Folks were worried that Goose Island was ruined forever when they sold out to AB-InBev or whatever they’re called. It seems – at the moment, at least – that those worry warts were wrong.
According to this article from the Chicagoist, GI is using the unlimited resources of its master to expand their barrel program. What does that mean? It means that there will be enough Bourbon County Stout for year-round production.
Let that sink in for a moment.
One of the world’s best, most sought-after, and rarest beers is going to be a year-round release. There will simply be more of one of our favorite beers available at any time of the year. That’s a good thing, worry warts.
This reminds me of labels like Sub Pop and Matador signing big deals with major labels. These indies, realizing the limitations of their distribution and recording resources, signed away something like 49% of their companies to corporate interests in order to get some cash flowing. They then used this influx of capital to promote previously-unknown bands and to give them a boost in touring expenses and recording studios. The result is that they extended their reach and prolonged their lives as productive labels. The bands have benefited as well.
As mentioned above, Goose Island selling out signaled the end of craft breweries for some. However, if GI plays their cards right, it could mean more growth for them and continued struggles for corporate beer makers as their own flagship brands suffer in the wake of quality, craft beer.
So, is Goose Island beer’s Sub Pop or Matador?
One feature of this blog has been to use beer/ indie rock to inspire posts about the other. Today’s post does that. This time, I read this post at Boak & Bailey’s Beer Blog detailing ten signs of a craft brewery. They explain their reasoning for such a list:
We were pondering the hard-to-define, much-loathed term “craft beer” again this morning and decided that, rather than a firm definition, it makes much more sense to think about indicators or signs.
The following list, off the top of our head, is not exhaustive and, clearly, we’re not suggesting that any brewery needs to be able to tick all ten to be considered to be making craft beer. Equally, some of these apply to breweries that, instinctively, we wouldn’t consider craft brewers.
Since I have often made the connection between the craft breweries and indie labels (beers are the equivalent of bands on a roster; vintages the equivalent of albums), it seemed to me that a post detailing the ten signs of an indie label might also have some merit.
Like, B&B’s list, mine is off the top of my head and will only be enriched by your comments.
1. Vinyl is among the formats offered and is often their best-seller. Vinyl is saving the record industry, IMHO. It’s not doing anything for major labels, but it benefits high quality music for niche markets. Plus, with the addition of a “free” digital download, record collectors like myself can have their cake and eat it too. Extra bonus points for labels who also sell cassette tapes.
2. Their releases are found in real, mom-and-pop record stores. Sometimes, depending on distribution deals, one can find an indie release at Target or Best Buy, but this is the exception, not the rule. I know that I can pretty much find a label’s entire roster in small, independent record stores. In fact, record stores depend on indie releases to keep their inventory unique and attractive to the discerning indie music fan just as much as the labels depend on the stores to sell their product.
3. There is a unifying aesthetic to their releases’ artwork and/or music. Whether it’s the fact that labels have limited resources for graphic design or they got into music because of one particular genre, indie labels tend to be more focused aesthetically than their corporate brethren. There’s no better example than early Sub Pop. Before it was known as grunge, the music from Sub Pop just sounded like Sub Pop. And the graphic design, featuring blurry, black-and-white images of flailing guitarists with simple, block lettering denoting the band’s name, was as identifiable as the music.
4. Indie labels are connected to the underground scenes of the 80’s or 90’s in some way. The former underground rockers of our youth eventually turned the business side of the scene, opening avenues for other artists or simply giving them their own outlet for distribution. These legends eventually grew weary of the road and recording studios, often choosing to sit at a desk while younger bands carried the torch. The indie label has a clear lineage that begins in the 80’s hardcore scene. Those same characters play a large role in today’s scene as well.
5. There are actual t-shirts and other memorabilia featuring the label. No one wears an “Epic” or “Warner Bros.” t-shirt. I have yet to see a punk with a pin reading “Sony” or “Atlantic” next to his SST pin. In some arenas, it’s cool to promote your corporate overlords/sponsors, but not with music. Sure, kids wear t-shirts for their bands regardless of label, but only those who follow indie bands will wear a K Records or Merge t-shirt.
6. They are active on social media. Maybe this is just because I only follow indie labels, but a quick search of labels on Facebook and Twitter reveals that indies are way more active and engaging than major labels. I have had actual conversations on Twitter with various indie labels. I also depend on regular updates via Facebook for a label’s release schedules and/or roster tour dates. Because they are small companies with a personal touch, indies thrive at social marketing.
7. There is often one major money-making band on an indie label’s roster that keeps them afloat. Merge has Arcade Fire. Pavement is still listed on Matador’s roster. Sub Pop had Nirvana, then Iron & Wine, then Band of Horses, then Fleet Foxes…etc. Jagjaguar features Bon Iver. There are even better examples out there, but the fact remains that depend on bands who pull in major label-like dollars keep indies afloat. The good part about these bands is that they make enough money to resist overtures made by major labels and they insure that their indie labels will continue to put out great music by lesser-known artists because the profits keep their books in the black…or close to it.
8. There is at least one artist on the roster that is mostly there for street cred or simply out of loyalty. The best indie label rosters resemble the major label rosters of the ’70’s. In those days, someone like Bruce Springsteen could struggle for three albums before finally breaking big. On the other end of the spectrum, older artists find their final resting place on labels that love and adore them to the point that they’ll continue releasing their work despite diminishing sales. Dinosaur Jr still has a label because Jagjaguar gives them their due. A guy like Eric Bachman has time to hone his craft because of the credibility he built during his years with Archers of Loaf. Indie labels are loyal and they make sure good music gets heard, even if it doesn’t appeal to everyone.
9. Bands on their labels may define or establish their own genres and sub-genres with each release. I’ve mentioned Sub Pop before, but they are yet again another great example. There was grunge, then they seemed to single-handedly bring back folk music in more recent years. Other labels that may feature specific genres might include Fat Possum, De Stijl, Astralwerks, Jade Tree, etc.
10. Artists are seen as…well…artists or people as opposed to commodities or assets at a corporate label. Often, people at an indie label see each other and their artists as co-workers or clients at least. The focus is not on the profit they can make from a band. Rather, it’s about getting the music to fans. And the deals artists often sign with indies are so much more fair than what major labels will provide. Bands get a bigger piece of the pie, better representing the part they play in the final product. Sometimes, this can be for a loss or minimal profit, but it seems to pay off in the end as most indie labels are doing well at the moment despite the industry’s struggles.
What did I miss? What would you add to this list? Do you have examples that disprove my assertions or examples that add further proof? Contribute below.
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.
Disappointment is a part of life. Not everything goes your way. Disappointment can be a downer, it can even hurt a little. Sometimes, that disappointment is so bad that it morphs into distress or depression. Even once you accept disappointment’s inevitability, it doesn’t make the pain go away any quicker.
Sometimes we set ourselves up for the worst disappointments. Hype is built all around a person or an experience, hype that is never attainable. There’s this sense of entitlement that things should go our way just because we want it so badly. In these instances, the letdown is greatest.
Such is the disappointment in my home state of Ohio1. That’s where LeBron James pulled the dagger stuck in Cleveland’s collective sporting heart, washed it in the polluted Cuyahoga River, and returned it to its home deep inside Cleveland Municipal Stadium where he twisted until there was no life left. In other words, he took advantage of his free agent status and signed with a team that is not the Cleveland Cavaliers who have the ability to win championships in the next two to three years as opposed to losing them the past three2. James is now a Heat3. The fans of Cleveland are so disenchanted from this letdown that they’re burning jerseys, making vague death threats, and even writing angry letters in Comic Sans4.
I won’t bore you with the trials and tribulations that is professional sports history in Cleveland5. Let’s just say they have not had much luck. However, when James was drafted as an 18-year-old phenom from nearby Akron, Clevelanders were convinced this was the ticket to ending their suffering. James himself declared his desire to bring a championship to Cleveland, but what star athlete wouldn’t do the same for their long suffering city? Cleveland fans bought into the myth, the legend-in-the-making. Suddenly, it was as if that 30% unemployment rate had disappeared. Drew Carey became funny. And videos like this would soon lose all humor and relevance…
So, things were good for a while. Even though the Indians6 and Browns were still just..well, the Indians and Browns, Cleveland sports fans had hope that LeBron James would return for another go at a championship. The Cavs had the best record in the league for two straight years and James was the two-time reigning NBA MVP as well. If he signed with the Cavs this off-season, LeBron could guarantee himself a max contract and the adoration of Clevelanders for eternity7.
Instead, over the course of an hour-long ESPN infomercial for his ego, LeBron James disappointed every single Cavs fan by deciding to move to Miami. Now, pro athletes do this all the time. However, an expectation had been built that LeBron would never leave Cleveland and win them a sorely needed championship. Sure, some of those expectations were built-up by a 25-year-old man8 who can dunk a basketball with the best of them, but most of those expectations were built or at least embellished by a fanbase hungry for a championship.
Cavs fans were more than a little disappointed and they demonstrated their hurt by burning James in effigy and declaring him enemy #1. They felt they had a right to a championship. They were spoiled by seven years of pretty amazing basketball and rhetoric that made them believe that even Cleveland was entitled to a championship. The entitlement unfulfilled left the people of Cleveland very, very disappointed to say the least.
Sorry for the sporting news, moving on with another example of disappointment…
In my world, I have been obsessed with the Matador 21st anniversary party in Las Vegas and I’m not the only one. If you were to peruse the comments on the Matablog, you would find a similarly ravenous fanbase to the one that follows the Cleveland basketball franchise. And even before the tickets were to go on-sale, a similar sentiment was expressed as those pour fanatics in Cleveland.
Matador fans were already disappointed with the ticket price, hotel accommodations, Las Vegas’ allotment of tickets9, the lack of information, ticket price, no Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 reunion, an inability to call in sick for work to get tickets, ticket price, etc. before the tickets ever went on sale. There was a huge cry of disappointment that no one10 would be able to see maybe the most amazing three-day lineup in American independent music history. And swirling among that disappointment was that same sense of entitlement felt by those jilted Cavalier fans. Only this time, folks who had original “Girly Sound” tapes and saw Pavement when Gary Young still did headstands off his kit were incensed that they were not given their desired allotment of tickets due to their years of fandom as opposed to LeBron James’ jersey-wearing “witnesses” pining for a championship.
In the end, 2,100 or so people were able to score tickets. The real disappointment came when the tickets were gone in 2 minutes11. I should know, I tried in vain for 25 minutes just to get tickets and hotel packages into my shopping cart with no luck. I, like many others, was disappointed.
Basically, these two fanbases suffered tremendous disappointments last week, but not so much because their favorite sports star or indie label had let them down. Oh no, it had more to do with this strange entitlement they seem to feel. Cavs fans feel they are entitled to a championship. Indie rock fans felt they were entitled to see a reunited Guided By Voices from a black jack table. From where does that entitlement come? Does anyone really need these things?
The only thing I can come up with is that fans feel they deserve to be paid for their loyalty, their patronage. Would LeBron James or Matador be where they are without their fans? Maybe. Maybe not. They are both among the best at what they do. Something tells me they can find more fans. The fact is neither LeBron James nor Matador Records owe anyone anything. Sure, it would have been nice if LeBron had stayed in Cleveland and somehow won a championship on 31-year-old knees only to never walk again12. And it would have been really sweet if I had scored tickets to that Matador thing. The fact is that neither thing worked out. They were both disappointments, but that’s it.
There’s a certain amount of blind faith that is involved in fanaticism which allows people to feel they are entitled to a little payback. However, just because you love LeBron James or Stephen Malkmus doesn’t mean you are entitled to their eternal servitude. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. You’re lucky James played seven seasons in Cleveland13. We’re lucky Malk decided to reunite Pavement14 for one last go. No one is entitled to these things.
In conclusion (because I feel this post rambling out of control), most of this disappointment could be held in check if folks had tempered their fanaticism. Fans are not entitled to anything more than what’s offered. If a band tours through your town and you’re able to go, great! If your favorite athlete chooses to sign with your hometown team and delivers a championship, fantastic! However, you are not entitled to these things. After all, it is just entertainment.
I feel lucky that LeBron James, may be the most famous person from my home state, played some pretty amazing basketball for a team in said state. I feel lucky that I have seen many of the bands in their prime that are set to play Matador’s celebration. Sure, I’m disappointed that things didn’t work out the way I would have liked, but that’s OK. There will be other athletic triumphs to enjoy and concerts to attend. I might be disappointed, but the only thing I’m entitled to do is move on.
1Yes, this is not my current home state. However, when you lived the first 30 years in a place and have a tattoo to prove it, it is forever your home state.
2They tried to build a winner, but the problem is that the Cavs were built to win this year and they failed.
3I am not a fan of such team names as Heat, Magic, and the like. Really? There’s not some endangered species or terrible cultural stereotype from which you could mine your next mascot name?
4Comic Sans is a crime against humanity.
5That’s what footnotes are for! Let’s see, there’s The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, The Burning River, The Game Seven, The Sweep, The Manny Ramirez, and now The Decision.
6Hate U, racist Chief Wahoo!
7Well, the adoration would last a while. He’d still have to win a championship, but one championship goes a long way in Cleveland.
8Who was, at one time, an 18-year-old kid in the NBA promising the same things. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t trust the 18-25 version of myself for anything.
9Which, from what I understand, was largely unclaimed after the online allotment went on sale. And the only reason Vegas was given so many tickets was because they whined about the lack of opportunity they had to score said tickets.
102,100 people to be exact.
11There was some confusion in the online ticketing system that caused some ticket-buyers to purchase more tickets and hotel rooms than they needed. For example, some people purchased four sets of four tickets and a room for four people. That’s sixteen tickets and four rooms for four people. There were some extra tickets for sale on Saturday, but I had had enough disappointment for one week.
12I suspect if James makes it to his 31-year-old bad knee self, he won’t be winning a trophy with any team.
13It should be noted that it may have been the most amazing first seven years of any NBA career in the history of the league. The kid is pretty impressive to watch.
14It probably wasn’t just up to SM, but had he said “no” there would have been no reunion.
So, this is happening1.
Basically every band I listened to in college (and many since) are getting together for one special weekend in Vegas. Matador, one of my all-time favorite labels, is throwing their 21st birthday bash in Sin City featuring – among others – Pavement, Guided By Voices, Sonic Youth, Belle and Sebastian, Spoon, Yo La Tengo, Cat Power, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, The New Pornographers, Superchunk, Chavez, and many more yet-to-be-announced acts. I’m sure those still to be confirmed could include a reunited Helium, Liz Phair doing Exile in Guyville in its entirety, and maybe even a Sleater-Kinney2 or a Lou Reed3. Whoever fills the final bill, it will surely be one of the most amazing weekends ever for those perpetually stuck in ’90’s indie rock nostalgia4.
Now comes the decision part. Seems easy, right? Find a way to go, never regret it. Well, not so fast.
I already booked my trip to Pitchfork in Chicago in a couple of weeks5. That’s a three-day pass, train ride, and hotel stay over a long weekend that might not afford me another getaway this year. Besides the cost, there are things called “familial responsibilities” and a “job” to consider. Can I really leave my family for yet another long weekend for rock ‘n roll indulgence? Is it fair to my partner or child? Am I slacking on my work responsibilities?6
So much childcare already falls on my partner. Is it cool that I just take off for a weekend of rock shows while she’s stuck at home, alone with a two-year-old? What message does that send to my daughter that Daddy takes off for weekends at a time whenever he wishes? What about a family vacation, something we have yet to do7?
My job is another issue. I work with schools. This trip would easily require me to take two days off at maybe the busiest time of year. Am I doing a disservice to my employer and my clients by taking off at such an important time?
And back to the cost. Doing some estimates with my cousin, it’s looking like a $500-$700 trip before the tickets. After Pitchfork and all the beer and records I’ve purchased (or have committed to purchasing), my bank account is starting to dry up. I’m just ahead of my credit card, but that could shift if I fall behind at any point, easy to do with a trip coming up.
I figure I’ll have to make a few sacrifices to make this trip happen. First, there will have to be a promise that our family will travel. I’m proposing a trip to wine country over the winter holiday. My partner has always wanted to go back to that part of California and it would be a legitimate chance to get away. It may cost me more money in the long run, but it might be worth it for the sake of the familial unit8.
Work? Well, I have the days. It will be fine.
Money is a bigger issue, but I have that figured out as well. With my cellar filling up as I type this, I won’t really be in that much need of beer. I could still have a beer here and there, but the mid-week beer with dinner would stop. I would cease to buy beers just because they’re in the stores and not in my cellar. The craft beer aspect of this blog would suffer9 , but it would be in the name of the ultimate concert experience. I would surely make it up with an epic tale of indie rock excellence like no one has seen before10 .
That leads me to the payoff. I would actually put my money toward one tangible thing and not spend it willy-nilly11. My liver would surely recover as I could imagine my beer consumption to drop incredibly12. The number of records delivered to my front door would also drop, but this would allow me to appreciate the new music I am able to consume and let some of the faddish stuff pass on by13.
There really is only one choice. I just have to make it work. A slip up in finances or an inability to make a cohesive argument to my partner14 could cripple the plan before it’s hatched. It will take careful planning and persistence, but I think I’m up to the task.
Stay tuned. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
Update: I have the green light. Right now, I’m just trying to figure out the details. Tickets, rooms, etc. If I write more about it, it will mean I was lucky enough to land some tickets.
1Which I basically knew once this article hit my Google Alert.
2They’re on Matador’s Euro label and have hinted at a reunion themselves.
3Reed has one release with the label.
4Which describes me perfectly. The funny thing is that I’ve seen almost all the bands mentioned so far. So, you’d think that seeing them in their primes would be enough. Apparently not.
5I’m still very excited about this festival as there are plenty of bands I already love playing as well as a few I’m interested in seeing for the first time. Plus, there is the whole Pavement and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion reunions.
6These are sad ironies for the mid-thirties indie rock geek. I can now afford to go to such events, but I don’t really have the time to do so.
7Yes, we have traveled, but other family was involved. Sure, seeing family is nice, but it’s not a vacation. Sorry, I love you all, but it’s no getaway.
8That and there are some pretty amazing breweries in wine country. So, I would not go without a luxury of my own. Russian River, here I come.
9 Of course, most of you could care less about the beer posts and I only post one to two times a week. how much suffering is that really?
10 In other words, the post for that weekend should be as epic as anything I’ll post here. The pictures alone should bring a tear to my readers’ eyes.
11 Meaning that I will not buy cups of coffee on the road or bottled water. There won’t be that lunch at Subway because I forgot to pack a meal. I’ll simply plan better or go without. It also means that I won’t buy records and beers just because I can. It will be good for my spending problems.
12My liver and my waste would benefit greatly. I’ve needed to cut back for a while now. This might be what puts me over the top.
13There are some releases by bands I know and love that will still be pre-ordered in the coming weeks no matter what I decide.
14This is harder than it sounds as she is a rhetorician by trade. She studies arguments. That’s not any easy debate to win.