For those about to rock, we salute you. Sound City is a fond acknowledgement of a special time when a studio produced several albums that signaled key moments in music history. It’s indulgent at times and skims over a lot of potentially great stories from its subjects but there is enough on offer to send anyone rampaging through their music collection to revisit the greats.
Former Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters head honcho Dave Grohl directs the documentary, exploring the history of the now defunct Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California U.S.A. Through the stories told by former employees, owners and musicians, Grohl showcases the timeline of the studio. It’s the place where Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined Fleetwood Mac and recorded their first album together, where Rick Springfield laid down Jessie’s Girl on the path to superstardom and Nirvana blew the top off the world after recording their album Nervermind on the premises. It’s a treat to hear the stories from the mouths of titans of the music industry and Grohl certainly uses his insider status to gain access to the likes of Stevie Nicks, Barry Manilow, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Rick Rubin, Butch Vig and an interview with himself (of course), but it’s a long list of legends. It is jaw dropping the number of famous albums that were recorded at Sound City Studios and it’s fun watching Grohl weave his way through the list like he’s flipping through an amazing record collection.
Beyond the obvious insider stories you’d expect from a music documentary, Grohl reveals the secret weapon to the success of the studio. The mixing console the Neve 8078, that’s considered the Rolls Royce of recording equipment. Combining the artistry of the musicians and producers with the audio engineering excellence of the Neve was a little musical magic. As the documentary moves into age of the digital revolution in the music industry is Grohl opens up his musical thesis of analogue verses digital. All the hours of hard work at the Neve is replaced with the click of a mouse and a computer program that fixes everything automatically in minutes. Grohl accepts it was a change that happened and the presence of digital producing guru, Trent Reznor, highlights a master of the new technology but there is still something very special about what the Neve produces.
The final hour of Sound City detaches from the story of the studio as Grohl attempts to make an album using the studio’s old Neve console that he has purchased and installed in his own home studio. The purpose of the exercise is an attempt to “tell the story of the mixer” by displaying how an album can still be made using older technology. While the intention is genuine it seems as if Grohl is showing off as he invites legends such as Paul McCartney to jam. It feels separate from the story of Sound City Studios and more like a BluRay/DVD extra tacked on.
Notwithstanding Grohl’s chest beating (he is a rock musician after all); Sound City is a living and breathing piece of music history made with a lot of love for the material.
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies