You can either watch slumped against the oven, sat on the stairs or kneel on the kitchen tiles down front, which by the way doesn’t cost extra for such a prime spot. Not your usual gig set up but then this isn’t any usual gig. Tonight, around sixty people will watch festival sized fillers Hot Chip in someone’s flat in Hoxton, London, while Tom O’Dell tinkles his piano on the other side of the capital and Ed Sheeran is welcomed into a home in Washington DC, all in aid of Amnesty International.
“Amnesty is a great cause” says Sofar Sounds co-founder, David Alexander, one of those responsible for the lounge-sized secret sets. This evening there’s over 300 shows around the globe, running in conjunction with Amnesty International who support the refugee crisis. “It feels poignant that here we very much rely on people giving up their homes so that we can play shows in them. It felt like a good fit that Amnesty are here and that’s really crucial. It’s not just having a good time listening to music, people’s lives are at stake here and we need people to be able to help that organisation and provide their homes.” The man giving up his home tonight is Tushar, a warm and welcoming musician who says he’s hosted around sixty of these Sofar Sounds events before – plenty of practice to work out the best acoustics and make the perfect cup of tea then.
Starting in 2009, Sofar Sounds began it’s humble beginnings in David’s living room where six or seven of them would offer their home for the next round of intimate musical experience. “We definitely found having this receptive environment, where it’s between fifty and one hundred people maximum, that just feels like a really good platform to hear music, for whatever reason.” It’s easy to see the appeal; crystal clear sound, a bring your own beers policy and the ability to watch music without mobile wielding arms flailing in front of you. Tonight the only time phones come out of pockets are to text donations to Amnesty. Either that or people are Googling the new acts they’ve just watched before them. Four-piece Hoo Ha’s kicked off proceedings with their witty guitar based jams, gathering laughter from the audience throughout, while Naala held them more captive with her soulful electronic tracks, the room transformed by mood lighting.
Over the past eight years Sofar Sounds have showcased emerging local talent as well as the odd surprise big name rocking up to someone’s flat. “I can remember the second show was some sort of concert pianist with an upright piano and he played this piece and I was so moved by that. I think I was doing a bit of impromptu MC’ing for the whole thing and then for whatever reason one thing leads to another and to this moment and here we are, we’re about to say Hot Chip at Sofar Sounds, let’s go!” With that David finishes his can of beer and heads back upstairs in time to watch the band he says were firmly on his radar before he even started Sofar Sounds.
There’s just three of the electronic outfit performing tonight – just as well as there’s not much space with people now bunched up tight to frontman Alexis Taylor’s piano. Owen Clarke and Felix Martin join him, along with an unmanned drum machine, the cymbals clashing together automatically. It’s a short set of five songs, mostly stripped back and suitable for the tone of the evening. Taylor plays a rendition of Prince’s ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’ which reminded him of home, fitting in with the night’s theme. The rousing synth-heavy ‘Boy From School’ followed, Tushar once again flicking between different mood lighting as the band finished on a high.
The smattering of household names playing across the world at once was a one off, but every day Sofar Sounds crops up in a city somewhere, with new talent to show off in unique venues. “We want more hosts, we want more acts. We want more people who enjoy supporting the artists, people who really lock into this experience, it’s almost intangible” David says, proving there can never be too much of a good thing.