London’s live music scene is currently in the middle of a huge transformation. Countless music venues are shutting, creating fear that London’s music industry is dying. But in the wake of these closings comes Sofar Sounds, offering an alternative way to experience the music of local and international artists alike
The first Sofar Sounds gig I ever attended was in a tiny yoga studio-cum-hairdresser and vintage clothes shop. Yes, of course, it was in East London. My housemate and I rocked up with a few sneaky ciders, found some space on the floor with about fifteen other strangers and waited for the artists to do their thing. We had no idea who was playing. We’d only found out the event location the day before.
The evening started off with a local soul and funk singer. She sat on a big comfy chair among us, with her acoustic guitar, and let us into her world for a few special minutes. Next up was a Canadian duo playing some sweet blues tunes. The vocalist was on the electric guitar and the sax player squeezed in between the yoga mats and clothes rack. We wrapped things up with one hell of a poet from London. He spoke of Brexit, racism and love.
It was one of the most intimate and diverse music performances I’ve ever experienced.
And that’s the beauty of Sofar Sounds. They are able to create these unique gigs just about every night, all over the city. Phoebe Petridis, the Sofar Sounds London Director, says the success of their shows ‘genuinely comes down to the quality of the artists that we book, the diversity of the artists we put on and the intimacy of the night.
‘Nowhere else in the world will you be able to see something like an indie band, jazz band and beatboxer play on the same line-up in someone’s front room. It’s quite a unique experience and it brings people together in an amazing way.’
But despite their success, Phoebe still laments the shutting down of so many music venues around London. She brings it down to how ‘the entire live music scene has shifted quite dramatically and how people are looking for an alternative to the typical gig scene’.
The founders of Sofar Sounds were fed up with going to gigs in shady unsafe warehouses or sticky-floored pubs full of people either watching the entire show through their phone screens or chatting away instead of respecting the artists. So they changed things up.
People are looking for an alternative to the typical gig scene
Firstly, with Sofar Sounds, you don’t know where you’ll be going. This is to protect the host from people crashing the event. And the secrecy about artists started as a way to ensure that all performers were given the same amount of respect and no one was treated as a ‘headliner’.
Phoebe explains that ‘it stuck because it allows Sofar to put on really unique line-ups that people wouldn’t expect or even pay to come see but that they actually love. It lets the company push the boundaries of what you’d expect to see at a gig’.
Anyone can open up their house to a group of warm and friendly strangers. Artists are given a space to really be heard and guests get to have an amazing night out. You’ll even see more women at their shows, with many stating how much safer they feel at Sofar events.
You’ll surely bump into one or two but, for the most part, you’ll just be surrounded by fellow music lovers or your average Londoner doing what we do best – trying out something new.
After starting off in a small flat in Kensal Green about 6 years ago, Sofar Sounds now reaches audiences in 280 different cities around the world. And their new way of consuming live music is only going to grow as the years go on. Phoebe admits how much of this has happened organically – although paid workers and volunteers alike work tirelessly to create the gigs. For her, ‘it is just really cool to see how cities all over the world believe that music should be shared in a really intimate and respectful way.’
Cities all over the world believe that music should be shared in an intimate and respectful way
Sofar Sounds’ followers are growing at a rapid rate with some shows in Istanbul getting over 2,000 applicants when only 50 seats are available. So they’re constantly on the lookout for more great artists and locations. But, in London, the team are focusing less on growth and more on making each gig extra super special by collaborating with new organisations and communities.
Phoebe says to expect some really alternative events in the upcoming year such as her favourite Sofar gig which was held at the Hammersmith Apollo. ‘They had the artists on the front of the stage facing backwards while the audience sat on the stage looking out at the empty seats. It completely flipped a regular gig on its head and was quite special, plus the line-up was outstanding – Aquilo, Gengahr & Songhoy Blues.’
So go online, apply for a show and wait for the ‘Congratulations’ message pop up in your inbox. This live music experience is for everyone as long as you follow their three simple rules: show up on time, stay for the entire show and shut the hell up! It’s that easy.