On my way to a gig, about which I only knew the postcode, I was feeling increasingly more dubious. ‘Sofar Sounds’ gigs are held in secret, unique and intimate locations across the world, and all you have to do is have a little trust and apply for tickets. If successful, you will find out the venue a few days in advance but any information about the artists, who each perform a short set, is withheld until you arrive.
One part of me feeling like I was channelling an illicit rave persona, and the other clutching a pillow I’d brought in case there were no chairs, I arrived at the small flat which was to become the evening’s venue. I’m not sure what demographic I was expecting from such an elusive event, but there was no way to pin point this group. Yet as people became more stacked upon each other there was definite sense of community, accompanied by a shared investment in how live music can become intensely intimate rather than simply a distant spectacle on a stage.
The first band, Morning Bear, at first appeared to be what I had expected from this kind of setting. An indie duo, that threatened to become the inevitable acoustic guitar players at this pseudo house-party. Yet the fragile, unamplified guitar accompanied by passionate depth in the vocals, resonated in the cramped space to create a set that was deeply moving. They fused a complex Nick Drake influenced instrumental, and more overtly pop inspired elements, to create a sound that was pop without being superficial, and even had the rawness that evoked the Rocky Mountains which from which the band came.
There was a definite sense of community, accompanied by a shared investment in how live music can become intensely intimate rather than simply a distant spectacle on a stage.
Next up was Midnight Patisserie, a trio composed of a harp player, accordion, and xylophone. When I saw them wheel the harp into this living room I was markedly more sceptical than when in the safe guitarist territory. But by this point I was both invested in the new interpretative possibilities the I saw the setting giving the music, and the bottle of wine I had brought had also been significantly more invested in. I was more prepared than I thought possible to become a folk-fusion fan. The texture created between the harp and the accordion was one which was simultaneously novel to my ear, yet had an innately vintage feel to it. The cliché of music evoking a cinema of the mind, was quite apt as I certainly got images of a French black and white film. It was clear that this is relatively new project as elements did become discordant, and for me the singing left a little to be desired, but the point of me coming to this gig was to engage with new music, show support for live music in general. With that in mind, I never enjoyed harp music more.
The final act was Ruby Confue. As soon as she took to the stage (or, ambiguously defined floor space) she gave off an infectious energy that can only be defined as summery, despite the gig being in the heart of winter. Her performance and movement showed her feeling the music in such a way that felt intensely soulful and natural. The urban jazz singer is very cool and also almost psychedelic, blending spoken word and RnB into a collage that is both striking and immersive. Her song ‘Baby 126’ encompassing a Shakespeare sonnet shows just the kind of intelligent wit in her work that makes her stand out, as well as a playfulness, and will to experiment, which is probably its most exciting element. In this small space, both her vibrant performance and the smooth spontaneity of her voice were concentrated into a three song set that seemed to bathe the room in colour.
My experience of this ‘Sofar Sounds’ gig did teach me more about, and to an extent broaden, my music taste. But what I learnt most from being in this intimate setting was the value in choosing to dedicate yourself to really listening to a live performance. With no distractions the relationship between performer and audience felt more sustained and also more dynamic, and the music itself, in turn, gained from this. I felt like in a small flat outside the centre of Oxford I rediscovered the significance, and also the joy, of live music.