Dave Grohl has been a hero to many music fans for over twenty years, drummer in Nirvana, sometime member of Queens of the Stone Age and rock god in Foo Fighters, he now has turned his hand to film directing. In this case, it’s the documentary, ‘Sound City’, which follows the life on the infamous Sound City studios in Los Angeles and more importantly the Neve sound desk which helped capture some of music’s iconic sounds. It also shows Grohl to have great vision in the film making process.
The story of Sound City is told through staff and musicians who recorded there, including Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood and Rick Springfield to name a few. It also charts the struggle many studios encountered, not only Sound City, as the switch to digital recording took hold. Putting it nicely, Sound City looked like a shithole but the energy and chemistry in the place lead to the birth of musical gems there.
When Sound City closed, Dave Grohl bought the Neve console and took it to his studio. He then got some of the musicians who had previously recorded through the board to come to his studio and put something new down, including a hero of Grohl’s, Sir Paul McCartney.
Here’s the nerdy bit.. as a music lover and an all out audiophile, I loved this documentary. I loved the historical element, recognizing many of the albums that were recorded at Sound City. As someone who has been lucky enough to record on 2inch analogue tape, knowing the recording process and hearing what Dave Grohl said about getting the chemistry back into the music, I adored it. Neve consoles are world famous, they have a fantastic reputation and rightly so. This console was the centre of Sound City. When it was installed, business boomed, but as with many things in the digital age, recording onto tape was no longer financially viable.
The documentary isn’t just about analogue vs digital. Yes, it broaches the subject of the authenticity of digital editing and musical manipulation. Later in the film it cleverly shows how Trent Reznor uses digital music manipulation as a tool rather than a crutch. What ‘Sound City’ captures beautifully are the ‘had to be there moments’. Through good vibes in a studio space, chemistry within a band and with a producer, whether in the original ‘Sound City’ or later in Grohl’s studio when the ‘Sound City Players’ record. It brings us back to why we originally fell in love with music.
This is an interesting and informative documentary and for me has reignited my love of recording. Now I want to go to Dave Grohl’s house and play with his toys.