SoFar Sounds has emerged as a global phenomenon, holding secret, intimate performances in people’s living rooms in hundreds of cities across the globe. Over the past year, a group of creative individuals have brought the concept to Bangkok, providing unique experiences for musicians and music fans in the city. We went to find out what it’s all about.
(All Photos: Thananan W)
You ascend the stairs to an apartment you didn’t know the address of yesterday morning. You’ve carefully followed the instructions emailed to you by someone you’ve never met with the promise of watching bands; but you don’t know who they are. Sidestepping shoes scattered like canvas shrapnel, you ascend a flight of stairs, captivated by the soft lilt of a guitar. The audience is spread out, silent, barefoot and cross-legged across the expansive living room in one of Bangkok’s more affluent leafy suburbs. Even the bartenders behind the improvised bar gingerly slip ice cubes one by one into cups as to not detract from the listening experience. Far from your average concert, and completely different to your ordinary performance space, this is Sofar Sounds. This is music at it’s most intimate.
An acronym for ‘Songs from a room,’ Sofar Sounds began in 2009 in London as a means for co-founder Rafe Offer to provide exposure for his musician friends. The concept resonated with a global audience and since then, it has rapidly ballooned into an international phenomena. There are now performances held almost every night in living rooms, kitchens, garages and gardens across more than 150 cities worldwide. From Melbourne to New York City, Cairo to Costa Rica, enthusiastic musicians and music lovers are coming together to present and experience music with a unique level of intimacy. Run by a passionate team of volunteers, Sofar’s basic concept transforms music away from the types of venues traditionally associated with musical performance and presents it in a more stripped back and raw form.
British born Adam Sharpe is the Managing Director and driving force behind Sofar Sounds in Bangkok. A musician with a background in events management, Sharpe was finding himself frustrated with the state of the music industry in the city and decided to take matters into his own hands. “I’m used to seeing live music in environments that are not intimate and so sick of seeing people not appreciating live music,” he lamented. Explaining what his initial goals were, he continues, “we wanted to create live music experiences that were really intimate and allow bands to truly connect with the audience.” A friend mentioned she’d attended a Sofar Sounds performance in San Francisco and the seed was planted. Calls were made and “within two months we were producing our first show.”
“It’s about music lovers wanting to create intimate awesome live music experiences for people and to create exciting online platforms for local bands.”
Before long, Sharpe was leading a team of around 20 volunteers, a collective with an impressive skill set including a full production team, sound engineer, director of photography (along with six photographers and editors), two decorators and a community manager. Their work is largely unpaid and is a labour of love, a shared commitment to bringing the best of Thai music to the masses. When quizzed on the motivation of the group, Sharpe says,”it’s about music lovers wanting to create intimate awesome live music experiences for people and to create exciting online platforms for local bands.”
Pakarn Kiatpiny, or Bai, is the Head of Talent for Sofar Sounds Bangkok and has been involved in the local music scene since he was 14 years old. His event management company Rock Entertainment has brought high profile bands like the Deftones and Paramore to Thailand in the past but it’s his passion for developing the local music scene that has him excited about Sofar. “People are craving a quality live show and that’s what Sofar sounds is all about,” he says, “they are sick of going to clubs and bars and listening to music that is just garbage every night.”
“People are craving a quality live show and that’s what SoFar sounds is all about.”
With the band positioned in the middle of the audience’s collective attention, the environment becomes immersive. The crowd gives their unflinching attention to the band and whilst some ground rules are established early on, the crowd instinctively adopt basic respectful principles like not talking, texting or taking selfies during the bands’ performances. Sharpe expands on this, saying “If someone was to be disrespectful of the space, they would be called out… and it would be embarrassing for that person.”
Indeed the simple structure seems to have touched a zeitgeist, with the format being embraced globally. It difficult to argue that the environment isn’t something special, and at the least, a welcome change from the ubiquitous sea of mobile phone screens that normally obscure any live music performance. The events are invite only (subscribers are given the opportunity to RSVP online) and audiences are also asked to stay for the whole evening, rather than arriving just in time for the headliner. Not that you’d know who the headliner is. The lineups are not announced in advance and kept deliberately diverse, exposing the audience to bands and genres that they may never listen to or even be familiar with.
Sofar Bangkok recently put on its fourth showcase; an afternoon and early evening affair featuring indie pop act Summer Dress, an emotionally charged set from JINTA followed by three piece rock act Yellow Fang. The lineups are deliberately diverse because, as Bae explains, “you’re not coming to a Sofar Sounds show as a fan, you’re coming to a Sofar sounds show as a music lover. You don’t know who the bands are. You don’t know where the venue is. You’re not coming as a rock fan or a jazz fan. You come because you’re a music lover, because you want to see good music in an intimate environment where the performers give a very personal reflection of their craft”
Sharpe explains further, “every lineup is quite carefully curated. In terms of performers we look at each venue individually to look at what sort of space and what sort of intimacy it provides. The second step is about working with bands who are available. Bands essentially volunteer and they do this for two reasons. One is they want a strong piece of video content and two is because it coincides with the release of an album or coincides with their PR cycle. More and more though, bands are realizing that playing a SoFar Sounds show is actually something quite special so bands have often come away from shows saying it was the best show they’ve ever played.”
Pang, from headline act Yellow Fang expanded on this point, saying, “in Thailand people go to pubs and bars to hear cover songs. It’s nice to have a space like Sofar Sounds where people actually come for the original music. A lot of people here never saw us live before so it’s nice to be intimate for the first time.”
Sofar Sounds will be launching their fifth event and one year anniversary performance in the second or third weekend of October. To find out more about SoFar Sounds Bangkok, click here.