Recording studios that are famous among non-musicians or anyone who isn’t a serious music aficionado can be counted on one hand. There’s Abbey Road in London, Sun Studio in Memphis, possibly Capitol Studios in Hollywood or The Hit Factory or Electric Lady in New York. Dave Grohl’s eulogy for Sound City will undoubtedly make it as famous as some of the others, albeit a bit too late to save it. The first half of Sound city tells the story of the studio and how it became the choice of artists as diverse as Barry Mannilow, Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Rage Against the Machine, REO Speedwagon and of course, Nirvana. Along the way, we learn how the studio became instrumental in the merger of Fleetwood Mac and Buckingham Nicks, and how an almost accidental combination of the room and a custom made Neve console gave Sound City a unique drum sound. There is also unseen home video of the recording of Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes and Nirvana’s Nevermind.
As much as being a history of the studio, Sound City is also a celebration of the old ways of recording music. While there may be a certain irony in ageing punks like Grohl, Josh Homme and Corey Taylor saying the young kids of today don’t get it, they do have a point. Prior to computerised recording, the studio and its equipment were an integral part of a recording’s sound. The once unique characteristics of legendary studios and gear have all been digitally modelled now and are available on the device you’re looking at right now. It hasn’t made recordings better though. As digital defender Trent Reznor points out in the film, there are people who have never used the real versions of the equipment they have digitally emulated on their computers and therefore, don’t really know what they’re for or how to use them.
The second half of the film shows the relocation of the classic console to Grohl’s studio and the making of the Real to Reel album with a range of old friends and Sound City alumni. Of all the participants, Paul McCartney comes across as a bit of a ring-in since he never recorded at Sound City like all the others. However, as Grohl says, he’s recording on the console that gave him the life he has with one of the people who made him want to make music in the first place. You can’t ask for much more than that.
In every way, Sound City is a beautiful, fond and humourous documentary which should educate and entertain both musical obsessives and more casual fans alike.
There are three bonus programs, each focussing on the recording of a song for the album. They are all presented in multi-angle, fly-on-the-wall style and provide a fascinating insight into the recording process.
Feature: * * * * *
Extras: * * * * *
Audio: LPCM Stereo, Dolby 5.1