Director: Dave Grohl
Cast: Dave Grohl, Joshua Homme, Trent Reznor, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks
Running Time: 108 minutes
Release: March 15
With Sound City, Dave Grohl ventures out on his first filmic endeavour, and one could be mistaken for assuming he has done this before. Stitching together a patchwork of music history, he zeroes in on Sound City, a geriatric dive of a recording studio, awash amongst the monotony of San Fernado’s urban sprawl. Through an impressive set of interviews with varying persons of interest, Grohl constructs a collage of crushing nostalgia, sentimentality and the bygone heroisms of analogue rock and roll.
As the new filmmaker guides an audience from humble beginnings in the late ’60s, through a paced rise to fame, it is strikingly evident how close these esteemed musicians hold Sound City to their hearts and memories. Tom Petty, Neil Young, Rick Springfield and Stevie Nicks casually recount the formative years through anecdotes and aphorisms, while Grohl rolls out in-house footage to voyeuristically include the viewer.
Certainly, as the stories of family and friends mount up, we begin to realise the familial theme of this enterprise. The studio and its created spirituality centre around the Neve Console. The heart of the story, this recording desk contributes its own history and separate nostalgia: a one of a kind, hand constructed piece of music legend. It is the stuff music geeks are made of. We are plugged in and jacked through this frame into Studio A, where the infamous drum space is exhibited and explained through a messy combination of technical expertise and raw sentiment.
All the while, the rise and fall of Sound City’s business is chronicled by a roll-call of producers, owners and managers. This ‘boom/bust’ history elicits an unspoken fiscal irresponsibility behind the scenes of this behind-the-scenes film. Moreover, the lubed up veneer plastered across this history seems wilfully forgetful of rock’s more sordid past. Implicitly, Jack Daniels and cigarettes were the hardest substance consumed therein! Decidedly more Foo Fighters than Nirvana, it would seem…
Nevertheless, we roll on through Nirvana and Rage Against the Machine, Queens of the Stone Age and Trent Reznor. These eyes paint the portrait of a studio not so keen on modernisation. As the digital age took off and reached new heights throughout the ’90s and 2000s, Sound City slowed down and fell off the radar. That is until Grohl decided to buy Rupert Neve’s mythical console and make it his own in his personal space: Studio 606. This is where our director positioned the still-beating heart of Sound City’s communal memory to record the accompanying album of studio alumni.
While this move comes as a confusing juxtaposition, given the film’s attention to the inherent worth and “feel” of Sound City as a place, it does not detract from the narrative quality of the documentary. Sound City is an extraordinarily well constructed film, littered with humour and tragedy in balanced proportions. The memories may be hazy and the history selective, but Grohl and Co. have successfully navigated the bridge between analogue and digital all while echoing the brilliance of one of rock and roll’s most hallowed halls.