Benin City, fronted by Joshua Idehen play at a Sofar Sounds gig. Photograph: Sofar Sounds
Benin City, fronted by Joshua Idehen play at a Sofar Sounds gig. Photograph: Sofar Sounds

Songs from a Room, or Sofar, is an East London-based start-up with a strong vision: to bring good music to eager fans.

Born out of a frustration of background noise at gigs, Rafe Offar and two friends set out to develop a concept to curate gigs in unusual settings. “You don’t connect with musicians at large gigs and stadiums and at smaller ones there are often dingy bars where people talk and text throughout performances,” explains Offar. “For me, hearing a trumpet or sax in a living room adds so much excitement and depth to the music.”

Sofar aims to bring unsigned and unknown musicians and artists to a wider audience. “We wanted to help new musicians get a boost by inviting people who love to spread the word about what they discover to our houses. The result was an atmosphere where you could hear a pin drop – an intimate connection between music and fan. It’s quite ‘pure’ and about the music rather than selling stuff,” says Offar.

Sofar is managing to hold 50 gigs a week hosted in spaces such as basements, living rooms and residential warehouses in over 60 cities around the world. According to Offar though, being based in East London does have its perks. “The music here is considered amongst the best in the world so it helps Sofar have impact,” he says.

There are two rules when attending a Sofar gig: firstly, you must listen thoroughly to the music that’s on offer and secondly, you have to stay until the end of the evening. These rules are gently emboldened at every gig out of respect for the music, but also for the audience to broaden and enhance their experience.

Offar gives the example of virtuoso cellist Oliver Coates as one of the favourite Sofar gigs so far. “I was moved at how he wowed an audience who do not hear classical music often at a Sofar gig. He showed us classical at its most dynamic.”

But in an ever-changing music culture where fast-paced, mainstream pop is ever more the norm, how is Sofar reacting to today’s current state of industry? “We involve art and music students and find a range of local community members and leaders with an appetite for innovation and encourage them to debate who is right for us.” Offar enthuses.

Plans to develop the concept are also underway with a festival under their belt in May last year which attracted over a thousand people. Offar adds: “We like to find music that is just plain good – and worry later about the buzz factor.”

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