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SOUND CITY, the film, was conceived by Grohl after purchasing the legendary custom-built Neve 8028 recording console from Sound City Studios last year. The board, built in 1972, is considered by many to be the crown jewel of analog recording equipment, having recorded such artists as Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, Guns and Roses, Metallica, NIN, Rage Against The Machine and countless other musical legends over the past 40 years.
Grohl's personal connection to Sound City began with the 1991 recording of Nirvana's breakthrough album, Nevermind. Selling over 30 million copies worldwide, Nevermind changed the entire musical landscape and forever altered the course of Dave Grohl's life.
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Located in a run down neighborhood in Van Nuys California, Sound City's dilapidated appearance looks better suited to the production of meth, not music.
This is the story that Foo Fighter's front-man and first-time director, Dave Grohl, sets out to tell about this unlikely rock landmark that changed the face - and more specifically, the sound - of music.
And Grohl would know, as Sound City is where Nirvana recorded their seminal album, "Nevermind," before it exploded onto the scene and transformed the rock landscape forever.
** "This Place is a Dump." **
Sound City opened its doors in 1969 to an inauspicious beginning. It was not until 1975, when Fleetwood Mac recorded their heavily praised self-titled album there (a serendipitous and well documented story in the movie), that the tiny studio landed on the rock map and began attracting artists who wanted to come and record there.
Overwhelmingly throughout the documentary, artists' recollection of their first impression of the studio was that it was a complete dump... many nearly refusing to record there as a result.
However, what Sound City lacked in polish, flash or even clean furniture... it more than made up for with something that no other studio at the time had.
** The Neve Console **
The Neve console was designed and manufactured by Neve Electronics for high-end recording studios during the 1970s and was the last of the "80 series" hand-wired analog mixing consoles.
It was a custom-built beast that could record and produce a unique and organic sound that could not be replicated by other studios. It was this sound that attracted such artists as Tom Petty, Pat Benatar, Rick Springfield, Nice Inch Nails, Nirvana, REO Speedwagon, Metallica, Johnny Cash, The Grateful Dead, Rage Against the Machine, Tool, The Arctic Monkeys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fleetwood Mac and even Barry Manilow (go figure).
The Neve console features prominently in the telling of Sound City's story, as it was also the catalyst for the creation of the film. When Grohl learned that the famed studio would be closing its doors, he purchased the console to ensure its place in rock history and installed it in his own studio.
Which leads me to one of my favorite parts of the film.
** Jam Session **
After Grohl dismantled, moved, cleaned (not an easy task according to Dave) and reassembled the famed Neve console, he invited back many of the artists whose careers were launched at Sound City.
The result was one of my favorite sections of the film, as the likes of Trent Reznor, Stevie Nicks, Josh Homme, Paul McCartney and Rick Springfield tried to recreate the sound and vibe of the famed studio by recording the film's soundtrack.
I particularly loved this part of the film because I find it amazingly inspirational to see the creative and collaborative process between truly talented musicians. Just the portion between Reznor, Homme and Grohl is a reminder of what true artists actually are... and quite frankly made me resent the manufactured, auto-tuned and over-produced-pop crap that passes as "music" today.
Later, you are treated to Paul McCartney (whom I have never been much a fan of during his post Beatles / Wings career), but I developed a new-found appreciation for him after this documentary. Again, witnessing the collaborative nature of real musicians is a sight to see... and hear.
Which leads me to my next topic.
** Digital Killed The Analog Star **
One of the major reasons that Sound City eventually went under, was due in large part to the introduction of digital recording and audio editing programs such as Pro Tools.
Nowhere in the film does Grohl levy an indictment against digital recording (nor is it my intent to do so in this review), but rather makes the point that because of it, the music industry is unlikely to see another Sound City emerge or thrive again.
In a time when you can easily record, manipulate and produce music from your bedroom, the days of artists creating a truly organic musical experience in the studio is quickly dwindling. In fact, it is my opinion that Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters are one of the only bands remaining who proudly carry and wave the `rock banner' above a sea of mediocre and short lived musical acts that no one will remember in 10 years.
In the beginning of the documentary, you learn to appreciate the inherent challenges (and benefits) of recording on tape. Many artists had to play straight through a song, even if it meant dozens of takes in order to get it right and match the sound, since editing in those days is not what is is today.
Nowadays, you can record an entire album without having any band members present. Each member can come in, record their individual parts and call it a day... since it can all be mixed together later or "fixed" in post. This disconnect and dependence on technology is what the film truly laments and is what Sound City was able to provide.
Every artist featured in the film remarked about the unique sound that the space at Sound City produced, especially for drums and vocals... one that they were never able to replicate at another studio. This, coupled with the Neve console and the audio engineers who ran it over the years, is what combined to produce some of the most memorable recordings in history.
I venture to guess that what was considered a unique sound at Sound City, would be filtered, flattened or processed out by something like Pro Tools today.
If you consider yourself a music fan, it should be required viewing for you to see this movie. For a first-time director, Dave Grohl does an outstanding job and the film is paced perfectly.
SPOILER ALERT: The master, Dave Grohl had been building his own studio and he wanted that Neve board and made an offer to one of the original owners of sound city as the rest of that studio was being torn down. He had it carefully installed into his new 606 Studios in California. It has newly become the place were real musicians now do at least one song at for their new albums. It is 100% analog with digital being used as an instrument not a crutch. In a world of Pro-tools being used with "perfect pitch" control and easy editing, that even make the worst sound tolerable. The Foo Fighters studio is a studio for musicians! There is a soundtrack you can buy separately, that has all the collaborations done in this documentary towards the end of the film. With the likes of Sir Paul McCartney standing in for the late Kurt Cobain in a sort of "Nirvana 2.0", Rick Neilsen of Cheap Trick, Stevie Nicks, Rick Springfield, Trent Reznor and of course all of those marvelous Foo's! This film is magic for musicians and lover's of music. The best documentary I have seen since "Foo Fighters- Back and Forth". It stands alone as the only one of it's type with great interviews with Neil Young, Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood & Rick Springfield that will have you longing for the ole days. You may even shed a tear or two.