photo manipulation by nacrowe
SOUND CITY (ROSWELL FIMS, 2013) is a documentary about that on the surface relates the story of a recording studio in BURBANK and the people that worked, produced and created music there, but has aspirations for a wider dialogue about the relationship between the soul of music and its interaction with emerging technology.
i'm going to skip in large part the history lesson on SOUND CITY the studio, suffice to say that there are a wide abundant of classic albums recorded there on tape and legendary musicians (everyone from TOM PETTY, STEVIE NICKS to TRENT REZNOR and JOSH HOMME) and producers (RICK RUBIN, BUTCH VIG, JOE BARRESI, JIMMY IOVINE, NICK RASKULINECZ and ROSS ROBINSON) who all swear by its revered analog NEVE 8078 console. at some point in the 1980s with the advent of sequencers and early digital recording technology, the studio was deemed antiquated, but reemerged in the 90s with the help of NIRVANA's generation-defining NEVERMIND (GEFFEN, 1991) album, which took advantage of its warm analog sound and venerated thumping drum room. this drew countless acts over the ensuing decade. ultimately, the studio closed in the early 2010s after, largely the victim of dwindling recording budgets brought on by online piracy and powerful recording software available to consumers on their personal computers.
but id argue this film is really about recording technology and the philosophy behind it. BRAD WILK of RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE hit this idea home quite pointedly in the film when he states:
Whatever bands that you love, go find out what bands they love, and what bands turned them on, and then you really start getting into the human aspect of it because the further back you go in time the less technology you had, and consequently the better records you had. There’s this incredible library of music thank god.
and in essence that human touch is what makes music work, argues director and legendary NIRVANA drummer / FOO FIGHTERS frontman DAVE GROHL. those imperfections, miscues and "mistakes" are what make us human and recognize such in the music we love. this is not to say that the film is anti-technology. TRENT REZNOR of NINE INCH NAILS makes the case that emerging technologies expand our capacity to create, expand the colors available and with it the sonic possibilities. it is all in how you use it.
and i feel GROHL is on to something with this. too often in modern ROCK AND ROLL the sounds are so "perfect" that it loses something in the process. it sounds stiff, soulless, slick and most damningly "commercial" to my ears. there is a reason why people go back and listen to raw aggression in music for inspiration, whether that be HARDCORE acts with terrible sound fidelity in their recordings or more classic acts like GUNS N ROSES, NIRVANA, THE STOOGES, QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, THE ROLLING STONES, etc. these are all actual bands playing music on the spot, in the moment, especially in a live context. there is something to be said about putting yourself in that space where you are vulnerable, no netting below. modern ROCK AND ROLL is safer than milk. its boring.
HIP HOP was not brought up in the film, but id argue that their use of emerging technology is within the REZNOR framework. in HIP HOP production there are literally no rules and no expectations. if it bounces and sounds killer than it works, the process be damned.
lastly its hard to watch this film and not feel nostalgic, which is a sentiment i despise. its too easy to correct snare tempos, pitch guitars and autotune vocals on the back end.
i just feel that some point someone out there is gonna come out of left field with the most direct, raw, undiluted, undeniable shit ever and will wipe out the phonies much like NIRVANA did in the early 1990s. i just hope i am young enough to recognize it and not too old to experience it.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
as its pragmatic title entails, SALAD DAYS (NEW ROSE FILMS, 2014) is a comprehensive look back at the evolution and enduring cultural legacy of the WASHINGTON D.C. HARDCORE scene of the 1980s. utilizing interviews from both from members of countless participating bands as well as (interesting choice) scenesters of the period, you really get the sense about how an idea sparks a scene which sparks a movement and the implications of such. what blows my mind is that everything discussed was accomplished for the most part by a bunch of kids in their teens and early 20s. makes me wonder what ive accomplished.
at the essence of this whole scene is a strong DIY ethic. in the aftermath of the PUNK explosion of the late 1970s, there was a small group of like-minded teenagers in D.C. who listened to THE CRAMPS, IGGY POP and THE RAMONES and fought off redneck suburban kids attempting to beat them to a pulp for dressing different. this confrontational day-to-day existence manifested itself in a small scene of kids who picked up instruments and started bands. these bands developed to the point that a local record shop, in a very HIGH FIDELITY (TOUCHSTONE PICTURES, 2000) moment, helped them learn to record at a nearby studio with a producer and manufacture vinyl records. enter DISCHORD RECORDS.
at the hear to the scene is DISCHORD, which was essentially an excuse for IAN MCKAYE and JEFF NELSON to self-release and EP by their band THE TEEN IDLES. eventually the also released records by their friends and D.C. bands they thought people should hear. DISCHORD through MCKAYE's next band MINOR THREAT become well known and helps draw attention to the label's roster, which some complain sucks the oxygen out of non-DISCHORD affiliated INDIE and PUNK groups from the area. some of those bands even start their own labels like TEEN BEAT RECORDS and SIMPLE MACHINES.
as the scene gets bigger in the mid-80s through the increasing notoriety of the DISCHORD roster of bands (GOVERNMENT ISSUE, VOID, FAITH, S.O.A., etc), things begin to change. kids show up from the suburbs and shows become decidedly more violent. original bands grapple with the fact that these newcomers do not share their values. things get increasingly desperate as racist SKINHEADS and destitute DRUNK PUNK show up and reek havoc. all this while, again, most of the bands involved are barely in their 20s.
the scene begins to change as bands mature and get more introspective lyrically and experimental sonically. a new generation "emotional hardcore" bands become prominent like EMBRACE and RITES OF SPRING and which result in effectively challenging their audiences expectations. things also get more splintered as some bands get political as exemplified by the local outreach group POSITIVE FORCE who put on numerous shows as well as musical protests of the SOUTH AFRICAN embassy for its then-APARTHEID government. this came to be known as REVOLUTION SUMMER.
for some this new explicitly political focus through benefit shows and protests was pedantic at best and HIPPIE-ish at worst. it splintered the bands much as the STRAIGHT EDGE movement had done years before. STRAIGHT EDGE was a MINOR THREAT song about not needing intoxicants to have a good time, in fact not doing so gave them the "straight edge." people took MCKAYE's personal affirmation as dogma, as followers tend to do, and it created confusion amongst the scene about how people could act at shows. was drinking now bad?
through all the variations and misinterpretations of this scene, it seems the biggest impact was their intense DIY ethic and sense of community. in the end the idea of creating a scene from nothing showcases how empowering an idea such as PUNK ROCK can be. the democratizing of instruments to all levels of musician's most have been exhilarating when PUNK ROCK first came about.
my only grief is that the empowerment of the still relative dearth of prominent modern PUNK or INDIE bands that express the perspectives of minorities and those of the LGBTQIA community. watching this documentary cognizant of what came in its wake, it still feels like PUNK ROCK is a white boys club pissing on one another. the industry has changed but the players have not, no matter how woke they.
hopefully this next generation will take the cue from PUNK ROCK and empower themselves to advocate structural change moving forward. they'll have to do it themselves.