In 1989, the buzz from the underground was just starting to be heard by the mainstream. Indie bands were starting to garner attention from corporate labels and the timing in the culture was ripe for a bunch of kids to pick up guitars. The groundwork had been laid by seminal labels and bands of the eighties for this moment in time. Matador was founded at just the right moment to be part of a movement in the record industry.
The same can be said for 1995 in the craft beer scene. The early to mid-90’s saw an influx of brewers breaking out on their own. Dogfish Head was part of this boom, steadily growing through the end of the century until they saw a boom in growth the following decade (400% between 2003 and 2006). Calagione led the way with a unique take on beer-making. He’d design the conventional as well as the not-so-conventional brews for folks to devour. Some of his beers enjoy near-mass-market production and distribution, while others a featured in limited runs.
Calagione is a star of the craft brewing world. Although Lombardi started Matador, his eventual partner became almost the indie rock equivalent of Calagione. Gerard Cosloy has made some noise over the years due to his stints as DJ, zine writer, and manager for Homestead Records. His connections to the underground were what built those early Matador lineups that have made them such and integral part of indie rock. In Calagione’s case, his efforts to write books, do special beer-food events, and brew beers that challenge conventional brewer thinking have made him the star of craft brewing. Without this strong and unique leadership, neither enterprise would have gotten off the ground.
This is where it gets fun. I look at the bands in a labels lineup as the equivalent of the beers in a brewer’s roster. Various albums or incarnations of the bands are like variations or vintages of certain beers. So, I’ve selected a few from each roster (current and former) to demonstrate how Matador is the Dogfish Head of indie rock and vice versa.
Guided By Voices and 60 Minute IPA
GBV could be compared to nothing else than a flagship “session” beer. Sure, Bob Pollard and company have been known to throw back can after bottle of the cheap stuff, but 60 Minute is the closest thing DfH makes to a mass-produced session beer. 60 Minute IPA packs as much punch as possible into the 60 minute boil of continual hop additions as GBV can pack into a 60-minute album. Hell, 60 minutes on record for Guided By Voices is an opus. Anyway, both band and beer are the most sessional and readily available members of their respective rosters.
Yo La Tengo and 90 Minute IPA
There’s a rivalry between GBV and YLT, much the same way some folks debate the attributes of the 60 versus the 90 Minute IPA. However, I’m not here to compare bands to bands and beers to beers. Yo La Tengo is more like the 90 Minute IPA in that while filled with moments of sheer joy and genius, both will often challenge the most novice consumer. YLT makes music for and by critics. 90 Minute does the same as it answers the giant hop-bomb bell rung by hopheads everywhere. Plus, YLT packs a ton of layers into a 90 minute set or album, featuring overwhelming power as well as a delicacy not often found in similar bands. 90 Minute IPA does the same as it can both make you pucker from hop fatigue and pair nicely with artisan cheese.
Pavement and 120 Minute IPA
Rounding out the holy trinities of both Matador and Dogfish Head are Pavement and 120 Minute IPA. Both made comebacks this year after long hiatuses. Both can be difficult to grasp as both redefined their markets. Both are highly sought-after as gateway white whales on many a record and beer collecting geek’s respective lists. What’s also interesting is that each batch of 120 Minute receives a ton of scrutiny, but is often appreciated only after it has aged a while. The same is said of Pavement records as we all hated each one upon its release to only come to terms with its greatness down the road.
Chavez and Oyster Stout
They were here and now they’re gone. Both were loved, but few got to know them. Hopefully, the Oyster Stout will return – even if for a short time – as Chavez did.
Cat Power and Palo Santo Marron
People either love them or they hate them. There’s very little room in between. Cat Power’s Chan Marshall used to record these hauntingly intense albums only to disappoint as she fell apart on stage. That doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore. In much the same way, Palo Santo Marron is an intense beer that’s hard to swallow. However, it has so many characteristics we love about beer. It’s boozy (also like Chan Marshall), sweet, roasty, and it goes great with blueberry pie.
What do you think? For those of you who know the beers, describe one and I’ll try to match it to a Matador band. If you know the bands but not the beer, I can pair a beer with the band of your choosing. What do you think of my comparison overall? Can you come up with your own?
Look for more indie label/craft brewer pairings in future posts.