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Sofar Sounds: Music is meant to be listened to

24 March 2016
Sofar Sounds: Music is meant to be listened to
In a society that is so encumbered with screens and short attention spans, sometimes it’s nice to be in an environment where the focus is entirely on what’s happening right there and then; no distractions taking away from the artist before you and the music they’re gracing you with. Not the stranger in front filming on a tiny screen and not the group at the bar having a lovely little chat, the music just an annoyance making them shout louder. Such sparks the ethos of Sofar Sounds.

Modest beginnings

Founded in 2010, not as an attempt to completely overthrow the way we consume live music but just a couple of friends feeling utterly unsatisfied with the gigs they had on offer and wanting something better, something more, something music lovers could really enjoy. It turns out it wasn’t a lonely thought.

The idea of live music being something that deserves the respect of your full attention has proven to be a popular one! Sofar Sounds’ beginnings in little old London town have snowballed immensely: in just six years, there are now Sofar Sounds departments in over 200 cities worldwide, from Havana to Shanghai and everywhere in between and boasting of names as big as Hozier and George Ezra.

Once a member, you get an email notifying you of upcoming events, but only the date. The lucky members chosen to attend don’t find out the location until the day of the event (Whitecloth Gallery on Aire Street in Monday 14th March's case), and the event space could be anywhere, even someone’s living room.

Leeds' Sofar Sounds

Sofar Sounds Leeds hasn’t been there from the beginning but in the few years we’ve been a part of the, for want of a better word, movement, it feels like a real community has developed. On Monday night there was a nice mixture of Sofar regulars and newbies, each being as welcome as the other. Watching the regulars interact with each other, hugging hello as friends, asking about the kids, it really seemed like the music performed at these events brings the people attending together – everyone united in a passion and respect for art.

Sarah and Richard, the two now running the Leeds, first joined the Sofar community just by attending a gig back in October. They loved it, kept coming back and when the opportunity came up to take the reins they had both hands up. Not only is it a way of really enjoying music and making friends, it’s also a chance to possibly discover developing and exciting talent as well being a great platform to potentially kickstart an act’s career – Dancing Years, a five-piece Leeds band being a prime example. Check them out if you get the chance!

Discovering new acts

Sofar Sounds - Article 1

Richard, the man in charge of artist liaison, “the cool side” as Sarah the organiser puts it, loves the discovery element. In fact, one of the artists performing on Monday night, Dylan Brierley, was found by Richard busking on the streets of Leeds City Centre and Morley - a true home-grown talent.

Artists are welcome, and encouraged, to apply to get involved with the project, but as with Dylan’s case, Sofar Sounds are always on the lookout to scout possible performers. The beauty of taking someone off the street and giving them an intimate audience is that they finally get the chance to be really heard, something Dylan said he found refreshing. The silence during the acts was palpable; everyone was giving them a chance to express themselves, a feat that seemed incredibly brave. The first act, Natalie Holmes, was so acoustic, so unplugged that had anyone in the room spoken, the moment would have been spoilt.

Sofar Sounds - Article 2

These smaller, less established artists are the acts Sofar Sounds seems to benefit hugely. Natalie performed some beautiful original songs, but had she been supporting or even headlining a different event, she may not have been given the attention she deserved. There has been many a gig in the history of gigs where the support act has been viewed as the background noise to the room getting warmed up, not a chance for a less established act to get some exposure. Sofar Sounds gives them the spotlight they might not be able to get elsewhere, like giving Dylan the moment to really have people listen to him and only him, have him silence the room with his incredible voice.

An intimate gigging experience

The third act of the night, King No-One, was of a different ilk to Natalie and Dylan, highlighting another side to Sofar Sounds. Already fairly established and playing Live at Leeds at the end of April, King No-One (in their matching white jeans) didn’t seem to be using the event to further their music career (although every little helps!), it seemed more like a nice change of pace for the Arctic Monkeys–esque, performance based band. As Zach, the lead singer, said, the Sofar Sounds gigs are some of their favourites to play because it really gives them a chance to interact with their audience on an intimate level (as well as let them have a cheeky drink away from the watchful gaze of their manager!).

This camaraderie about Sofar Sounds is the best bit. It feels like a club where any music lover is invited. It could be anywhere, anytime, but everyone there actually wants to be. They actually want to listen, because when all is said and done isn’t that what music is for? To be listened to, not watched on a tiny screen or talked over.

If you are a musician wanting to perform, a music-lover wanting to become a member or you have a space that can fit a musician and a few spectators, visit the website to get involved. Also check out each of Monday night’s acts: Natalie Holmes, Dylan Brierley and King No-One.

By Kate Baldwin
Kate is a Volunteer Writer for Leeds Living covering events all across the city of Leeds, on topics such as eat/drink, retail therapy, music/dance and culture.
Photography provided by Fern Sripungwiwat