Something has changed in the way people experience live music.
To state the obvious – We are living in the age of technology and social media. Our lives are now documented on online platforms to the point that we don’t need to remember where we were on New Years Eve – there’s a tagged photo on a timeline somewhere and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t show how much of a good time I was having with whoever was with me that night.
The same can be said for attending concerts and music festivals. It technically didn’t happen if we don’t have photographical or recorded evidence of it. That includes my grainy rain blurred Instagram images of Lana Del Rey at Electric Picnic- all I can show you from the majority of my photos, is that she wore a yellow summer dress. You simply cannot capture the thrill of seeing an artist you have worshiped for five years using a circuit board encapsulated in plastic. You cannot share the electric atmosphere of the audience; a collective community of equal minded and impassioned individuals drawn together by their love of live music (Minus that one absolute melter on coke who kept screaming for “Summertime Sadness” whilst vaping something nasty into my face. I’m guessing the Cedric Gervais remix is the only LDR song he knows). Regrettably, you just 100% cannot record great quality audio samples of that spine tingling trap sample in “Freak” to do it justice posted on Facebook.
What I’m trying to say here (apart from “I LOVE LANA DEL REY!”) is that there surely MUST be other ways to enjoy live music rather than just grinning and bearing the multiple accidental jostles to the boob, the plastic pint cups hurled over the lucky heads of some and landing on the most unlucky wearing white, the downright obnoxious behaviour of some drugged up yoofs who don’t know the artist they are in the almighty presence of, and the restricted access for disabled people due to massive inebriated crowds? It’s a sad reality that you are most likely to see more of the concert through a randomers Iphone 6 screen than with your own eyeballs on the stage. Leave the live recordings to the professionals; it’s their job to make the performance YouTube worthy.
I will never get sick of concerts, I’ve caught the bug for live music ever since I was thirteen years old and I’ll have it until I’m decrepit and deaf from two perforated eardrums. However, there is no denying that the live experience itself is dampened by the factors I’ve listed above, and as you get on in life, you realise more that you appreciate being part of a respectful, engaged and mesmerised audience that isn’t glued to their phone or screeching to their mate Shannon about how drunk they are. You want to experience it in a comfortable venue, preferably seated, maybe with a glass of wine if you’re feeling particularly classy, and be at least a few meters away from the artist so you can appreciate their raw emotion, sheer talent and creative delivery.
Luckily, others feel the same and have provided a solution.
The emergence of small start up company Sofarsounds in 2010 (shortened from “Sounds From A Room”) has allowed a somewhat oversimplified idea of organising secret gigs in intimate locations to become the most viable and achievable option in hosting live music events; without the complications of excessive venue fees, outside lighting and sound equipment hire and also disappointing turn out in a large capacity space. The concept is simple; SoFarSounds takes it upon themselves to gather up the most talented, up and coming new artists that reside in their resident city to play in a secret location; this could be a person’s front room, a spacious attic, a coffee shop, or even a local treasured pub.
All the work is done by volunteers with a passion for music who recognise the importance of supporting local artists who may struggle to get their sound out. They can get a receptive audience and a professional recording of their performance without paying for anything except with the pleasure of their company. Richard Branson has recently just invested money in the brand after attending a Sofarsounds gig and recognising the potential it has to transform how punters chose to experience live music.
Each month, Sofar live sessions happen in 274 cities all around the world. Interested viewers may apply online for tickets (usually a suggested donation) and 9/10 times they get accepted onto a restricted guest list. The location is revealed on the day of the event (that’s always a well kept secret) and the artists are discovered as soon you eventually manage to squeeze yourself down on the step of a narrow staircase in a tiny bookshop to await the glorious stripped-back music (after trekking through your city which you used to think you knew but you landed up being glued to Google maps to find this hidden gem). The lighting may be basic but atmospheric; the sound controlled by volunteer technicians and the set up is as minimal as the performer requires it to be.
But that’s the main point- it all about the music. Maybe this description is underwhelming to you, and in that case I know I’ll never make it as a novelist, but the whole experience itself is one of curiosity, adventure, discovery and enlightenment.
As a music lover, I was instantly attracted to the concept Sofarsounds brings, and so far I’ve attended three events in Belfast and I am addicted. I’ve visited venues that I would normally have walked past without appreciating their uniqueness. I’ve been introduced to artists that I am now obsessed with, have chatted to them as if they were just normal people (who woulda thunk it?) and feel even more part of a community of like-minded music lovers. It is not some hipster-in-the-know collective; the website is literally accessible to anyone.
At least five artists that have performed at Sofar events I have attended have already featured on BBC Radio 1 playlists, have released albums, have performed at SXSW, and all have been touted as the newest best exports from the Northern Irish music scene. The only hype around it is that it is a secret. But we all know that never lasts for long.