Wax Works: Tristan da Cunha on Leeds' Vinyl Revolution

Words by: Stephen Flynn
Posted: 22/11/12 8:02

Wax Works: Tristan da Cunha on Leeds' Vinyl RevolutionAmidst all the constant talk of record store closures, you could be forgiven for thinking the medium of vinyl had entered a particularly redundant stage. Dig a little deeper under the surface however, and you’ll actually find the opposite to be true. Indeed, one such store making a mockery of these claims is LeedsWaxwerks; a record shop that’s already making quite the impression in a city that practically reverberates to a 4/4 beat.

Yet Waxwerks let it be known, is not your average, chin-stroking High Fidelity type of store either. For a start, it also incorporates a bar, a gallery and an equally impressive club (The Garage) into proceedings.

Then, there are the in-store showcases, showcases that have already brought the likes of Agnes, Dan Ghenacia, Tim Sweeney and more to the store. All this - and it only opened in February of this year.

Suffice to say, they’ve made quite an impression already then, a feat recognised by nominations (for both Waxwerks and The Garage) at DJ Mag’s impending Best of British awards.

So who’s behind its success? And how does one survive (and thrive) when operating a record store in 2012? We caught up with one of the prime protagonists behind the project, local DJ Tristan da Cunha, who answered these questions and explained - in no uncertain terms - why it’s proved a pretty exciting few months thus far…

Who came up with the concept for Waxwerks and The Garage?
The concept was a collective thing really. The result of 3 very creative minds exercising their imaginations. Frenchy [Leeds based DJ Iain French] and I got together with Steve [Hawkins – local business man and music lover] and wanted to do a really fresh project. Steve's knowledge about venues and bars mixed with our knowledge of the music and the scene was a great combination.

We're all vinyl lovers so for us it was a natural decision to include that aspect into mix as well and revive our favourite music format in the city... The result really came from a collection of ideas that together made a strong concept…Our initial idea was to do a venue that was multi-purpose. In the day we could hang out, have a coffee , check out some records and then with a few simple manoeuvres the place could buckle down and turn into a mini club space. We're all vinyl lovers so for us it was a natural decision to include that aspect into mix as well and revive our favourite music format in the city... The result really came from a collection of ideas that together made a strong concept… when I look at what we have created it's a total hybrid and utterly unique. We're very proud of it.

And how did you settle on the venue for Waxwerks?
The venue was right under our noses really… Steve has a beautiful 18th century building that he runs his businesses from in the financial quarter of the city… Back then it was the original fire station for Leeds with horse and carts. Where they parked the horse and cart was where Steve was keeping his car everyday. He had a light bulb pop up over his head and said wouldn't it be great to do a really low-key underground party here. He did - and it went really well.

After a couple of those parties Steve thought about fulfilling the idea in this space, and when we looked at the full layout it was plain to see that we could do something really cool with it. From deciding to do it in February within 8 weeks we were ready to open our doors to the city. It all happened really fast. For me, when something is supposed to happen everything slots into place and comes together easily. We were lucky to have this space just sat there crying out to be used... it couldn't have been more perfect.

The design of the space looks quite distinctive. Can you tell me a bit more about that?
It's a tale of 2 halves really… The Garage is raw and industrial and then Waxwerks is super slick and jazzy... almost like an art gallery with a speakeasy feel. Before the venue popped up I had discovered a super talented new artist called Victoria Topping, whose work when I saw it was love at first sight. I told her that we really wanted to work with her on a couple of projects, one of them being this jazzy boutique record shop / bar.

Being crazy about music herself she instantly connected with our vision. Already she had an incredible portfolio of work so it was easy for us to adapt what she had to our place. We had wallpaper that she had designed printed up by her Mum with her machines, she helped design the boom box dj booth in Waxwerks and generally added her magic touch to the venue, adorning the walls with all her fabulous artwork. Adding Victoria to the team meant our imaginations ran even wilder and it was a real joy to work with her. Like us, she had never done anything like this kind of project but as you can see when you step in the place... she nailed it and we are really proud to be able to showcase such a raw talent. I can confidently say that there is nowhere in the world like the Garage and Waxwerks. 100 % unique.

Tristan da Cunha, Steve Hawkins &  DJ Iain FrenchShe sounds like quite an asset…
She is a huge asset to the team and the venue. She really gets where we are coming from and vice versa... I can't wait to do some more projects with her in future. Victoria in my eyes should be world famous, I think she will be one day she's that good. Being around her beautiful art everyday is very inspiring and a joy to look at.

So Waxwerks and The Garage – they’re connected to one another, right?
Yeah it's all one big basement that is connected through one long corridor. The Garage has it's own entrance around the back alley which suits the vibe of the place perfectly and Waxwerks is accessible in the day off the main street of East Parade down some steps into the basement of the building... again vinyl and basements go very well together... underground in both senses of the word.

Waxwerks also doubles up as room 2 on a night and really compliments the club, usually playing alternative sounds to the main room giving the whole experience a bit more dynamic through the night. I love it when it goes off in Waxwerks… something about that space that has a bit of magic to it... well I suppose it's not often you get to dance in a record shop is it.

I wanted to ask about being involved in the record store. Was it something you always wanted to do?
Well between the three of us, it was definitely something we wanted to do: we always wanted to have a bit of vinyl in the shop, but we never really envisaged it to turn out quite like this. I mean I used to have a record store in Leeds called Play Music from 2000-2007. I loved it, but it was a lot of work and we kind of arrived at a time when the digital revolution was just taking off.

There is a whole new generation of kids who are really appreciating vinyl and buying turntables as well as having cd players etc. Vinyl is still very niche but I would say the market is much healthier than it was 5 years ago when we closed our old shop Play Music... That can’t have helped?
Yeah, it was a time when vinyl sales were plummeting so it definitely didn’t. Digital romance was kind of taking hold and the technology of the CDJs was really advancing quickly. To top it all off, the music was becoming more and more accessible and vinyl was going through a pretty tough time.

Is that time necessarily over though?
No I don't think it's over as such…digital will never go away, people want convenience and digital music offers that. BUT there is a whole new generation of kids who are really appreciating vinyl and buying turntables as well as having cd players etc. Vinyl is still very niche but I would say the market is much healthier than it was 5 years ago when we closed our old shop Play Music.

There's so much great music coming out only on 12” that the only way to get it and play it is buy the wax… You've got to be quick too as a lot of the stuff is limited to 250–500 copies worldwide, sometimes less. When you see it you gotta grab it… or it'll be gone the next day. Gotta give a lot of those labels respect for keeping the “art” and the vinyl alive.

You must have been slightly apprehensive about opening up though?
To be honest, not really, just because of the way we have it set up. We approached this on total different grounds to how one would typically open up a record store with the bar and the club etc., so we’re not solely dependant on vinyl sales to survive. However... we need to sell records to get more records in and there's so many coming out each week you need to keep turning them over quickly.

Was there one store that was a big influence?
Yeah, my old store Play Music to be honest! In terms of the way we approach things that was great, and it was also a great learning lesson in how not to do things too. But really, we didn’t take inspiration from any one other store.  We didn’t really loom at what others were doing – we just thought about what it was that we wanted to do and focused on the outcome. That’s what helped us come up with something totally unique too.

I don’t know anywhere else in the world that incorporates a club, a bar, an art gallery and a record shop. It looks nice, it feels nice and also smells nice too... we even burn nag champa day and night to try and please all the senses...

You’ve had a few international guests play too…
Yeah, we've had some amazing in-store session from the cream of the underground… Andres aka DJ Dez, James Johnston, Jordan Peak, Matt Tolfrey, Agnes, Iron Curtis, PBR Streetgang, Brawther, Underground Paris, Inner Sense.

Last week was Tim Sweeney from Beats in Space in New York. Then, a couple weeks before that we had Dyed Soundorom, Dan Ghenacia and Shonky play as Apollonia, which was absolutely mobbed, so yeah, that's all great stuff for the store too. It's great for the fans to be able to come down and have what feels like a private audience with these DJs. It feels nice to contribute these things to the city especially those kids who never experienced a record shop before; we're bringing them a whole new version of it. The next level.

Do you feel like you’re giving back to the city in a way?
Yeah, it’s ironic that Leeds has always had so many great nights and so many DJs but no record store supporting it. Where else can you go and see Apollonia for free on a Saturday afternoon? Not only are we giving back to the city, but we are giving back to the artists, labels and the distributors... doing our bit in the chain and keeping the music alive.

Frenchy and yourself are both DJs too. That must help?
Yeah, we’re both residents at [iconic Leeds clubbing institution] Basics, so I guess it helps us when we're sourcing the records and knowing what kind of music really works etc. We always try to pick the best off the lists of what comes out every week that fits into our ethos: mainly quality house, techno, disco and edits etc. A lot of the DJs / club nights in the city play that sort of music so it suits us to keep things very specialist and only stock what's hot. We figured that if we loved the music we're stocking then it'd be much easier to sell it... and sell it with some enthusiasm.

We also get some very hot exclusives that are only available at Waxwerks that helps set us apart from other stores. Being DJs ourselves, we have good relations with the record labels and artists and they really support us by getting us upfront copies before anyone else or giving it to us as a UK exclusive which is always a buzz to have. [You can always order from Waxwerks Discogs site if you can't make it into the store]

There’s a lot to keep up with music wise…
There is, but I think that gives Waxwerks an extra edge too. Because not only are we a record shop, but we're also a filter. We check out the latest and the greatest and stock what we think is the best of the bunch. Of course, we are only a small boutique shop compared to some of the big dogs that are more established, but our selection is streamlined and based on quality not quantity.

Who does what in the shop?
Well Stephen tends to stay in the background and deal with a lot of the business side, so for the most part, it’s manned by Frenchy and myself. We open from Thursday to Saturday from about 12 until 7, and open the club when we feel like it really. It’s as and when we want when it comes to opening the club, and we’re under no pressure to pack it out with student nights, which is great.

It sounds like a real labour of love…
Yeah it most certainly is for me and I’m sure the lads would probably say the same. It's a lot of fun but at the same time we take it very seriously and always try and do our best.

A very exciting time for you then?
Absolutely…the future’s so bright we got to wear shades! [laughs]

Music Store · Art Gallery · Bar
9 East Parade, Leeds, England.
+44 7714 009762
Thu - Sat: 12:00 pm - 7:00 pm

Waxwerks & The Garage Online
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