Movie review: ‘Sound City’ is a tribute to recording studio equipment

Fiery, emotional and funny, “Sound City” is above all a mashed note for a machine. Not just any machine, however, but one that helped change the face of rock ‘n’ roll.

This piece of equipment, the Neve 8028 sound card, was the jewel in the crown of Sound City in Van Nuys, a complete dumping ground for a recording studio whose neglected vibe and warehouse complex location do not did not prevent him from producing more than 100 gold and platinum medals. records, including period work by Neil Young, Tom Petty, Pat Benatar, Cheap Trick, Rage Against the Machine, Fleetwood Mac and Nine Inch Nails.

“Sound City,” the film wouldn’t exist if Foo Fighters director-rocker Dave Grohl hadn’t shown up there in 1991 with his Nirvana bandmates to record their breakthrough album “Nevermind.” “We were just kids with nothing to lose,” he says in the film’s opening voiceover. “We had no idea the next 16 days would change our world forever.”

Due to Grohl’s rock star status, he was able to convince an impressive number of famous musicians to sit down for on-camera interviews, including Young, Petty, John Fogerty, Trent Reznor, Stevie Nicks, and Rick Springfield.

But because grungy Sound City was the kind of place it was – Barry Manilow says it was “more family-friendly than any studio I’ve been to” – some of the film’s most memorable storylines involve lesser-known folks like unflappable studio execs Paula Salvatore and Shivaun O’Brien, ace producer Keith Olsen, and co-owner Tom Skeeter, who graciously insists he was only in it for the money.

The film’s best stories cluster around the studio’s most famous event, its central place in the formation of Fleetwood Mac.

Buckingham Nicks, created by the romantic duo of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, had been the first band to record in Sound City, and when Mick Fleetwood came to the Van Nuys premises looking for a place to record, he heard one of their tracks. . Fleetwood thought of Buckingham when he needed a new guitarist and was told, “If you take him, you’ll have to take his girlfriend too.” He accepted and in 1975 the revived group recorded at Sound City.

Somewhat unsure of the new sound, producer Olsen recalled in one of the film’s many tangy interviews, was bandmate John McVie. “He said, ‘It’s a bit far from the blues.’ I said, ‘It’s much closer to the bank.’

It was Skeeter and co-owner Joe Gottfried’s determination to attract top bands that led to the purchase of the sound board in 1973. Designed by Rupert Neve, now in his 80s and interviewed in the film, it was l one of only four in the world and the only one custom ordered. Skeeter recalls it costing $75,000 at a time when he bought his house near Lake Toluca for half that amount.

‘Sound City’ goes to great lengths to explain why the Neve is so good at what it does, highlighting how expert it is at recording the human voice and drum tracks that are central to success. rock. The guitars sound pretty much the same everywhere, says famed producer Rick Rubin, but the drums change from room to room, and Sound City’s sound was among the best.

The film (which was written by Mark Monroe and edited by Paul Crowder) is also an education in how the music industry works, which isn’t always in the warmest, most human way. Being a producer, for example, is described by Olsen as “putting creativity on tape in a way that is accessible to the market”.

The most unexpected emotional parts of “Sound City” involve Springfield breaking down in tears as he talks about his regrets over how he handled his breakup with Sound City partner Gottfried, one of the more responsible for its success.

“Sound City” also details how the shift from analog two-inch tape recording (the bread and butter of the studio) to the digital way of doing things spelled the end of the Van Nuys establishment.

While Neve technology had made its success possible, the rise of easy-to-use Pro Tools equipment outweighed their advantages and led Sound City to close its doors and sell its legendary console to Grohl, who bought it. moved to its own Studio 606. .

This purchase prompted Grohl to consider a 12-minute short film on the Neve for the web, which turned into this awesome feature. The final half hour of “Sound City,” which features Grohl jamming with other musicians, including Paul McCartney, for an upcoming Neve tribute album, is less engaging than what came before. But the filmmaker is so attached to this board of boards that it is difficult to blame him for this pleasure.

kenneth.turan@latimes.com

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