Alongside the lengths of ruined cathedral wall and beside the susurration of the sea, I trod a seemingly perilous path amidst a most sable night. As the faintest drops of rain began to fall, I was beckoned by the light of the inauspicious location for the forthcoming Sofar Sounds performance – unknown to me until no more than twenty minutes prior. I had spent a prolonged portion of my walk attempting to figure out the type of venue for such a performance; perhaps a more seasoned visitor to such events would not have shared my surprise to discover said venue to be a house. Passing through the door, I stood in the hall to remove the steam of my glasses – the air already billowing with a comfortable warmth. As the steam cleared, a zine was handed to me which fit within the palm of my hand and was pushed awkwardly into the inner pocket of my jacket as I made my way through to the living room. Long and rather narrow, the various candles and fairy lights nestled within brought out a cream glow.
To my right stood two ponderous speakers, little more dividing the performers from the burgeoning sedentary audience. The privileged few were upon leather chairs or sofas, the rest upon a capacious carpet. I settled cross-legged as I scanned the room, fearing any additions to the audience might leave us all too cramped. Under instruction, we shuffled backwards multiple times, allowing me to eventually commandeer a chair of my own. Cans of Tennent’s were dispersed in conjunction with an occasional cup of tea, one of which seemed to have been served in a gravy boat. Our first performer, Asthmatic Harp, stared wistfully from her chair on the other side of the room, her eponymous instrument upon her lap. Like a garreted epistolarian, the sound engineer worked diligently at his board by the solitary light of a candle in a wine bottle.
At five minutes past eight, silence offered itself. Sofar’s representatives appeared between us and our harpist to give their exposition: in over four hundred cities, they have sought to reimagine the live performance under the maxim of equality among artists. The first strums along the zither strings sounded throughout the room, and the plaintive, occasionally keening voice began a series of tales sonically resembling lullabies. ‘Drones over Gatwick’ weaved a politically charged story of isolation and alienation from the personal experience of an airport shutdown, while ‘Bird of Paradise’ meditated upon the interplay of love and nature. The glow redounded in a light chiaroscuro upon our harpist, as I was rapt in the intricacies of her finger movements.
I confess that the second artist did not interest me in the same manner. Elisabeth Elektra emerged to quickly extinguished lights after a ten-minute interval, billed as a futuristic pop artist. The aesthetics were admittedly rather sci-fi (festooned upon her ears were two enormous alien earrings and projected behind her were vague cyber-spirals) although I found her music uninspired. The cheap, repetitive drum machines and rather saccharine synths were jarring enough, and her apathetic vocals left the musical content itself woefully forgettable. I feared the audience may have been irredeemably lost, for even in the darkness of Elektra’s performance I observed the occasional eye-roll among my fellow listeners.
The light returned, and I flicked through the zine. To my surprise, Mauvey, the final performer, had added his own contribution, which provided a contextualization for his performance. It served as a call for the recognition of self-worth in tribulation, a theme to which he would return between each song. His performance restored my confidence in the event implicitly. Clad in a brilliant scarlet Adidas tracksuit, he stood in marked contradistinction to anyone else at the event, and his act was marked by similar contrasts. Over warbling synths his falsetto offered a visceral soundscape, his body moving in harmony with his music, while his rapping – though measured and seemingly diffident – was punctuated by the galvanized thrusts of his arms. With a single acoustic guitar and his preacher-like passion, he created a micro-anthem in the track ‘Diana’. Without thinking, I followed his command to clap. His charisma filled the room in a palpable effusion. He had his audience.
I would be remiss if I did not recommend going to future events, if one can acquire a ticket – another is to take place for International Women’s Day, on the 8thMarch. The night was, admittedly, imperfect, but the imperfections were ameliorated by the intimacy of the location – Mauvey took a photo of his audience at the conclusion of his set, which particularly emphasized exactly how few we were, and how fortunate to be so. I wandered back to town (more accurately, to the Union), saw St Regulus’ Tower illumined by an unseen source, and stared out at the vibrating lights upon the sea, and felt that such moments of intimacy as Sofar Sounds offer are imperceptibly vital. It is an indescribable comfort to know that such events are taking place against the winds and rains which batter our shores.