In a scene late in the newly released documentary Sound City, Dave Grohl, the former drummer for Nirvana, is focused. He pounds away on the drums, lost in their echoing tribal rhythm, his long black hair flying in his face. It's almost as if he thinks finding the right combo of beats might create a time-traveling vortex that will send him back to the days when his bandmates Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic were setting a new tempo for rock music.
That scene from Grohl's remarkable documentary and directorial debut Sound City communicates the unbridled passion Grohl has for music and its history.
The focus for the documentary is Studio City, a dumpy warehouse far flung from L.A.'s glitz that nonetheless attracted hit-makers for nearly three decades, often producing breakout records for previously unknown bands, like Fleetwood Mac with its self-title album in 1975, and the massively impactful Nevermind for Nirvana.
But Sound City does so much more than catalog the music made at Studio City. It is also a bold look forward, and a call to action for artists and fans alike. With the main message being—don't lose the realness of music.
The film features retrospective interviews with the likes of Tom Petty, Neil Young, Rick Springfield and other recording industry luminaries, culminating with the recording of new music by Grohl and his friends.
The film also follows Grohl as he rebuilds and uses Sound City's former one-of-a-kind engineering console in his own facility, Studio 606. As much as the film is a history lesson, it is also an exploration by Grohl into the possibility of bringing studio engineering back to its fundamentals—using analog devices rather than digital, and recording music with manually adjusted soundboards rather than Pro Tools software that installs on a laptop.
The result is the 11-track companion album Real to Reel utilizing the talents of Stevie Nicks, Trent Reznor and Paul McCartney, just to name a few.
With vinyl making a comeback over the past few years, Grohl has picked an opportune time to take this journey. After all, wouldn't it be great if the technology used to make a vinyl record matched the listening medium? Grohl sure thinks so. And he expertly makes his point in this film.
It's a documentary that brings with it the very real promise and possibility of changing how you understand music. That is not hyperbole; that makes Sound City a must see.