In 2009, Rafe Offer and Rocky Start went to a music festival and were disappointed to find a lot of the audience more focused on the social scene rather than the music. This frustration inspired them to host their own gig in a friend’s North London flat for just a handful of people. This went so well that they decided to host more. Word gradually spread about their low-key shows, and now Sofar Sounds operates in over 300 cities across the world. Little did they know that their first gathering would grow into a global movement to connect strangers through a shared love of live music.

There are a few things that make the Sofar Sounds gigs different from your typical concert. Firstly, you often have to apply to get a spot. Sofar Sounds expects its audience to be respectful, so no texting or talking during the performances, and, most importantly, each attendee should love music. The other distinct feature of Sofar Sounds gigs is that they label themselves as secret. While the Sofar Sounds name is anything but a secret, the locations of their events are generally released 24 hours or less before the gigs and the performers are only made known just as they are about to perform. They are also known to host both extremely and less well-known performers, so you never know what you’re going to get. All that is certain is that the music selection will be well curated, and you’ll have a relaxed and respectful concert atmosphere.

On Thursday, January 25, I am one of the lucky ones with a spot at the Edinburgh Sofar Sounds gig. The evening before the show, I receive an email with the time and location, which this time was the Traverse Theatre. Sofar Sounds is known to host in eclectic venues, such as living rooms, churches, and shops, so I am little bummed that this show is in a more generic venue, but am nonetheless still excited for the mystery performers. I arrive and shortly after am led with the group to the Traverse Bar Café. As customary for Sofar Sounds shows, I plop myself on the floor towards the front of the room. I am surrounded by an audience of no one type, which I feel fits in line with the inclusive and warm image of Sofar Sounds. During the introductions, the local organisers outline the rules and ask us to hug our neighbors. Considering I am a solo attendee, I feel a bit uncomfortable about this suggestion as I observe many pairs of friends hugging each other all around me. I then look to the right and notice another female solo attendee. We look at each other for an awkward moment, shrug, and then share a nice hug. This is the kind of warm and quirky atmosphere that Sofar Sounds creates.

The first performers are the American duo Delightful Squalor, which consists of Lake Montgomery and Cera Impala. They announce that they only began performing together about a year ago, but you could not tell as their melodies melt together effortlessly. They take elements of blues, gospel, folk, and jazz and entrance the audience with their soothing sounds. A highlight was their song ‘Molasses,’ where Delightful Squalor’s harmonies and lyrics transport you to a balmy summer afternoon. The second act of the evening is the Edinburgh-based indie duo Milkd. While the vocals are not quite as captivating as Delightful Squalor’s, Milkd offers charming lyrics and lulling instrumentals. Released in November, their most catchy tune ‘Come Out’ brings the audience most to life with many people bopping their heads and swaying to the irresistible feel of the chorus. Next up is the Glaswegian group Static Union. Some of their music embodies a more classic alt-rock sound, while other songs, such as ‘Last Resort,’ create a more nostalgic and dreamy feel with underlying synth sounds. The young Scottish four-piece group has a strong stage presence and a cool sound, and I can definitely see them making a bigger name for themselves in the near future. The last group of the night is a West Lothian-based indie rock group called The Phantoms. You can definitely feel that they are the most seasoned performers of the bunch with their confidence performing and engaging the audience, but they lack a bit of the charm I felt with the other more recently established groups. Overall, Sofar Sounds does what it is known to do by delivering a wonderful selection of live performers in a truly warm, respectful, and intimate space.