Sound It Out

You can’t fault Sound It Out for meaning well. A documentary about the titular independent record store, the last remaining in Stockton-on-Tees, Sound It Out places us within its walls, and in the homes of its most dedicated customers, as we follow dedicated shop-keeps Tom and David through the daily trials of working at a record store. So we hang out with Shane, a man who’s been to 354 Status Quo concerts. We meet the local chavs and hear the horrendous trash-trance (or Makina, as they call it) that they play to small rooms of pilled-up friends. We have five (FIVE) encounters with the genuinely creepy man who comes in from the pub next door and buys whatever he just heard on the jukebox, and has absolutely no interest in records whatsoever.

See, the problem with Sound It Out’s attempt to accurately capture life within a specific area and a specific culture is that it’s done just that. By trying to show us the role music plays in our lives, it shows us that without music there are some people who would literally have nothing at all. By showing attempts to boost sales, we’re shown how depressingly hard they fail; an exclusive in-store gig by local-girl-done-good SaintSaviour is attended by a largely ambivalent audience of ten. And by presenting the unvarnished daily goings-on within a record shop’s walls, we learn that the only thing breaking up the tedium is all the desperation.

Even at 75 minutes, Sound It Out feels overstretched, with far too many scenes adding to nothing more than the monotony. There are multiple ‘nothing to do in Stockton’ and ‘no jobs in Stockton’ montages; if footage of chavs half-heartedly telling you they’re trying to get a job infuriates you, best give this one a miss altogether. Several scenes involve people coming in who can’t be served; a guy trying to sell a box of obviously stolen Makina, an insane/disturbed/crack-ed man after free records, and a woman trying to sell them her old VHS player.

Elements of Sound It Out do add up to genuine pathos. A young metal fan reveals that he’s made several attempts on his life, and thanks music (his ipod, technically, but SHHHH) for his continued existence. Shane reveals how prejudice towards ‘spastics’ has meant that his cerebral palsy, epilepsy and hydrocephalus left him a lonely, reclusive shelf-stacker. So, on that level, Sound It Out is effective. But it sure as hell won’t make you want to buy records. Sound It Out is pitched not as a trendy hangout or a gold mine for quality music, but as a last chance saloon for a community of lonely people with nowhere else to go. So where does that leave us? The message is ‘Save these places, or these guys will have nothing left!’ but how are we supposed to do that when buying records seems like such an unattractive proposition?

This film’s heart is firmly in the right place, with genuine sympathy and respect for its subjects. But by presenting it all in such an unvarnished fashion, it ends up as claustrophobic as Reservoir Dogs, twice as depressing as Naked and as likely to convince you to drop into Stockton-on-Tees as an airborne toxic event.

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