Sofar Sounds Coming To A Room Near You

There’s something to be said for doing things this way. Sat on a bench directly in front of the band, the cork makes a tantalising popping sound as I remove it from the bottle of Merlot bought for two lucas at the corner botilleria. A trio of art-house indyheads by the collective name of Fashion Visual have taken to the floor (there’s no stage here) and are ripping up a groove of distorted melodies and diluted punk licks. The band is good, the venue is spotlessly clean, nobody is drunk (well, one guy is but that’s it), and it was free to get in. Can this really be a live music gig?

Cadenasso (photo courtesy of Sofar Santiago)
Cadenasso (photo courtesy of Sofar Santiago)

Well, it is and it isn’t. This is the second event from Sofar Santiago, an organisation dedicated to putting on intimate and semi-private gigs in the city in offbeat venues rather than as part of the established scene. The first event was in an ocupa (a squat) in Ñuñoa and on this occasion a mellow, somewhat-but-not-excessively hipster crowd has come to the delightful Sofa Gallery (the name is a coincidence) near to Santa Isabel Metro. What used to be the World Cafe off the patio out the back has been kitted out with mixing desk, drums, amps, chairs and, of course, sofas to make a natty and improvised venue.

Prehistoricos (photo courtesy of Sofar Santiago)
Prehistoricos (photo courtesy of Sofar Santiago)

Sofar stands for ‘Sounds from a room’ and began life in London as an alternative to the standard live music experience. You know, the way that not being able to hear anything, spending loads on drinks, getting squashed, and not remembering it the next day is supposed to be fun. Which it is, but this offers a fresh approach. It’s far removed from the Bellavista music scene, and it’s also about a million notches up from sitting around a friend’s living room strumming on guitars. Alongside the relaxed homeliness of the place, there is a distinct professionalism among those running the night, even though the Sofar Santiago crew is doing this purely for the love of the art.

Evelyn Leal and Marcelo Venegas are the driving force behind bringing Sofar across the world to Santiago de Chile. As events began to take off in cities all over Europe, North America and, more recently, in other Latin American countries, they realised that Santiago’s ongoing cultural boom offered the ideal next stage of world domination. As musicians themselves, they were keen not only on the audience aspect of Sofar, but also on the fresh take it provides performers.

Fashion Visual (photo courtesy of Sofar Santiago)
Fashion Visual (photo courtesy of Sofar Santiago)

“Sofar allows artists to express their musical essence without any of the paraphernalia of a typical stage show, and to express themselves intimately”, says Marcelo. This is plain at the Sofa Gallery, as band and audience laugh and joke, free of the void that often distances the two at regular gigs.

“It’s like taking it and breaking it down”, explains Evelyn. “Take the musicians down from the stage and put them at the same level as everyone else. But it’s difficult as well. For us, as musicians, it’s easier when there are more people. You see a mass, you don’t see the faces. When you sit directly in front of someone it can be uncomfortable, so it’s a challenge for musicians.”

Then there is also the key aspect of promoting local musicians and creating a platform, if not a physical then a symbolic one, on which they can reach new audiences. “It’s important to show other music away from the mainstream that’s happening in Chile. People can get bored of seeing the same music in the same places.” It’s a viewpoint that I’ve come across when speaking to other musicians in Chile, the dominance of certain bands and the difficulty faced by new, lesser-established musicians trying to gain a foothold in the scene. As Evelyn puts it: “Turn on the radio and you’ll hear the same band five times.”

Survey Team (photo courtesy of Sofar Santiago)
Survey Team (photo courtesy of Sofar Santiago)

Sofar Sounds may only have arrived in January of this year in the Chilean capital, but it has set roots in over fifty global cities since its inception, with London, Berlin, Paris, Dallas and Buenos Aires among the most successful. According to Evelyn, there is a consensus that every single night there should be a Sofar event on somewhere in the world. In Santiago, they might not be coming as thick and fast as in some other places but these are early days.

One thing that really appeals about living in this city is the relative lack of pretension and bullshit that surrounds the cultural scene here. It strikes me that Santiago’s music and art movement is pleasingly accessible, its relative youth shrouds an exuberance that is shared by many to create and enjoy a diverse and popular artistic environment. In this sense, events like Sofar gigs make for a nice fit.

“It’s something that has impressed me before”, says Marcelo. “There is a strong reaction from musicians to initiatives like this.” Evelyn says that this is because “to be a musician professionally here (in Chile) is very difficult. So it makes sense to move, to play as much as you can because it means that someone is watching you.” There are other initiatives like Sofar but this one carries the international clout and, most importantly according to Evelyn, the gigs are professionally recorded, affording them a much higher degree of publicity as they are uploaded on the net and promoted through Sofar groups in other countries.

The Sofar crew with Evelyn (thumbs up) and Marcelo (checked shirt)
The Sofar crew with Evelyn (thumbs up) and Marcelo (checked shirt)

Still in the teething process, Sofar is for now focused on establishing itself in Santiago but Marcelo and Evelyn hope to eventually branch out to Valparaíso, La Serena and, later, more cities around Chile. However, there is a lot of organisational and logistical planning involved in just one gig: finding a venue, confirming bands, promoting the event and setting up the equipment are just a few of the time and energy-consuming tasks to be carried out. And all on a budget of basically zero. Aside from Marcelo and Evelyn, there is a committed and tireless crew in Santiago working on the events. Without people willing to make sacrifices for the common good, it would be impossible for Sofar to function in Chile.

Sofar events are publicly private. Or privately public. Admission is by invite only but to receive an invitation you just need to email them. With regular shows now set to become a unique and popular part of Santiago’s vibrant music scene, it’d be wise to get in there early.

The next Sofar Santiago will be held this coming Saturday 11th May at 7pm in the Barrio Yungay (Metro Cumming or Quinta Normal). Entrance is free but you must email beforehand and print of the invitation that they will send you, which will give you the address. Each invite is valid for two people but get there on time. As the gigs are recorded, latecomers will not be let in, at least until there is a break in the music.

If you’d like to check out this Saturday’s and future Sofar events in Santiago, send an email to:

sofarsoundsstgo@gmail.com

Check out the international Sofar website.

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