Sound CityThursday 14 Mar 2013
Director: Dave Grohl
Starring: Dave Grohl, Paul McCartney, Josh Homme, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, John Fogarty, Tom Petty, Barry Manilow, Pat Smear, Butch Vig
Duration: 108 minutes
Everyone from Josh Homme to Barry Manilow queues up to take part in Dave Grohl's glowing tribute to the analogue era that enjoyed its high summer in San Fernando's Sound City studio. It was here, within the battered walls and curling carpets, that countless great albums were made between the late sixties and the place's sad but inevitable demise two years ago.
At least two of those records genuinely defined separate eras - After The Gold Rush by Neil Young and Nirvana's epoch-smashing Nevermind. A generation apart they may be but both were born within the dilapidated and odorous interior of Sound City. The diamond in the rough was the custom Neve 8028 Console purchased for a remortgage price of $72,000 by ambitious studio engineers in 1972. The Neve was the Rolls Royce of analogue, the warm multi-tubed heart of great recordings.
You can tell just how important Sound City and its hallowed Neve was in American music history by the quality of Grohl's interviewees. Tom Petty, a 1974 veteran of the place, is like a snaggle-toothed desert rat as he forages around those old corridors and Gandalf-like beanpole Mick Fleetwood charmingly relates how he turned up in the hippy demesne of Laurel Canyon looking for somewhere to record and mere hours later, met the elfin Stevie Nicks in Sound City for the very first time. Truculent old timer and vinyl evangelist Neil Young recalls how he arrived for his first recording session in a hearse billowing cannabis smoke with two highway cops in hot pursuit.
The engineers and producers of Sound City were essentially proto punks festooned with two-inch tape who shucked the industry just when it was changing from stoned hippy idealism to corporate monolith. They relay their sun-blanched memories with affection and occasional tears and we are left in the ineluctable knowledge that most recording artists now live in the thoroughly unromantic world of Pro Tools and digitalisation, labour saving devices that dehumanise rock's holy grail of great sound. Although, of course, Trent Reznor and Butch Vig say different and they pretty much do in Sound City.
Maybe Grohl's film is half an hour too long and the extended scenes of Macca (once again, over eager to vanquish the ghost of Wings and The Frog Chorus) and many others dropping by Grohl's own studio to jam and record a new album on that reclaimed Neve console are a just a bit rock luvvie. But Sound City is both an audiophile's dream and an educational and entertaining trip for any music fan who appreciates the love, sweat and tears that go into making great records.