There used to be an age, where rock stars were grizzled, guitars belted out raw riffs and over the top wasn’t just a gimmick. It was a lifestyle. Through it all, there remained one studio, one recording venue that churned out hit album after hit album, but never forgetting its humble origins.
That studio was known as Sound City. This is its story.
The funny thing about Sound City, as Foo Fighter’s Dave Grohl directs, is that the documentary is about more than just a collection of big name artists coming together to share their experiences. It’s about what went on behind the scenes at Sound City, and more importantly, the technology that enabled so many great albums to be recorded.
But Grohl weaves a tale of music and technology into one another effortlessly, while using a documentary style that has become a default template or such films over the year. One minute you’re listening to Trent Reznor spin a tale about how one of the grimiest locales in America was home to a Nine Inch Nails album, before flipping back to Rupert Neve as he talks about the iconic Neve 8028 sound board that brought musicians from all over to Sound City.
Make no mistake, Grohl pulls no punches when he talks about the actual Sound City. It’s a studio with a seventies vibe that never grew up, was grimy and dank and had more than it’s fair share of flooding problems. But much like a favourite Portuguese restaurant in a bad part of town or a motorcycle that has seen better days but still has some style, it was a place filled with charm. It was modest, inviting and capable of lending any band that performed there a signature set of audio that made it so popular.
And thanks to Dave Grohl and his cult status as a god of rock through his Nirvana and Foo Fighters work, Sound ity has more than its fair share of rock ‘n roll artists who can’t wait to talk about their time spent in that funky dungeon. The Grateful Dead, Neil Young, Mick Fleetwood, Foreigner, Lars Ulrich and REO Speedwagon are just a few of the names that you can expect to see in this documentary, as it spans several generations of rock over three decades.
But it really is far more interesting hearing what the staff behind Sound City have to say. The struggles to keep the studio open until it eventually closed down, the tall stories and the urban legends surrounding the studio. If there’s one thing that Grohl does right here, it’s that the documentary has a ton of heart, but a heckuva lot of attitude as well, reminiscent of a power ballad or a guitar solo that you tend to play over and over again.
At the end of the day, Sound City is a love letter to a genre of music that has seen better days. A raw and unapologetic look at the past, and a well deserved tribute to a studio which almost became an urban legend that only a select few knew about.
There’s a reason why rock is so enduring, even if it’s a two decade old Ronnie James Dio or AC/DC single playing next to a more modern Foo Fighters track. And it’s places like Sound City that you can thank for making those albums a reality. Sound City may be no more, with that mecca of Neve sound boards now being the property of Grohl who salvaged it from a destructive fate, but this is a documentary that every music lover needs to see at least once.
Last Updated: April 17, 2013