Monday, November 26, 2012

Thank you for the music

As the location of one of the last bastions of a venerable institution, the independent record shop, Stockton-on-Tees is appropriately grim. The landscape - post-industrial, post-apocalyptic - is beautifully shot in Sound It Out, an unlikely hit at international film festivals including SXSW and recently screened on BBC4, though I don't suppose the local tourist board or council will necessary be rushing to thank Jeanie Finlay for her critically acclaimed documentary's portrayal of the town.

Indeed, what makes Sound It Out so special is its place within the community, a focal point to which a diverse assortment of local music fans are drawn - whether that's the teenage metalheads who reference obscure, possibly imaginary subgenres and who credit music (and, by extension, the shop) with literally giving them a reason to live; the Boards Of Canada T-shirt-wearing record-collecting nerd who allows himself a monthly £100 tab; the unemployed duo keeping out of trouble by finding salvation in homemade dance music; the pony-tailed, Les McQueen-alike who toils away stacking shelves at B&Q but lives for Status Quo; or the bloke who wanders in desperate to buy the song he's just heard in the pub, 'Sultans Of Swing', and who ponders of Bon Jovi in an accent reminiscent of Vic and Bob's Bra Men: "Who's them?"

Finlay's film might make gentle comic capital out of the eccentricities of the shop's customers, but ultimately they are represented warmly and sympathetically (she is, after all, a local herself). She earns the punters' trust and follows them back to their homes, that pursuit of personal backstories giving the documentary an added depth and resonance.

At the centre of it all, though, is Sound It Out itself and its owner Tom, likened at one point by fellow staff member David to a dealer who works to feed the addictions of his clients. His love of music is clearly evident (though even he has difficulty summoning up enthusiasm for some genres), and his knowledge is encyclopaedic - whether that's a matter of what to recommend to a particular customer or simply of where to find a particular album amidst the chaos. The film has been described as High Fidelity with northern accents, but it's actually more like Black Books transposed to a record shop (albeit with much less red wine).

There's an acknowledgement of one significant threat posed to the likes of Sound It Out - rising rental rates and redevelopment - though surprisingly little is said about the encroachment of the internet. Perhaps that's because the overall tone is (rightly, I think) optimistic rather than elegiac. Sound It Out might be a rarity, but this film celebrates the value of independent record shops (and of the physical artefact, whether vinyl or CD) rather than donning sepia-tinted glasses to mourn their passing.

Quick, watch it before it becomes unavailable (which is the early hours of 28th November).

(Thanks to Alison and Alf for the recommendation.)

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