A crowd of people watching a male singer perform with an acoustic guitar in front of a banner that says sofar
Jake Bugg performing at the Carousel. Image by Sofar Sounds

Imagine attending a concert in an unexpected location, clueless as to who is performing. Sofar Sounds, a global music community founded in 2009, does exactly that. Over time, Sofar Sounds has successfully built its own extensive global network, spanning across more than 400 cities. Krishita Kandoi explores the project. 

Sofar Sounds was created with the intention of providing a space where music enthusiasts could relish in uninterrupted musical experiences, devoid of distractions. Hannah Marshland, 41, is the city curator for Sofar Sounds Nottingham and reflects on the 10 year growth.

“In the early days we had a lot of living room gigs. Back then, there was a kind of lottery system to get an invite and it was simply cash in the hat,” says Hannah. 

Since then, Sofar Nottingham has expanded to more eclectic venues. 

“We’ll use things like cafes, breweries, museums, and galleries. We managed to find a barber shop with caves underneath. We also seek to use our events to spotlight local charities, such as Nottingham Bikeworks, a bike repair shop that supports marginalised communities.” 

A crowd of people in an enclosed space
Sofar events guests are enthusiastic about up and coming artists. Image by Sofar Sounds

Keeping up with the intimacy of the event and the current cost of living crisis, Sofar Nottingham offers a mixture of bring your own booze and licensed spaces to try and keep the costs down. 

“I think it’s something quite nice when you can bring your own picnic and sit on the floor with some cushions,” says Hannah.

For Sofar, the show is solely curated based on the flow of music rather than the popularity of the artist, meaning that the line-up is kept a secret and headliners are non-existent.

Hannah believes that the Sofar experience attracts more respectful music lovers, saying that, “We’ve all been to gigs where the support act is being talked over, or half the audience are yet to turn up.

“Diversity is quite important within our shows, both in terms of music genres, but also more generally, we want to fully reflect our local music community,” says Hannah. 

Internationally, Sofar Sounds has famously supported many up-and-coming artists since its establishment, out of which about 40 of them were nominated (and few have won) at the Grammys, including ‘Happier Than Ever’ singer Billie Eilish. 

Taking after its parent company, Sofar Nottingham has also been a platform of support for several local artists that have gone on to achieve accreditations.

Jerub, a singer songwriter from Nottingham, recently performed at the King’s Coronation concert. Supporting his career through Sofar, Hannah says, “It’s so nice to witness an artist form and grow like that.

“We have also occasionally hosted larger artists wanting to return to their roots. Last year we hosted Jake Bugg as a part of his 10 Year Anniversary Tour, with a stripped back set and a smaller crowd his voice just pierced through the room in it’s effortless beauty,” says Hannah. 

Hannah says there is a lot of fondness in the Nottingham music community, adding that it is because of the respectful crowds and the option to try out new music. 

Katie Keddie, another Nottingham-based singer songwriter, reflects on her experience with Sofar, saying, “I think if you’re an acoustic artist or maybe someone that’s doing things that are more atmospheric, it can probably be really quite frustrating when crowds aren’t fully listening.”

“They tend to be my favourite gigs. There’s not often when you get to play a show where everyone is quiet and listening and engaged. My music is quite quiet in general. So it’s really nice to have that kind of environment,” says Katie. 

Katie frequently attends Sofar events and believes it to be a “great way to discover new artists.”

A woman with a buzz cut posing in between barks of trees
Katie Keddie has performed at several Sofar shows around the country. Image by Katie Keddie

Heart Sauce band member Daniel Peel feels that the intimate style of Sofar gigs can often be quite daunting when you’re accustomed to larger crowds.

“Sounds tend to travel far despite not using any speakers. It was kind of scary at first because I like having people chattering in the background. It takes the pressure off a bit. It was different having a crowd’s complete attention. It was nice,” he shares. 

A crowd enjoying a band's performance
Heart Sauce felt the experience of Sofar quite different from what they are used to. Image by Heart Sauce

“It was also quite interesting because there were people right at the front all cozied up in blankets. It allowed us a more one-and-one opportunity to connect with the crowd,” adds Heart Sauce band member Ellis Graves, 27. 

Emphasising on the importance of supporting local artists, Hannah says, “Support your own community, go out for gigs. Especially in the current cost of living, it’s increasingly difficult for artists to fund their creative outlets, and when times get tough it is art we so often turn to, to find joy, to find heart, to be reminded of what it is to be human, so we need to do all we can to support our local creative communities.”