After walking up a steep flight of stairs and through a large industrial room, the venue for Songs From a Secret Room (Sofar)’s March Vancouver event teemed like a house party. People chatted while holding cans of beer, background music fuelled the anticipation, and somebody’s dog quietly weaved between the groups. It was a pretty relaxed vibe for a room full of people with no idea what was going to happen next.
In fact, no one even knew they were going to be here until the night before. Sofar curates secret concerts around the world, with a goal of creating intimate shows where the focus is on the musicians (they do this by keeping it small, which translates into a very coveted guest list). Organizers Kaya Malou and Catherine Jacobs stress that while it may seem exclusive keeping a limited group, it’s done so the atmosphere does not intimidate, and the musicians get everyone’s full attention. Paradoxical, maybe, but it makes sense: a small crowd allows for a greater feeling of inclusivity at the event.
No more than 70 people cozied together on blankets in the quirky workshop for Love Jules Leather, a local shoe company owned by a husband and wife duo. Amid sewing machines, piles of leather, and cow skulls, there were twinkling lights and a humble little banner reading S O F A R.
Despite all the mystery beforehand, there was a homey and safe feel to the party. It’s the kind of show you could go to alone and not feel weird about, which might not be the case at another concert or bar in Vancouver. The pre-show mingle period was short, and it wasn’t long before Malou and fellow volunteer Zoe Arthur shushed everyone and giggled through an endearing introduction. The night’s program was finally divulged, and it was as mixed as Licorice Allsorts.
Besides the excitement of the revealing, the secrecy is meant to expose people to genres and places they wouldn’t normally give a chance. It forces concertgoers out of their comfort zones, and to explore new music and areas of the city. It’s a night of discovery.
As promised, the lineup was musically diverse and powerful. Stefana Fratila opened with an electronic set that sounded like Grimes walking through a rainforest. It was hypnotizing. Lindi Nolte followed with spoken word poetry, the kind that makes you shiver with recognition, and laugh while crying. Nolte shared stories of her family struggles and a manifesto for staying childlike, and by the end it felt like the whole room was mentally group hugging.
After a short break (the only time people are allowed to get up so as not to disturb the performance), local choir group Mount Pleasant Regional Institute of Sound harmonized on some covers, the choicest being tUnE-yArDs’s “Powa” in which the men took the high notes, and the women took the low. Lexi Marie finished the show by bringing on the blues. Her waterfall of raven braids swayed as she rocked back and forth with an electric guitar. Marie’s voice was just as soulful when she stopped to tell us the meaning behind each song, and invited everyone to sing her story with her.
Sofar is a journey bound by shared experience that will leave you wanting to call the audience and musicians your best friends. And yet, it will end early enough for you to get a good sleep and wake up on time for work the next morning, left only with your memories, and the feelings they stir.