SOFAR SOUNDS: BROOKLYN
Sofar Sounds is a really cool idea. The basic premise is this: Curated live music in a very intimate setting. And by intimate, I mean someone’s living room. Or loft apartment. Or small cafe. Or office space. It started in London in 2009. Now they do this all over the world in over 100 cities. For free. Events are invite only and BYOB. All you have to do is sign up on their website, and they let you know which upcoming gig you can attend. The location is kept secret until the day of the event. The performers are kept secret until you show up. The entire experience is a musical leap of faith. On the day of the show, you get an address in an Email and you embark on a treasure hunt to find the gig.
The Sofar Sounds event I attended was hidden deep within Gowanus, Brooklyn. I was dropped off on a completely deserted street, at the edge of the canal, down near the F train overpass. It was dark and bitterly cold. There wasn’t another person in sight, and every business looked closed.
The address I was given had to be on this street. However, the map on my phone kept showing its location to be sort of in the center of the large building I was standing in front of. This didn’t really make sense. Then I noticed a small driveway at the edge of the canal that seemingly lead to the back of the building. I took a gamble and headed that way. I walked down about 100 yards then rounded a corner into a parking lot. It was equally dark and deserted. The kind of place you would typically avoid for fear of getting murdered. But I was determined. It simply had to be here. I kept walking, rounded another corner, and then EUREKA! I saw a light coming from the last building in the parking lot, next to the canal. Christmas lights emanated from within. I stepped inside.
It was a pretty big loft space. Looked like an office of some sort. Maybe a design firm or something. It was about 4000 sq feet, with massive 40 foot ceilings. They had two very cool treehouse platforms centered around two columns. These were accessible by ladders and connected to a mezzanine in the rear by narrow wooden bridges. A DIY Swiss Family Robinson.
I was early. Well, not early. I was actually right on time. But in any music scene, being punctual is invariably being early. There were about 3 dozen people milling about, setting up sound equipment, hanging lights, tapping a keg, and setting out a table full of cupcakes that looked exactly like tiny hamburgers and crinkle-cut french fries. I grabbed a beer and climbed up a ladder to one of the treehouse platforms, where I sat and watched the entire event come together as I waited for Alison to join me.
Within 45 minutes the room was packed with sweater-wearing bearded and be-scarfed brooklynites. The crowd was young. Mostly 20s from what I could guess. Once the treehouse rafters were full, everybody else just sat on the floor. It felt like one big living room.
There was a palpable excitement in the room. The notion that you had been invited to this intimate venue for free, secret, live music – and that everyone there had gone out of their way to find out about it and get themselves there – it just felt… special. I was really impressed with the effort. Especially considering Sofar Sounds is completely volunteer-run.
There were four performers on the roster for the night. Each got about 20 minutes. So it was more like a showcase than a full gig. But what better way to expand your audience than this? These bands were performing for the ideal music consumer. People who would sign up to a secret gig without even knowing who was performing, simply because they value live music that much. Those are the same people paying for music online, and curating music for their friends. I’m sure of it.
The music itself was good. Not great. But good. The performers were mostly as young as the crowd. 20s. Maybe a few in their 30s. Kat Dahlia form Miami opened up. She did sort of a laid back Kelis R&B type thing, with an acoustic guitarist and some slightly trappy beats played on a sequencer. I was feeling her. Peep her video below. Check out more of her music HERE
Next up was a poet, Mike Rosen. He had a bit of that poetry slam cadence that tends to grate on my ears, but he had some nice honest words about being a New Yorker, so I forgave him. I really admire anyone that can pick up a microphone and just command a room with only their voice. Takes balls, and the willingness to open up your soul to a roomful of strangers. How can you not respect that? Get at Mike Rosen HERE. I stole these tiny Instagram photos from ze web.
The third act was a Buffalo-based Hip Hop act called Quincy Vidal. They were mad young. Could have all been freshman in college, so I don’t want to diss them too hard. They were aiight. Your standard suburban “conscious” lyrics ala Arrested Development 20 years later or some shit. But it was very tame. Beyond that, all I can say is: There are no fucking chairs in Hip Hop. if you’re relaxing in a chair while your MCing, you’re doing it wrong. At least in Brooklyn. We don’t play that shit. Hip Hop is not lounge music. Hip Hop is not Smooth Jazz. But again, they were kids, and this crowd didn’t know any better, so whatever. In my day… Judge for yourself HERE.
The last group was a full band of beardos called The Braeves. Fairly pleasant rock band. Not really my cup of tea, but the crowd seemed into them, and they showed up – for FREE. Get their music HERE.
But the fact that the acts weren’t all a home run didn’t really matter. The collective effort of these Sofar Sounds people – to bring live music back to this kind of a magical experience – it was just really inspiring. And being in a room with like-minded music freaks is always my comfort zone. My hat’s off to these mofos. Check out their website, and maybe this is happening in your neighborhood too. http://www.sofarsounds.com