Dave Grohl examines the life of famous recording studio Sound City, which is where many classic album – including Nevermind by Nirvana – were recorded, and the impact this studio had on the music world.
First things first, this is not an objective documentary, this is a love letter to a the studio where they made their first records by Stevie Nicks, Josh Homme, Dave Grohl, Tom Petty, Rick Springfield and others. The film never questions how Studio City stacked up against other studios, instead it showers a now defunct studio with nostalgic love. Not that there is anything wrong with that.
Director Dave Grohl takes us through the history of the studio through owners, producers, staff and the bands that recorded there. The list is rather impressive, and each of the interviewees talk about the cruminess of the studio and the feeling of belonging and homeliness that they found there. As well as this, the film waxes lyrical about the engineering board – a custom built Neve – that allowed them to create the sound that they wanted.
As a musician who recorded at the studio – and worked with many of the other bands that worked there too – Dave Grohl has a unique insight into the studio that went bust two years ago, and he gets the best from his subjects. However, it does seem that the interviewees were reminded to keep their stories on the clean side, but then, the film is not about rock and roll antics. As well as this, the story gets a little muddled through trying to include too many bands and anecdotes.
Nostalgia is the name of the game here and for the most part, it works. Fans of the music that was created in a dingy studio in Van Nuys will be in their element; the music is great and so are the personalities. The film also examines the rise of new technologies and the decision to move away from analogue recording. Very little room is given to the pro-Pro Tools debate (other than some time with Trent Reznor), but again, this is not an examination of the industry, it is a love letter to the past.
Where the film stumbles, however is in the last 30 minutes; once the audience is caught up on the history of the studio, the story then changes to the Neve board being moved to a new home; Dave Grohl’s home. What follows is an interesting, but overlong, look at Grohl and friends recording new songs. While there are some fantastic new songs in there – mostly from Josh Homme and Trent Reznor – and a hilarious moment where Grohl appears to realise he is drumming with one of his heroes (Paul McCartney), this segment changes the film from indulgent to utterly indulgent.
Studio City is a fantastic look at the history of a studio that gave the world some classic albums during its time. The film would have benefitted from focusing on fewer musicians in order to allow the end segment the time it needed. As it stands though, Sound City is a must for classic rock fans, and those who are sad to see old technologies forgotten.