Imagine sitting in your living room listening to a band you love. There’s nothing but the music and your mind starts to wander with it. You imagine them right in front of you, playing for you, in your living room. Then – poof! – that dream is gone with a visit to Ticketmaster and their three-digit prices. Because what are you paying for with that three-digit price? The option of either getting so close to your idol that you’re crushed or so far that they’re simply a dot on your radar? The people around you, are they actually paying any attention as they scream and reach or else order their fifth pint?
Well, thanks to a new international experience running rapidly round the world, the flaws of your average music experience can be forgotten.
Sofar Sounds is a new trend of mini-gigs held within people’s living rooms. I spoke to Glasgow-based managers Jaye Brown and Ben Cowie on the idea.
Jaye: “So the basic concept of it is, bands being able to perform in front of an audience that are actually willing to sit and appreciate the music. No one talks through it. It’s a good chance for them to see bands they either haven’t heard of before or bands that they really like and see them in a completely different environment. So from both angles it’s really incredible because it’s such a different experience to watch a band play and the people, yeah, you meet some really really lovely people at the events and they’re all really happy to see a band in a different space.”
A night with Sofar Sounds will generally consist of a set of three or four bands and anywhere between 40-60 music fans sitting in a volunteered living room, listening to music in its most acoustic form: no speakers, few instruments and utter silence as the band gets the full attention of the room.
Jaye: “It’s a unique thing, yeah. I think that’s what’s kind of terrifying for bands because you’re in silence.”
Ben: “Some get really nervous.”
Jaye: “They’ve got full attention and that’s what’s terrifying.”
Ben: “It’s quite often I just forget that bands are like, they get nervous. I’ll be like ‘Why don’t you go and do your thing?’ and they’ll be like ‘You’re making me nervous about this’.”
Jaye: “And being on a big stage people might not notice if they make a mistake, but actually in a room full of people staring at you in silence and they’re listening to every word you say.”
Ben: “And there’s no PA.”
Jaye: “There’s no PA, nothing to hide behind. But it’s really nice. There’s not been one band so far – not that they’ve told us anyway – that haven’t loved it and not come off and genuinely been like ‘It was terrifying but brilliant’.”
Originally starting in London 3 years ago, Sofar Sounds has spread across continents into living rooms in over 60 cities from Barcelona to LA, although is amazingly, generally unheard of.
Jaye: “Basically it initially started because this guy Rafe and this guy Rocky – great names, just first of all – were going to these gigs in London, and then getting really irritated by the noise and people being really drunk and not really paying attention to the band and they were getting a bit frustrated, especially one particular gig we went to they were really excited about, they didn’t really get the same experience out the gig as they wanted to because of all these drunk, loud, annoying people. So they were like, ‘Right how about we just have a gig in our living room?’ and get a couple of their friends who were musicians, got them to come in and have a gig in their living room. It started off with like, less than 10 people there, and they were like ‘This. Is brilliant’ so they then started to have it every month, started inviting more people, and it’s just rapidly grown into this thing.”
Jaye herself first discovered the concept in Australia.
“I was living in Melbourne, working in a café and met this lovely girl, Hannah, and she started on the same day as me and we just started blabbering away and she was like ‘Oh I run this event night thing. It’s like gigs in people’s living rooms. It’s called Sofar. You should come along.’ And I was like new to the city so I was like ‘Oh that should be nice’. So I remember going along and being like ‘This. Is. Amazing.’ I had no idea that it started in London. It wasn’t until I moved back to Scotland, which was about a year and a half ago and I was speaking to Hannah and I was like ‘I would love to start something like that here’ and she was like ‘Oh, you should. You should speak to Rafe, contact him. He lives in London.’ So I did and Rafe was just like ‘Definitely – we’ve been looking for someone in Glasgow to kind of maintain it’. We just had a few Skype calls and I went down to London and they had a big Sofar Festival thing there which was incredible. It was in this massive warehouse and I just fell in love with it and all of them.”
A music video director by day, Ben plays a big part in marketing and finding bands for gigs.
Ben: “It means I get to meet loads of people and tons of bands so I get to be like ‘Whatup? How shall I play this?’ We sometimes have a little bit of a run where I’m making a music video for someone and then I’ll just be like…”
Jaye: “‘Oh by the way what are you doing next Wednesday?’”
It’s definitely a unique experience. One I would compare to an adult Singing Kettle. It gets back to the purity of music in every sense: the absorption of music as though you’re just discovering it for the first time, limited instruments so there’s no layers of whatever a computer has added, and then there’s the idea of the band’s message getting through and knowing that they were heard.
Ben: “I think it’s just a really original thing for the bands because they won’t really have done – no matter what level they’re at – most of the time they won’t really have done anything like that before, you know. Like they won’t have done a gig for a quiet living room full of people.”
The bands also get the benefits of the experience, between a new type of exposure and an intensely listening audience focussing entirely on their music. A night with Sofar Sunds can mean anything. No two nights are the same with the line-up being like a lottery experience: you can guess, but you won’t know until you get there.
Ben: “We’ve had rap, we’ve had electro, we’ve had acoustic, we’ve had punk, we’ve had meow meow, we’ve had Hector Bizerk, we’ve had Fatherson…”
Jaye: “Yeah, we’ve had a wide range of bands.”
Ben: “I wanna do a metal one. I don’t even like metal that much, I just wanna see the look on everyone’s face. We’ll do it in like a posh flat.”
Anyone with a home can offer their place up for the experience. It’s simply a matter of simply clicking “Host” within the website (SofarSounds.com) and anyone with a pulse can turn up.
Ben: “We’ve had some pretty rough flats and some pretty – well some amazing flats.”
Jaye: “Yeah, incredible flats.”
Ben: “The other good thing is that we get a wide range of ages of people coming to an event. So we’ll have 60 year old couples and we’ll have 15 year old kids sometimes. So that kind of brings in another kind of layer of things where we can get other flats or houses or something.”
Jaye: “‘Oh you’re older you must have a nice house!’”
But Sofar isn’t confined to simply living rooms…
Jaye: “We’ve set up Sofar Sounds in other locations that aren’t living rooms and we’ve taken a transportable pop-up living room in the back of a van. So we’ve hired or ‘found’ living room items on the street and found the couch and various other things from local prop stores and we’ve just filled up a van. On the road! Been three times. We done it at the Edinburgh Festival, we done it at Glasgow Punch Studios Christmas event there, which was brilliant. That was like the biggest one we’ve had. There was like 200 people there and we had a big Christmas Sofar and it was lovely. The third one was Valentine’s Day. It was above the Finnieston Bar and they’ve got like this little attic that’s just like this old shack of a room, but it’s beautiful and it’s so pretty.”
And there’s no need to worry about the night resulting in a trashed home.
Ben: “No, no, no.”
Jaye: “No one gets drunk.”
Ben: “Everyone’s very respectful, yeah.”
Jaye: “Everyone’s very respectful and the host as well is very accommodating and well, obviously if you’re going to host between forty and sixty people in your front room you’re going to have to love that close thing. So people do, they go all out. They properly make food and put snacks out and make it comfy and set the living room up and it’s really lovely. Like I said, everyone is really aware that it’s someone’s living room and there’s been no drama so far. Touch wood.”
Becoming part of this unique trend is as easy as going into the website. To find out where the next gigs are, sign up for the mailing list. From there you can apply for a space in the gig you want to see. The bands are a surprise until you arrive and can be anyone from Scottish rappers, Hector Bizerk to super group Prehistoric Friends. Anyone willing to host a gig can volunteer on the website and – shocker – it’s free!
Jaye: “Well we provide drinks for donations and it’s just a nice thing for people to know that they can go out one night during the week and not have to like spend a fortune, but still do something a bit different. “