100 people are packed into a living room in Shoreditch. The crowd are too quiet and well-mannered for this to be a house party, or even an ordinary gig. This is a night at Sofar Sounds, the intimate gig experience that has spread across the world since its humble beginnings in 2009.
The concept is simple. People volunteer their homes as gig venues across different cities all over the world, a hundred people sign up for tickets, and three acts play to them. There is no talking allowed whilst the acts are playing, placing the music into the spotlight and making for a truly intimate live experience.
The crowd on this occasion was a mix of old hands and first timers, all listening intently as we sat cross legged on Julian and Martin’s parquet flooring. After the first act the MC Laura Pegler, coincidentally a Drama finalist at Queen Mary, encouraged us to talk to someone near us who we didn’t know and exchange music tips. I got chatting to a pair behind me and they very kindly gave me a brownie. Forget what your mum taught you kids, don’t be scared to talk to strangers!
The acts are a secret until they are introduced on the night, but it’s worth trusting in Sofar’s choices. The general tone is acoustic, songwriter driven alt-pop and the level of attention afforded by the intimate setting means both the artists and the audience get more out of it than they might at an ordinary gig.
The acts tonight are an eclectic mix of folk, pop and rock, with the soulful sound of Mark Elliott kicking off proceedings. He got involved with a bit of audience interaction, making us into his gospel backing choir in the final song of his set yet somehow managing to go about it in a non-cheesy way. His EP is coming out shortly, although it sadly doesn’t feature a living room full of people trying to sing riffs.
Snappily dressed Laurel was up next with a Gibson guitar and a set of all new material. Stripped bare and sung with a hell of a lot of feeling, her songs are clearly strong enough to not be reliant on the expansive sound of what she has on record. Recent single Life Worth Living confirms her place as a modern day pop musician in the mould of alt-pop goddesses Lana del Rey and FKA Twigs, and even with just her and a guitar it sounded like something special.
The final act of the evening were Warsaw Radio, a Brighton based folk outfit. I’m going to come clean and say that folk isn’t normally my thing, but these guys knew how to engage a crowd. There was a freeness to their music, perhaps informed by the rolling sea of their hometown, or maybe by the laidback living room vibes. Regardless of the cause, they left the evening on a high and we all departed into the night buoyed up on one of the best live experiences this city, and many other cities, has to offer.
You can choose to buy a ticket for a minimum donation of £5 or sign up to the free waiting list at www.sofarsounds.com/london. Capacity is limited for all their events so it’s worth signing up for a few to increase your chances, otherwise you could end up so near yet so far.