By Lily Keenan
VANCOUVER — On a rainy Tuesday evening, the suburbs of the industrial East are quiet and empty. It’s dark, it’s cold; it’s winter in Vancouver. But down a deserted side street, tucked away between warehouses and old abandoned office blocks, light from an open door spills onto the road. There is warmth, laughter and the unmistakable sound of tuning instruments. To passersby, perhaps this is just another house party. But what they have inadvertently stumbled across is something very different. There is a music movement taking place in Vancouver that is emerging from the backstreets and living rooms of its residents.
Sofar Sounds is a monthly event that showcases local bands in secret venues. Selective, intimate, and tantalizingly elusive, the location and lineup remain unknown to the attendees until the day of the event. There are no requirements, simply show up with a box of beers and a willingness to listen. The goal? To strip gigs back to what they should be all about: the music.
City Leader Catherine Hodgson and publicist Adam Caddell have been involved with the running of Sofar Vancouver, more or less, since its inception last July. They are dedicated to fostering a unique experience between the artist and the audience. “Artists perform to an audience who are so engaged you can hear a pen drop,” says Adam. “And this creates a sort of magical atmosphere, where the artist can literally see how their music resonates on the faces of the crowd.”
These Sofar gigs are imbibed with a quiet and unspoken respect amongst attendees. The secrecy of the event creates such a heightened sense of anticipation, it’s impossible not to be enthralled when the first band takes to the stage. “My favourite part of the night is when the first artist begins their set. I look to the audience and slowly see the crowd make this sort of ‘woah’ face. Like dominos, they begin falling in love with the artist,” says Adam.
The lineup isn’t just secret for audience members, performers also have no idea who they will be playing alongside on the night. “Often there are artists of entirely different genres playing together and they may have never even thought of sharing the same stage,” says Catherine. “So it’s super rewarding to see them appreciate that opportunity to meet each other and connect.”
The Sofar phenomenon isn’t limited to Vancity. In fact, it takes place in some shape or form every week across 190 cities in 37 countries in the world. From Sydney, Australia to its birthplace in the hearths of London City, Sofar Sounds is a grass roots organization in every aspect. Run on a Volunteer basis, music enthusiasts like Adam and Catherine organize, market, film, photograph, and record the performances for nothing more than the passion of sharing and showcasing music. The only monetary exchange involved is an optional door donation, all of which is is divided amongst performing bands who get to keep the cut or have a professionally filmed and edited video of their performance.
The desire is to provide a show that is unadulterated by all the bullshit tied up with running a commercial venue, which is why the location of these gigs can be anything from an apartment living room to makeshift art studio. The onus is on creating a tight knit, community event that is unique every single time you attend. It’s the kind of environment where no one is talking or texting, and the crowd is gathered amongst a eclectic backdrop of anything from an array of art pieces, workshop tools, or a home owner’s teapot collection. “We’ve definitely had gigs in some tight spaces,” says Catherine. “But the most unique was probably last November when we hosted at Decentral, the Bitcoin headquarters here in Vancouver. It was such a special space with tons of history in those walls.”
A spot on the Sofar guest list is becoming increasingly more coveted. And since Sofar cannot meet this growing demand while still remaining intimate, hopeful attendees are RSVPing in more and more imaginative ways to secure a spot on the door. “People started catching on that we actually read every RSVP response made online,” says Catherine. “We’ve had poems and songs, or clicked on the excel cell only to have it pop out to reveal a 1,000-word response. It’s one of the best parts of the job.”
My personal Sofar experience was something special. Friends were forged over beers as the bands intermingled with the crowd. Like a house party, there was no distinction between “crowd” and “crew,” the hierarchy just wasn’t there. Sitting cross legged on rugs on the floor of an East Vancouver art gallery, over 30 attendees watched silently and reverently as local acts Sam Tudor, Mesa Luna, JP Maurice, and Carmanah each delivered an unplugged, 30-minute set. There was banter, laughter, speeches, and even a rousing dance session at the end. But it was the comment whispered to me by a friend that seemed to really capture the feeling of the night.
“This is the first time I’ve ever really listened to music.”
And that simple remark holds true to the entire philosophy behind Sofar Sounds. Rather than going out to watch a band, Sofar offers the unique opportunity for us to stay in and actually listen to one. And to me, that’s something worth RSVPing for.
Visit www.sofarsounds.com/vancouver to sign up to attend the next Sofar Vancouver event, which will take place in a secret location on January 23.BC, British Columbia, local music gatherings, Sofar Sounds