cone magazine

Sofar Sounds Curates Surprise Live Shows…With Surprisingly Good Music


Throughout my concert-going career, I’ve been dedicated to meticulous planning. From securing tickets months in advance to memorizing the lyrics of every song on the setlist, I strive to be the most prepared person in the pit. As an avid concertgoer, most of my targeted Instagram ads are for upcoming shows in my area. Normally, I don’t bat an eye, but recently there has been one promotion that has stood out: Sofar Sounds. Their shows, which are advertised as “three unannounced artists” and “one unexpected space,” intrigued me. Typically I do not love hearing the words “surprise” or “unexpected” in the event description. It leaves me wondering; What kind of show will this be? Who will be there? Will I like the music? And perhaps equally as important; Where the #!*@ am I supposed to go! Nevertheless, my love for live music won out and I decided to attend a Sofar event.

Sofar Sounds was born in 2009 from the frustrations of its founder, Rafe Offer, who grew tired of the disruptive live music scene in London. Frustrated by spilled beer and constant chatter, he took matters into his own hands, hosting intimate shows in his living room to create a music-focused environment. What began with just eight people sitting on a living room floor, has now grown into a global phenomenon, with Sofar-sponsored shows taking place in over 400 cities worldwide.

The event format is straightforward: attendees choose a location, select a “vibe” (ie relaxed or energetic), and ultimately reserve a show spot based on the aforementioned preferences. The event location is only revealed 36 hours before doors open, creating an element of build-up and suspense (but leaving plenty of time to make plans). The lineup remains a complete mystery until attendees arrive. Upon entry at the venue, concertgoers scan a QR code which houses the featured artist(s) information, background, etc. Despite the mystery acts, the music rarely misses. Sofar is known for curating incredible shows, and boast more than 10 featured artists (including Ed Sheeran) who have gone on to win Grammys!

To get the full Sofar experience, I signed up for two different shows: one seated and chill, the other standing and upbeat. I laughed when I received the email revealing the location of the first show: Boris & Horton, the (newly re-opened!) quaint dog cafe in the East Village. When I arrived, the tables had been replaced with five rows of chairs and a few benches facing a simple stage setup with a mic and keyboard. By 8 p.m., the charming venue was filled with roughly 50 people – a sold out show, as we would later be told. The MC provided artist introductions and politely requested that the audience silence and put away their phones.

The first performer to take the stage was R&B singer Izze Stein. Izze delivered a standout performance, anchored by soulful vocals reminiscent of vintage Amy Winehouse. One of her most well-received tracks was an intensely emotional piece which portrayed the struggle of an artist pursuing her dreams, with personal (but all-too-relatable) mentions mounting unpaid bills and dealing with difficult bosses. Following Izze was Aeden Alvarez, an indie singer-songwriter who showcased his talent with both covers and original songs. Aeden, who auditioned for American Idol in 2021 and more recently for The Voice, entertained the audience with humorous anecdotes between songs. The show concluded with rapper BD3, who ended things on a high note with an energetic and engaging performance (despite apparently battling allergies!).

I attended my second Sofar show a few weeks later, this time at the Selina Hotel in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. The venue, known as “The Den,” was located in the basement of the hotel. Perhaps as might be expected, the basement setting stood in stark contrast with the previous show I attended (which was in a welcoming, well-lit dog cafe). The dimly lit room was bathed in a soft red glow, creating a completely different ambiance.

The lineup included just two performers this time, with each artist playing a 45-minute set. After another quick introduction, Foley, a pop duo from New Zealand, took the stage. With just a guitar and electric backtrack, the duo commanded the crowd with ease, compelling some attendees to dance and hop around to their techno tunes. Foley was followed by Noah Lexi, who captivated the crowd with his genre0bending alternative-influenced 90’s R&B style tracks. Noah’s support crew also made a lasting impression, especially the saxophone player and backup singers.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the second show, it didn’t seem to align with the Sofar Sounds brand as much as the first show I attended. Sure, it was an intimate setting with a similar turnout, but the strict “no phones/no chatter” policy seemed out of place given the energy emanating from the dynamic acts Sofar had lined up. I completely understand Sofar’s desire to curate events for all sorts of concertgoers and music lovers, but perhaps the policies and procedures might be more effective if they are tailored to the “vibe” of each venue and featured act, as opposed to blanket rules for all events. 

With general concert etiquette on a downswing, being able to just sit (or stand) and enjoy a few talented artists was enough to make the $30 entry ticket well worth it. Sofar did an excellent job selecting musically gifted and engaging performers who kept the audience entertained for the entirety of each event. Perhaps the most surprising takeaway from the Sofar Sounds experience was how much I enjoyed the new artists I was introduced to. In addition to supporting local performers, I walked away with a number of new bands and musicians to add to my playlists, follow on Instagram and (hopefully!) see live again in the future!  

Words by Hannah Morelli


Features are free for all CONE Mag subscribers.
Sign up below