Calgarians looking for a bit of spontaneity in their entertainment can look forward to participating in a secret show happening in venues, including some unconventional ones, around the city.
These secret shows are staged by Sofar Sounds, a music events organization with chapters based all over the world.
In Calgary, they occur once a month, in cafes, galleries, breweries, and even some residential living rooms.
Sofar, which is short for “Songs from a Room,” offers attendees an intimate encounter with the artists involved.
To add to the magic, prospective attendees can only obtain a spot on the guest list by registering online, though actually getting in to a show isn’t a sure thing.
The number of people able to attend depends entirely on the capacity of the venue, which remains a mystery until close to the event date.
The lineup remains unknown until the day-of, which, according to Marc Yap, Sofar Sounds Calgary’s artist liaison, adds to the overall excitement of the event.
“The fact that [the lineup] is a surprise, as well as the venue itself, makes it more exciting for people to sign up and go,” Yap, 23, says.
And while there are a number of collectives working from the grassroots to host concert series around the city, the key to Sofar’s growing popularity lies in its spontaneity and its ability to bring in a sense of intimacy between the artist and the audience at every show.
“The intimacy, how [our shows] make you feel comfortable, I think is a really important thing,” Yap says.
“It gives you a different experience for the music scene in Calgary.
“Everybody’s performing in bars . . . in restaurants . . . in music halls. You’re not typically going to these venues. You could be going to someone’s house, which adds to a level of character,” he says.
“It’s something different that you can experience.”
Koting Chou, 24, is a third-year business administration student at SAIT Polytechnic and has worked as Sofar’s city lead since its second show in November, 2015.
While Yap works on gathering potential artists, Chou handles much of the business that makes the shows happen on a regular, monthly basis.
“Everyone at our show seems to have a good time,” she says.
“It’s super intimate, and the [people] enjoy the different lineups that we bring.”
Jonathan Chan, 29, volunteers for Sofar Sounds Calgary and works as a mechanical engineer full-time.
As a music fan and a devoted attendee, Chan helps set up the concert on the day of, and has done so for roughly a year.
“One of my friends brought me to see a show,” he says.
“I immediately fell in love with the concept, seeing these unique spaces and the raw connection between the artist and the audience.”
Chan adds that, with general concerts (regardless of venue), the idea of going to see an artist perform is “almost contradictory.”
“It’s like the music comes secondary for people. With Sofar, [they’re] bringing things back.”
A mandatory element in their shows is the emphasis on putting the focus on the artist.
For most of each event (aside from the occasional break in-between), the audience remains silent. No texting. No chatting. All eyes are trained on the performer, which might leave a few artists feeling intimidated.
“It was nerve-wracking,” says 23-year-old musician Wyatt Louis, recounting his first experience playing a Sofar Sounds show in Edmonton.
He played in the tight confines of a living room only a few feet away from his audience.
“They could see you just play every single motion of your song.”
Despite the close quarters, Louis finds the receptiveness refreshing. It’s easier to connect with the audience, removing what Chan refers to the invisible barrier between the artist and the listeners.
“Ultimately, we’re trying to push for [that connection],” says Chan.
“Getting to know somebody is kind of secondary. We’ve been spending more time on our phones than actual human interaction.
“There’s a difference between technology and connection,” Louis adds. “It’s different when you put a face on it.”
It’s that connection which Yap and Chou are aiming to foster. And, for the most part, they’re succeeding.
“Almost every show I meet someone new,” Chou says. “We’re all connected and I think it’s really nice.”
For information on upcoming shows, prospective viewers can sign up online through www.sofarsounds.com/calgary. Payment is made by donation.