Of all the silly, arbitrary, greeting-cardy, ridiculous holidays (I’m looking at you, Simchas Torah!), the one I can get behind unreservedly is “Record Store Day”. I think that the celebration of your local record establishment, complete with exclusive and often beautifully esoteric releases, is a fine thing worth of celebration. As we march inevitably into a world where music is strictly digital files streamed into your cerebral cortex, it’s nice to give recognition to those quirky retailers that still make a go selling 12″ shellac discs and other forms of packaged music to those of us still clinging to the joys of obsessively collecting physical media.
Sound It Out is a brisk, fun little doc that played SXSW back in 2011. Named the official “Record Store Day” film of last year, it’s being released in different markets to celebrate the 2012 iteration of this annual event.
The film centers around a shop called Sound It Out records, located in Stockton-on-Tees, way the hell up the North-East coast of England, not so far from the Scottish border. It’s a town with its own challenges, a high street that’s seen better days, industries slowly shutting down, the future looking a wee bit bleak.
In what he admits isn’t the best part of town, owner Tom Butchart makes a go of it, selling tunes to rave kids and metal heads, geriatrics and fanatics. We get a sense of the community of individuals that crate dive at the store, the cross section of the town that still have a place they can go and kibitz about this or that release. We meet the world’s most delightfully obsessive Status Quo nerd (the irony of the band’s nomenclature never seeming to be noticed in context), a surfeit of dance music nutbars, and a couple kids that headbang and blaze their air guitars to the latest in Scandinavian doom metal.
A record store, at its best, is where various cliques and communities join in a neutral space, the meeting place where everything is equal on the shelves, even if you’re judged silently for flipping through this or that section in the corner. It’s impossible for any person that’s had a serious love affair with buying music over the last decades to not find a bit of themselves in the often cringe-worthy awkwardness of the clientele. Sure, fiction works like High Fidelity have used this milieu to good effect, but Sound It Out practically shares the smell of old vinyl across on screen.
The production was financed by crowd sourcing, certainly fitting such a DIY film. It’s shot in somewhat shaky, poorly lit digital video, and even at the relatively short running length does slightly overstay its welcome. Still, it’s so heartfelt, so infectious in its treatment of its oddball set of characters that it’s a shame to point out the faults. At times moments seem as odd as any Jarmusch film, shared with the same kind of aesthetic, an intimate detachment that’s quite appealing.
I couldn’t help but feel completely nostalgic while watching the film, this despite the fact that Toronto remains lucky to have some of the finest record shops on the planet. Still, it’s so easy to see what once was, what we’ve given up for the sake of convenience and portability. I spent hours upon hours chatting in the same kind of store, learning more about music than any bitter, priggish Pitchfork-style review could ever teach me.
We live in a world where I can get almost anything that’s been recorded since the start of the medium, yet we’ve lost in part that connection to our retailer that would make the finding of this or that track that much more exciting. With access, it seems, we get ambivalence, and it’s nice to see, on screen at least, a group of even young fans that hold the same, almost manic love of recorded music that I do.
This review also appears at TWITCHfilm.com
So, despite the fact that most of what they’re listening to and buying through the film is shit, I feel a kindred connection with these people. Across the pond, these are my ilk, my brothers and sisters that obsess in ways that mirror my own behavior. If the goal of a documentary is to show us something about ourselves through the actions of others, than it’s clear Sound It Out has struck the right note almost perfectly.