Can we let you in on a little secret? The concept of this secret couldn’t be any simpler: Some musicians playing stripped-down renditions of their songs in front of a close-knit crowd, in an even closer-knit venue. Such is Sofar Sounds—a gig so hell-bent on delivering a unique musical experience that the audience is exclusively filtered, only leaving room for people with a zeal for genuine, unadulterated live music. That’s right, no fake fans or groupies allowed here. People are here to discover, appreciate, and listen, and we mean really listen, to music.
From London with love
Short for “Songs From A Room”, it all started when a couple of friends were at a Friendly Fires concert. Of course, the notoriously happy English band executed nothing short of full bravado, but the two friends noticed that the rest of the audience was unaffected. Instead of showing the enthusiasm that a Friendly Fires show deserves, people were occupied with their phones and gadgets, or otherwise busy talking to each other, paying little attention to the music itself. So Rafe Offer and David Alexander had the idea to invite eight friends over to Alexander’s London flat, back in March 2009, where Alexander himself played five songs to the small gathering in his living room. The rest, as they say, is history. They have since had artists such as Bastille perform, and big names, such as actor Robert Pattinson, in audience attendance.
This global movement—currently present in more than 100 cities, including Milan, Beijing, and Perth—happens simultaneously around the world every month, with the purpose of shedding light on the art of music itself, which is why intimacy is its top forte. The shows themselves are usually held in unconventional venues—living rooms, barber shops, galleries, and other small-scale locations. Rather than having audiences flock for the bar experience or concert thrill, listeners are called to get up close and personal with every drum beat, guitar strum, and bit of lyrical genuflection.
Your homes (and the occasional barbershop) in Manila
“I found out about the movement back in 2013 when some of my friends in Singapore played at a Sofar Show, which made me realize this is something that we can have here in Manila,” says Sofar Sounds City Coordinator Li Perez.
During its first ever gig in Manila back in October 26, 2013, at a house in Cainta, Perez recalls, “It wasn’t an ideal venue, and it wasn’t actually in Manila, but people came to catch the show.” Hannah+Gabi, Idioms and Dispositions, and Taken by Cars were slated to play that night. One of the highlights of that evening was when Hannah+Gabi did his set unplugged. No mics, no amps; it was just him and his guitar. He then asked the crowd to sing along. “[The performance] was very heart-warming to witness. It was very raw. I guess it’s just what music was made for—to get people together,” Perez adds.
“Sofar Sounds is a volunteer organization so I can’t really say that it’s work. It’s more about spreading good music rather than working in an organization,” says Perez. As a volunteer-based organization, there’s no funding apart from the donations collected from each show, which are then spread among the artists and the expenditure. In the search for venues, Perez adds, “Since we run on [a] zero budget, we’re not really that choosy. We’re just really lucky with the establishments and the people who’ve volunteered and opened their doors to us.”
Just last April 25, Sofar Sounds Manila had yet another show. Of course, details were kept mum. But if you were lucky enough to get an invitation, then consider it your golden ticket to a Willy Wonka world filled with carefully curated talent, raw passion, and overall magic. It was held at nostalgic groomers’ Back Alley Barbershop, and featured performances from Bullet Dumas, Oh, Flamingo, and Mirror Masks.
Simple and no fuss
The guest list is exclusive to those who have signed up online. Venues are announced just three days prior to the event and the line-up is revealed only on the day itself. It’s the mystery that sets it apart and makes it something like a fun chase to everyone who wants to be a part of it.
First time attendees have at times found themselves a little lost just looking for the venue. The lack of the usual hour-long traffic, painfully longer lines, plus tarpaulin banners screaming, “You’ve arrived!” may initially seem misleading. But after the search, guests are finally welcomed by the Sofar Sounds logo printed on a white sheet of legal paper, humbly taped to the gate, front door, or wall.
“We ask the audience not to talk during performances as respect to the artists. We also ask them to stay until the end of the show—the first act is as important and talented as the last act. We also discourage them to text or tweet unless it’s about the show,” Perez elaborates the only house rules that set the atmosphere in every homey Sofar Sounds night.
A Sofar Sounds gig isn’t just a fresh experience for the audience, though, but for the performers as well. While these artists enjoy the adrenaline that a bar or full-fledged stage show brings, being able to play for a closer-knit crowd is something else altogether.
“For starters, the set we performed for Sofar was very different from our usual set,” says Nacho Cuyegkeng, who is one-third of the funk-electronica band, Tandems ‘91, which had the chance to play in someone’s garage. “We usually have complete electronic gear and a full-blown performance where we transition song after song, so we don’t get to speak to the audience much.”
At Sofar, performers are able to interact with the audience as much as they wish, unlike in bigger shows where dialogue can be limited to a couple of “Put your hands up!”s and the like. “We did an acoustic set with just a couple of guitars, a keyboard, percussions, and very minimal electronic gear. We didn’t stream songs together so it was also kind of weird talking to the audience,” he continues. “But I do have to say, Sofar was probably our most intimate and most vulnerable performance ever.”
Room for discovery
This movement has created a space for both musicians and music lovers to grow together in the backbeat of snaps and claps with one sole purpose—“to bring the magic back to live music,” says Sofar Sounds photography head Karen De La Fuente. When asked about how the future is looking for the movement, Perez replies, “you will just have to watch out for that.”
Previous acts have also included Ransom Collective, BP Valenzuela, She’s Only Sixteen, and Taken By Cars, and with such stellar musicians, we can only keep on our toes for the next show. But don’t be fooled—despite its exclusivity, there’s no elitist propaganda here. It’s the allure that you—yes, you, part of the select few—can discover, which is something so pure, it’s almost as if you can keep the memory of it in your pocket and call it your own.
So if ever you’re finding yourself just a little bit curious about the next gig near you, or if you’ve been moved to possibly house some of the country’s best kept gems, in the form of talented musicians and their raw music, then head on to http://www.sofarsounds.com/ and sign yourself up for your golden ticket into a world of simple wonders, secret chords, echoing acoustics, and hanging fairy lights.