Director: David Grohl
Writers: Mark Monroe
Starring: David Grohl, Vinny Appice, Mick Fleetwood, Tom Petty, Joshua Homme, Paul McCartney, Trent Reznor
As Dave Grohl roles into the outskirts of LA, trailing behind him a column of blue smoke, he can’t avoid looking like a bit of a dick in his ironic clapped out van. But what the multimillionaire global rock star doesn’t achieve by way of making us believe he’s just an ordinary bloke, he certainly makes up for with his wealth of experience in the world of music and a charmingly affable personality.
In this labour of love Grohl has crafted a timely and passionate plea to today’s generation of youth who dream of making it in the music business. And this is ultimately his point – for the kids to not think of it as a business but to concentrate on having a good time as a group of mates and take the time to learn how to play together, no matter how shit they be. It is a call to arms against the state of modern music and the collapse of grass roots amateur musicianship. Along with a wealth of his musical chums he takes an intimate look behind the scenes of a legendary rag tag record studio where he and Nirvana cut their teeth: Sound City.
What initially began as a much simpler (and slightly boring sounding) love letter to the vintage sound console which formed the creative center of the studio, quickly evolved as Grohl realised how the good times and bad times of analogue recording could help shape bands and forge unique sounds. As the ubiquitous Pro Tools becomes ever more powerful these old sound boards have become a forgotten relic from a time when bands had to stay in the studio all night sweating over their instruments until they got it right, or, god forbid, actually playing a song live together in one take.
This effortlessly cool documentary brings a surprising level of honesty and realism to its subject, Grohl afforded the luxury of being good mates with many of his subjects, able to share in their recollections and pull out the kind of details only someone who was there could.
Many of the legends told by the oddly eclectic one-time residents of this rock cathedral are somewhat understated and occasionally a little boring when compared with the wild egocentric myths surrounding other bands. Despite the rock and roll energy which must have been spilling out like a blocked up toilet, the key players come across as a rather well behaved bunch and there are few moments of debauchery, apart from the lone ranger style appearance of Neil Young. Rather than being a disappointment this actually proves to be quite a relief not being forced to listen to a bunch of egocentric tossers who may or may not have even been in the room at the time exaggerating things they can barely remember through the haze of drink and drugs.
Besides, these trips down memory lane are more of a side note to what is a quite serious investigation into the nature of the studio and its evolution into the digital world. With all the technical and tech/gear focused chat this is a documentary clearly aimed squarely at musicians and music enthusiasts. It is certainly not one for Foo Fighter’s fan boys. Which brings up an interesting point.
Despite Grohls best intentions, its difficult to see anyone who wouldn’t have formed a shitty band in their garage anyway being inspired to do so. It’s hard to imagine next years reality TV hopefuls stumbling across this film and getting past the first ten minutes of bearded middle aged rockers purring over nobs on a 1950s sound console. The unfettered commercialisation of the music industry will continue unabated, with over produced mediocre pop starlets increasingly seen as a cheaper and lower risk option to drunken amateurs stumbling through their own precious songs. Its more likely that the few kids out there still locked away in their bedrooms, putting in the hours on their cheap build guitars will increasingly be marginalised as pretentious bell ends by the homogeneous mainstream of shapely asses and flashing lights.
Which is all a depressing shame really.