David Grohl’s debut documentary film, Sound City (2013), spotlights Sound City Studios in Los Angeles and the reasons it was so popular with many musical geniuses from its time. Numerous musical masterminds recall their favorite recollections from Sound City while recording albums at this tiny, unassuming studio in the San Fernando Valley. Beginning in 1969 with Neil Young and Fleetwood Mac, the studio and it’s one of a kind soundboard, would forever become a piece of rock ‘n’ roll folklore.
Broken into three sections, the documentary first introduces the original Sound City Studio owners, as well as its initial recordings and subsequent rise to notoriety. The studio began with taking a huge risk by recording Fleetwood Mac. Once Fleetwood Mac’s records soared, such other acts like Elton John, REO Speedwagon, Santana and The Grateful Dead signed on. Yet, it wasn’t until the rise of the hair band during the 80’s that the studio received a constant flow of talent. Once the hairspray dried up so did the studio’s clients. That is until Grohl and Nirvana entered through their doors.
The second segment of the documentary feels less structured as it begins to discuss the usage of analogue recording and the effects computers and machinery caused on the music industry. Multiple artists discussed how a part of rock ‘n’ roll’s soul died the day analog was no longer being used exclusively. The debate being that analog improved the artist since there was nowhere to hide in their recordings. There was no computer touch ups. There wasn’t any way to make a record perfect except to record it perfectly. Knowing Grohl is an outspoken voice against the current pop star, singing competition culture, I was really getting excited for one of his rants. Sadly, there was no eruption of emotions and Grohl quickly moved on.
The final segment is basically one giant big jam session (or advertisement – depending on how you look at it) where all the former musicians from Sound City Studio participate at Grohl’s new studio, Studio 606. Grohl purchases Sound City’s famous and one of a kind analog soundboard and installs it in his own studio. A special guest appearance comes and finishes the film’s jam session and we get to watch Grohl get giddy with childlike excitement.
Overall, the documentary is more of a nostalgic trip down memory lane. It is from a time when music was actually played with instruments. When people gathered around each other to make an album. Sound City doesn’t hit on any hard topics, but instead prods the artists to remember their favorite part about making music at Sound City. For that, and the jam sessions at the end, Sound City is one of the year’s most enjoyable documentaries.