Review: Sofar Sounds London

If you find yourself in a room full of people sitting on the floor, waiting eagerly for artists they’ve never heard of to play for them, chances are you’re at a Sofar Sounds gig – a night full of surprise performances in an intimate atmosphere, like the excellent one that took place at Coates Studio in London in April.

The room – used as yoga studio or open work space throughout the day – is bright and spacious, providing enough space for people to spread out comfortably with pillows and picnic plaids. Through an open door, you can see one of the artists dancing around with his guitar, unaware of the people watching him. Before the first performance, a volunteer welcomes everybody and briefly explains that this night will be “all about love, warmth and respect for the music”.

Then the reggae-combo The Hempolics takes over, and for four songs, it’s summer in London. The eight band-members are as chilled as their songs, and the three singers all add a different layer to the lush sounds, in particular the female singer, whose rich, chocolatey voice brings soul to the set.

After a short break, Daniel Glover, a twenty-something in Doc Marten’s, sits down with his guitar and starts singing. His voice is beautiful, warm with a slightly raw edge, and the songs move swiftly between indie, pop and folk. Between songs, he explains that he wanted to cancel this gig because his mum died a few weeks ago and he thought he wouldn’t be ready. “I still think I’m not ready,” he confesses, and starts playing a song he wrote for her.

Hearing and seeing his grief and devastation, witnessing this young guy looking sad beyond his years and throwing all his heart into his songs, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by emotions. Everywhere people are swallowing hard, eyes fixed on the stage, holding their friends’ hands. He has to wipe his face with his hands afterwards, too, before he introduces a cover of a Johnny Cash song, which is cheerful and hopeful and feels a bit like a bird’s song after a long, cold winter. I’ll get better, I’m on my way, this seems to say. And from the applause and cheers and glassy eyes you can tell that everybody in the room feels with him.

More is More, the last and probably weirdest act of the night – three guys with saxophones and one guy with a percussion-set – then manage to lighten things up again. There’s something very alien in listening to that kind of music, especially after the first two acts, but it’s joyful and surprising and pure fun.

After the first song, they reveal that they are improvising. If they hadn’t said anything about it, it would have been impossible to tell. Everything from breaks to melodies and loudness is perfectly synchronised and they seem to understand each other from the tiniest of gestures. Most people here probably aren’t used to listening to improv-brass-tunes moving between pop and jazz, but they love it. Some laugh, others grin, but everyone feels good and happy. It definitely was a good choice to let them close the night.

Judging from the bright faces and excited voices leaving the room in Hackney, the Sofar-community has just grown a little bit more.

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