The special allure to any unknown art is the chance it might yield a creative gem, not in a hipster, knew-it-before-it-was cool kind of way, but with the joy that arrives with discovery.
The worldwide non-profit organization Sofar Sounds, an abbreviation for “songs from a room,” exemplifies this appeal through their carefully curated secret shows, like the one on Sept. 20 in London with Western University’s own The B-Club.
There couldn’t have been more than 20 people at the borrowed, bohemian office on Bathurst Street, but everyone that attended truly seemed like they wanted to be there. They had to be, as the location was only announced 24 hours prior. So when The B-Club kicked off the night with their jazz and funk-infused covers, the audience was rapt, with not a phone in sight.
Sofar's planning also reflected the night's simplicity.
“Sofar reached out to us around three weeks ago on our Instagram page and set the whole thing up with a few messages,” says Dominic Toccacelli, second-year music administrative studies student and member of The B-Club.
Despite the cramped space, each member of the club had their time to shine, with a few clever musical additions like a bass solo to Kanye’s “All Falls Down” and solos throughout their as-yet untitled original. The band closed their set with a soulful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
“That was hands down one of the best environments we’ve ever played in,” says Toccacelli. “It’s always fun to play some big venue, but it’s also intimate just having 25 people in a room that really dig what you’re doing.”
Since Sofar stresses the lack of a regular opener or headliner, Rachel Man was both the second and final performer of the night. She finished the show with six pop covers on her keyboard and acoustic guitar.
The genesis of Sofar, came when three friends from the United Kingdom became tired of the audience noise and smartphone distractions at live shows. They decided to plan their own gigs in their living rooms, and from there, Sofar expanded around the world.
To attend, play or host a show, you need to apply on their website; however, volunteers often reach out to potential artists. The idea when choosing a venue is to find anywhere that music isn’t usually performed. Normally, the ticket prices go towards artist and tech crew compensation, but yesterday’s show was a part of a much bigger collaboration with Amnesty International. The funds were gathered in support of the world’s refugees. London's show was one of 300 gigs from over a thousand artists in 60 countries.
While the shows largely consist of local artists, other Sofar performers around the world Sept. 20 included Ed Sheeran, The National, Moby, Daughter, Oh Wonder and Esperanza Spalding.
A true appreciation of low-key performances is also what drew Anna Sviknushin, a second-year psychology student, to running Sofar’s London chapter.
Originally from Calgary, she had heard from a friend who had been asked to play a gig for Sofar. It was at Radio Western that she had heard of London’s Sofar chapter, and from there immediately sought out a show.
Svikhnushin only started running Sofar London this week but curated many secret shows over the past months as a volunteer. She heard of The B-Club as a volunteer for Radio Western.
“What we really sell at Sofar is music without distractions,” says Svikhnushin. “Our main focus as an organization is to bring the music back between the artist and the audience.”
It’s quite a lofty mission statement, yet seeing how Snapchat was almost a complete nonentity in last night’s performances, it appears they succeeded.
The next Sofar Sounds show is on Oct. 25. The link to apply for tickets will go live Oct. 1.