The first two discs of this three-disc, 10-year anniversary set start with a simple nod to what Matador has always epitomized: underground rock ʻnʼ roll, aka indie-rock. The breadwinners since day one – Pavement, Jon Spencer, Guided By Voices, Yo La Tengo – are joined by a new set of indie-rock illuminati – Sleater-Kinney, Mogwai, Cat Power. Great music, few surprises.
But then a funny thing happens on Matadorʼs tour of the corporate offices. By the end of the first two discs youʼve been taken to places you never imagined going in the heart of American indie (heretofore white) musical elitism – places as disparate and complementary as techno, hip hop, and avant-noise. But what first sounds like Matador forgetting its audience – in a thoroughly overground example of middle-aged identity collapse – by disc three sounds like the most subversive musical move since Pavementʼs Steve Malkmus uttered the words, “Darlinʼ, donʼt you go and cut your hair.”
On the first disc it is Non Phixionʼs “Refuse to Lose” – as in “I got so much trouble on my mind/refuse to lose” courtesy of Chuck D. – that starts the shift, breaking down the indie-pop political ambivalence of earlier tracks. By the second disc Matadorʼs gloves are completely off and the electronic outfit Matmos, along with Khan, Red Snapper and another underground hip-hop troop, the Arsonists, begin to finish off any thoughts of returning unchanged to the indie-rock womb.
Everything is Nice is a brilliant commercial ploy (three CDs, 43 songs, for around $11.99) as well as an incredible statement, calmly exploring a new way of thinking about being an independent label, where dichotomies that have ruled the American underground since punk rock and hip hop divided paths – somewhere after the “World Destruction” sessions between Johnny Rotten and Afrika Bambaataa – donʼt seem to be nearly as important or permanent.
After 10 years of business, Matador has seen through enough of the world to understand the financial and ideological importance of bridging the space between black nationalism and white boredom, urban ghettoes and suburban garages, childish naïveté and hard to earn street-cred, Americana and international pop, feminism and machismo, and the bedroom and club. Though the implications of all this need to be worked out – something for the next 10 years – Matador has found a way to make a buck while still fucking with their version of rock ʻnʼ roll, making the greatest record label in America one of Americaʼs greatest cultural assets.