Netflix’s smash Eighties sci-fi/horror love letter Stranger Things owes much of its success to its soundtrack. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of Austin electronica four-piece S U R V I V E took inspiration from John Carpenter’s scores for his own films and from the pulsing soundtracks of Italian giallo splatter flicks, using vintage synthesizers to generate ominous, atmospheric music. When the band stops this week at Good Room and WFMU’s Monty Hall, on Halloween and the day after, fans can buy the soundtrack on an era-appropriate format: vinyl. Volume one of the Stranger Things soundtrack comes out on double LP October 28 via Lakeshore Records, with volume two to follow December 2.
Dixon wasn’t planning for it. “I didn’t expect such a huge reaction [to Stranger Things], or for people to start recognizing us on the street,” he tells the Voice. “I didn’t expect anyone would care outside of our group of friends.” But S U R V I V E’s moment makes sense: It comes at a point when both genre-movie music and vinyl are more popular than ever. Throughout the U.S. and Europe, horror fans are filling their shelves with decades-old genre soundtracks, many of which have only
become available in the past five years.
Spencer Hickman, founder of the U.K.’s Death Waltz Recording Company and manager of its U.S. partner, Mondo, is proud to have played a part in the retro-soundtrack boom. “Vinyl never went away,” he says. “Sales have been rising for the last ten years, steadily. But we cater to a niche of collectors.” Since 2011, the company has spotlighted scores to well-known works like Carpenter’s, but its real value is in the forgotten ones. Take Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) composer Fabio Frizzi, 65, a veteran of the Italian film and TV industry whose name was barely known in the U.S. until Death Waltz released his soundtrack last year. After decades of relative
anonymity, he’s now on his second
American tour thanks to the popularity of Death Waltz’s reissue, which highlighted the movie’s strange mix of African tribal rhythms and nerve-racking synthesizer noodling. The record was pressed on clear vinyl spattered with red flecks, the sort of packaging that makes these releases highly collectible.
As demand for the reissues has grown, there are more labels jostling for the rights. Since launching in 2013, New
Orleans–based Waxwork Records has emerged as a friendly rival to Mondo,
offering a mix of B-movie and mainstream scores with even more deluxe packaging. The company has released everything from Harry Manfredini’s Friday the 13th Part 3 music cues — on vinyl colored to look like a bloody hockey mask — to an
upcoming collection of the songs from Rankin/Bass Productions’ offbeat stop-motion animated Halloween film Mad Monster Party, from 1967.
Kevin Bergeron, Waxwork’s co-founder and CEO, says it can take years of hard work to make one of these albums happen. “The rights to the music might’ve been transferred to different people, or to a family estate,” he explains. “The composer might’ve died. Sometimes the soundtrack was never intended to be released commercially. It [can take] a lot of finesse.”
Even lining up a pressing plant takes planning, since so many companies are doing vinyl runs. Hickman says it helps that Mondo does so much business with its plant, which allows him to book a job well in advance. Some 2017 Mondo releases have already been pressed, to beat the rush. The popularity doesn’t surprise him. “I think it’s that people want a tangible object, especially when
it comes to music,” Hickman says —
particularly these people. “When you marry that to horror fans, film buffs, that’s the demographic that wants things they can put on a shelf.” Bergeron agrees: “There are collectors who buy our
records that don’t even own a turntable.”
The guys from S U R V I V E can
identify. They’re collectors themselves, hoarding everything from vintage instruments and gear to VHS tapes of movies like the 1979 sci-fi horror oddity The
Visitor, which before 2010 was unavailable in any other format. “I don’t try to be a collector,” Dixon says. “I just have these weird pieces of my past that are still around, like my old Etch A Sketch and my Nintendo. I kind of have trouble
giving away the artifacts of my life.”
That urge to hold onto and celebrate the past animates the work of Hickman and Bergeron, proudly the same kind
of nerds who buy their products. “We
do this because we’re really big fans of film music and cinema in general,” Bergeron says. “We know what the
people want to hear, and we work really hard to make it happen.”