When I first started to hit Rough Trade a few years ago, Spencer Hickman was one of the familiar faces that you would see in the store. Rough Trade made the bold step of expanding into their large East End store just off Brick Lane in 2007, at the peak of the global financial crisis, just as the rest of the UK’s record retailers were contracting faster than Aston Villa’s chances of remaining in the Premier League. The Rough Trade team always went out of their way to be helpful with recommendations and I signed up to their Album Of The Month subscription service.
Spencer left Rough Trade and in 2011 set up the Death Waltz Recording Company. Death Waltz specialised in gloriously beautiful vinyl based reissues of cult horror and sci-fi movies. I must confess I was never a big watcher of these VHS releases back in the day. I used to hide behind the sofa when Dr Who was on. What hooked me in were two films that got the Death Waltz treatment.
The first was John Carpenter’s “Assault On Precinct 13” from 1976. It is a fantastically spare film with a similarly lean soundtrack composed and played by Carpenter. The film wasn’t in the typical horror genre with its storyline of a redundant police station being attacked by mysterious assailants. The soundtrack was hugely ahead of its time with its insistent bass riff being a big influence on the electronic music that grew out of northern England in the 80s, via the likes of the Human League and Cabaret Voltaire.
The beauty of Death Waltz’s work is in the sheer quality of their product. “Assault” comes in a lovely vanilla and red splatter. The sleeve notes are comprehensive with John Carpenter, Austin Stoker (who played Lieutenant Bishop) and Clint Mansell (who I wrote about here) all contributing. Mansell writes affectionately about the movie, reminiscing about how he watched the movie at the Cradley Royal in the 80s. Mansell writes:
Though I didn’t know it at the time, hearing this score was a pivotal moment in my own musical development. The music, the voyeuristic perspective, the foreboding, the unseen terror, the disconnect of a society; all combine to create a headspace – an experience – beyond the narrative
It was evidently hugely influential.
The second soundtrack that I picked up was Tomas Alfredson’s “Let The Right One In” from 2008. This is one of the other strings to Death Waltz’s bow – picking up more recent classics that fit their template. The movie is one of my favourite of recent years, a tale of bullying, loss, friendships and vampires. The movie is set in the white out of a Scandinavian winter and the white vinyl from Death Waltz matched perfectly. Johan Söderqvist’s soundtrack was perfect, moving from orchestral beauty with a returning guitar theme.
I’ve now picked up a good few of Death Waltz’s releases with the remainder of the John Carpenter releases, a live EP of Goblin’s music and “The New York Ripper” scored by Francesco De Masi all particular highlights. You can read more about Spencer’s aesthetic here.
In January 2015, Spencer and his partner Kimberly Holladay merged with Mondo Records, allowing their distribution to be extended Stateside. Having gone westward they then went eastward to Margate. They have opened a shop, specialising in soundtrack vinyl but with plenty more too.
We were craving some seaside sunshine and fortunately the weather unseasonably obliged. On a tip from the good people at Soundstage, we headed for the Kent coast.
Margate is a place of contradictions at present. There are three distinct groups of people living cheek by jowl: the older indigenous Margate population, the newer immigrant community drawn to the UK and particularly Kent for manual fruit picking and the freshly minted London hipsters.
Death Waltz’s premises are in Cliftonville which is away from the Old Town currently in the process of gentrification. When we arrived, Spencer was measuring up for blinds to help keep the bright afternoon sun out a little.
The shop is a delight. There are racks of vinyl on either side of the premises with a lovely resin floor with vinyl embedded.
There is a small mezzanine area from which the mail order/internet business is run. There was plenty of interesting stock to browse including 80s material, jazz, funk, soul, electronica and soundtracks. The soundtracks in particular were fascinating. Obviously there was plenty of Death Waltz product, but there was also Japanese Anime/Manga and Italian Spaghetti Western and Giallo releases.
It was a pleasure chatting to Kimberley and Spencer. They were from Hertfordshire and Birmingham respectively and it was a clearly a big leap to move to a part of the country that neither had roots in. They are obviously enjoying it and gave us plenty of helpful recommendations for restaurants and coffee shops (more of that later). They were just tying up the last loose strings for the next jewel in Death Waltz crown, a reissue of the “Twin Peaks” soundtrack. Warner Bros needed a personal sign off from David Lynch. This was eventually forthcoming and production is about to start.
We picked up a variety of LP: The The’s soundtrack for “Hyena” in red and blue vinyl on Death Waltz, Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for Giù La Testa aka “Duck, You Sucker” aka “A Fistful of Dynamite on orange vinyl on Cinevox and a Japanese copy of Isao Tomita’s version of Holst’s “The Planets” complete with obi strip. Oh and my daughter bought her first ever LP, a copy of the “Back To The Future” soundtrack on a rather fetching picture disc.
It really was a question of knowing where to draw the line and resisting temptation (something that I’ve never been particularly good at when it comes to buying music).
I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and bid Spencer and Kimberly a fond farewell. I’m sure that we will be back.
What of the rest of Margate?
- We stayed in a fantastic hotel, The Sands. The hotel was over a hundred years old and derelict. It has recently been brought back up to date by Nick Covington and is one of the best hotels that I’ve stayed in recently, either in the UK or elsewhere.
- We found some fantastic eateries – The London Tavern pub (as recommended at Death Waltz), the Greedy Cow cafe and a great chippy in Peter’s Fish Factory.
- There are some lovely galleries and shops. We picked up a new light for our living room from Etc. We also found out that frankly you are no-one in Margate unless you know someone who is doing something innovative with seaweed.
And finally, of course, there is the Turner Contemporary gallery. It is relatively small (slightly larger in terms of gallery space than the White Cube in Bermondsey). There were two artists being featured alongside Turner’s work.
Firstly there were a couple of pieces by Yinka Shonibare. “The British Library” showed hardback books created with the names of immigrants that have contributed to British society. In within many familiar names was Denes Rosa who played for Wolves under Glenn Hoddle. Unless I missed something I’m not entirely certain of his contribution to British society.
The second piece by Shonibare was “The End Of The Empire” about power, conflict and balance.The upstairs was dedicated to the work of Joachim Koester. According to the Turner:
Koester plays with the art of storytelling through 16mm film, sound and photography, taking you on a journey to different times, places and states of consciousness. From hypnosis and hallucination to the psychedelic, weave your way through Koester’s narratives and experience The Other Side of the Sky.
There were some beautiful nature prints that were hyperreal photographic pieces.
There was also an evocative installation of a beach hut but with a film loop playing within it.
Here’s the trailer for the exhibition:
We didn’t get chance to visit the newly refurbished Dreamland pleasure park.
We’ll be back soon though.