In the heart of Edmonton’s thriving music community, a company by the name of Sofar Sounds is making waves with a refreshing and unique way to experience live music.
The startup began in 2010 when a group of music lovers in North London hosted a secret show featuring local artists who played to a guest list comprised of a small group of truly appreciative listeners.
Sofar Sounds’ dedication to preserving the magic of live music has since spread to over 360 cities across the globe, making it the largest live music discovery community in the world.
Edmonton’s first Sofar Sounds show took place in early 2016, and the company quickly found success in the city, according to volunteer Kyle Schuster.
“The support we’ve gotten out of people who show up time and time again has been overwhelming,” he says.
Although the shows are secret and intimate, they are in no way exclusive. Anyone can attend a Sofar show, so long as they create an account online at sofarsounds.com/edmonton and apply for one of the show dates listed.
The Sofar Sounds team curates the guest list with fairness in mind, ensuring that those who have yet to experience a show are given preference over those who have already attended. The guestlist can range anywhere from 10 to 50 people, depending on the size of the venue. A week before the event, those who have been chosen will be notified that they have been placed on the guest list; however, the location is kept secret until the night before the show.
Guests are not made aware of the entertainers until they arrive at the destination. According to the team at Sofar Sounds, this provides new artists with a chance to share their music with an audience who may have otherwise never discovered them, something that Ken Stead, a previous Sofar Edmonton performer, appreciates.
“As an artist you get new fans, as a fan you get new artists. It’s a win-win for everybody,” Stead says.
“The opportunity to experience art that you wouldn’t know (is) kind of cool.”
The shows put together by Sofar differ from typical concerts: the audience is asked to be silent during performances and the use of social media is discouraged during the show, although attendees are welcome to take photos. At the beginning of each concert, the volunteers explain the rules with the company’s slogan, “Be still and listen.” Guests are also encouraged to donate at least $10 at the door in order to support the featured artists, sound technicians, and videographers. Another step taken by the volunteers to ensure high-quality shows is a set of guidelines they refer to as their “safe space rules.”
“If anyone feels unsafe, they let us know and we’ll talk to that person. If they still feel unsafe we’ll ask that person to leave,” says Sofar Edmonton volunteer Kurtis Bösecke. “There’s never been any incidents to break the safe space rules.”
Without the distractions of conversation and technology, the audience can truly digest the music they’re hearing and appreciate the artists. Ali Arshad and Rebecca Fung, who attended a Sofar Edmonton show at the Woodrack Café, were able to speak to this dynamic.
“For an artist you don’t know, it’s nice to be able to sit in a quiet place and actually listen to the words that they’ve put so much work into, and you can’t do that at big shows,” says Arshad. “That’s my ideal way of listening to music. Otherwise, you miss all of the little intricacies that artists put into it.”
“I only have positive things to say about it,” says Fung. “There wasn’t a single moment where I wasn’t enjoying it … Incredible music and an incredible experience.”
Venues can range anywhere from cozy cafés to art gallery basements to backyards, each focused on creating a welcoming atmosphere to complement the performances. Guests are invited to bring blankets or chairs to make themselves comfortable, and the shows in private venues are typically BYOB.
Once everyone is settled in, the entertainment begins. Performances can range from both acoustic and electric sets to spoken word and comedy, and typically consist of three performers with short breaks in between.
“There wasn’t a single moment where I wasn’t enjoying it …
Incredible music and an incredible experience.”
The atmosphere of a Sofar Sounds show can best be described as relaxed and friendly, with people coming together through a shared passion for art presented in its most pure form.
Signing up for a Sofar Sounds show in Edmonton not only provides the opportunity to experience new music in a way that allows for true listening in a safe space, but the company has also recently begun working alongside human rights activist group Amnesty International, collecting donations at shows and on the Sofar Sounds website.
“We just want everyone to have a good time, and … just love each other in one room and spread the love and spread the music and art,” says Bösecke.
Sofar Sounds will continue to host shows in Edmonton and exhibit local talent within a wide variety of genres. For those who are interested in a low-cost, spontaneous night out, the shows are worth checking out.
Photos by Sydney Upright.