Describing itself as a "…movement which brings music lovers together in secret living room locations to hear some of the world's most cutting edge artists", I was lucky enough to attend my first Sofar Sounds last Tuesday. The event, inaugurated March 15 2009, and now taking place in 18 cities worldwide from Sydney to Buenos Aires, is growing an unsurprisingly large cult following and helping to unearth some of the best (and mostly unsigned) talent around today.
With "secret locations" being used more and more in London’s live music scene, what makes Sofar truly unique is that no information about the line up itself is made available until the moment you step through the door. Instead you are left to trust their team of ten reviewers to curate a high quality musical experience. I met with the very inspiring and enthusiastic Co-founder Rafe Offer on the night, and he mentioned his reasoning for this as to maintain equality between the artists encouraging people to arrive on time, seeing all the acts rather than waiting for a "headliner". Respect for the artists seems paramount at Sofar events, which was exemplified by a rarity in live music, a silent audience.
On arrival, we met a couple of other Sofar revellers on the side of the street also trying to pinpoint the location. Tucked away down an alley off the main road in North London, a door opened into a large warehouse space made up of an open plan kitchen and living area. The front room was full of people who had laid claim to their spots on the floor in anticipation of the acts soon to follow. Rafe made his way to the front of the room and addressed the crowd before introducing the first act. Gentleman, a four piece indie outfit clothed in four equally offensive ‘70s shirts, filled the "stage" and began to play their revived take on psychedelic rock. Listening back to their Soundcloud recordings I'm not sure if the "unplugged" setting totally suited their sound and felt the lead vocalist struggled to project himself without the help of amplification, but nonetheless it was an interesting start.
After a small interlude pianist Douglas Dare was second to perform. Set up with an keyboard and unmiked voice, immediately you felt he was a better fit, with the mood of the room soon reflecting this. Alternating between piano and rhodes samples his voice was undoubtedly the main focus here. There were inflections of Patrick Wolf and Rufus Wainwright in his tone but it was unique enough to steer away from accusations of impersonation. With outstanding vocal projection and well crafted piano melodies, Douglas managed to fill the room with sound far better than his four strong predecessor.
Third on the bill and personal favourite of the night, Band of Buriers, were next to grace the room. Opening with their cover of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" (available to stream HERE) front man James P Honey's haunting vocal rendition was immediately gripping. Honey’s vocals, accompanied by cello, violin and two female backing singers, created an arrangement exemplary of a well-rehearsed band. This was followed by an original piece of their's which maintained the already captivated room. However the highlight of the set came in the form of their track Slides By. As much spoken word poetry as it is music, herein lay a real sense of storytelling, something ironically missing in much contemporary music.
Wrapping up the night was Gentry who offered us four tracks of R&B tinged electronica through a sequence of off-set drum loops, pitch bent synths and Jamie Woon-esque vocals. You couldn't help but feel a system was required to be properly engaged, but it was a nice change of direction musically and left the night in an up-tempo groove.
During Rafe's introduction he mentioned that we’d hear music from four distinctly different genres and he hoped we'd end up at least liking all of the acts to a certain degree whilst potentially find a new favourite in one of them; I think overall the night managed to live up to his optimism.
For more information on Sofar Sounds please visit their website HERE.