M.O - Dance On My Own | Sofar London (#897)
I love London.
It’s crowded, loud, colorful, chaotic—full of ideas, hidden places, secrets, and little worlds.
SofarSounds gives us an opportunity to be part of something private and hidden in this rushing metropolis that never really sleeps.
Any time I enter a venue for a Sofar gig, I feel awkward at first. I’m entering somebody else’s flat/living room/bathroom/kitchen! I don’t feel awkward when I visit a friend’s house, but complete strangers? However, the experience is always the same; I feel small and awkward for five seconds, and then the host(s) give a warm welcome, explain everything, and tell their story—the story of their home. This is what I like. You find warm people everywhere, even if you think you’re in an anonymous city, where nobody actually looks at each other.
After the guest list was ticked of, all eyes were on the evening’s first act.
Naomi Wachira is an African girl with a guitar. She is a stunning beauty and I never was more envious of a person wearing earrings in my whole life. I thought of India Arie when she sat on the chair in front of the audience.
When she plays and sings, her eyes are closed, she smiles the whole time—songs that remind us how beautiful the world and how precious life is. She gives advice, carefully and demanding at the same time, “you better be quick on your feet, you better be slow with your tongue/time, and you better have a good head on those shoulders.”
She sings about being a fool who still believes in changing the world. At the same time she makes it clear that there’s strength in anybody. I found so much faith and hope in her music, that my heart felt light and strong beating in my chest—ready to start making the world a better place.
And I’ll start this now, with highly recommending her music!
Act number two was introduced as the 5th best female beat-boxer in the world, and the 2nd best in the UK: Dana McKeon from Malta—who had help from her friend and housemate Daniel.
They were my personal highlight of the evening.
After her introduction, everybody expected some beat-boxing sounds, but no.
With her beautiful clear and certain voice she started to sing a song that was written just one week before the Sofar gig. “If You Are Scared” is a love-song that makes you wish you’re the person she dedicated this song to. It’s neither cheesy nor romantic…just real.
It’s about being a rock, an anchor, and a harbor for a person you love, no matter what happens. About sticking together, even in dark times, when the loved person is scared.
The first beat-boxing elements the audience got to hear was in the song “Dream-catcher.” I like it a lot. It’s different and makes the song even more special.
The third song “Circles” let my mind drift off a little bit. I thought about being stuck in circles, walking further and further but not arriving anywhere. Dana wrote the song about a month ago and it was her first time playing the acoustic version.
As a writer, I try to write songs as well, but it never really works out. So I always wonder where musicians get their inspiration. Dana told the story about her last planned song and I had to smile when I noticed that inspiration can be found everywhere (and that I’m probably not the one to write songs, but writing short stories and a blog). She watched a TV show, where a couple played a big role. They were married for 20 years, when the woman found out that he was cheating on her. “Deep Water” is a song where you can hear desperation in the lyrics, but also strength between these lines. Even if somebody leaves you in deep water, keep your head in the air. Even if the waves crash over you and seem to drown you, fight your way back. Don’t let anyone get you down.
With an unplanned beat-box performance, Dana finished her set of songs.
The audience cheered and laughed and I couldn’t do anything else than stare and smile. Her confidence to beat-box at all impresses me a lot.
This was really different, rare and spontaneous. More of that please, SofarSounds!
Before the gig started and before the people were let in, I met one of the last musician’s friend. He said some lovely words about his friend Nick Hakim; “every sound Nick makes, is pure and honest and beautiful. I don’t think about the songs or his music when I hear him play, but other things.”
First, I wasn’t sure if attention drifting away is a good or a bad thing. Music should be heard and not be used as a background tune to think about something else, right?
But as soon as Nick started playing, I understood what his friend meant. His music is calming.
Nick had sparkling eyes and a cheeky smile; he was loveable when he made jokes about London weather and London traffic. He looked like he just came back from an extremely fulfilling road-trip. After learning that he was from Washington, touring at the moment and only staying in London for a few days, I heard that his road-trip was to continue.
His music sounds like melodies from a low-fi Indie band, except that it’s just him on his own, which makes it even more interesting and cool. Nicks voice dances on the melody and makes you pay attention to your breathing.
The next morning, on my way to work, I listened to all the three wonderful musicians on my iPod and observed the people, traveling around London in the early morning hours.
It was an amazing spotlight-soundtrack for the people on their way to work. Builders, coffee makers, bankers, and transport for London staff.
I felt like I was on a road-trip as well. With all these people around me, I know that I won’t let someone tell me that this city is anonymous or everybody is uninterested in each other, ever again.
Words by Johanna
Photos by SofarSounds
Minneapolis is a city in love with its local music, especially its live local music, and its eclectic range of outdoor festivals throughout the summer reflect this infatuation quite clearly. From city block parties to backyard brewery exclusives, it’s hard not to at least overhear a few live bands performing around town every weekend. So then, at Sofar Minneapolis we’ve been itching for a while to host an outdoor gig of our own. We finally decided on one this August - but Minnesota is also known for the ability of its weather to turn on a dime, so we picked the date and crossed our fingers.
We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect evening to host our first outdoor Sofar Minneapolis show. This Wednesday evening was clear and cloudless, but cool in the way that summer hesitates, yet gives way to fall - still warm enough to stay out all night without a jacket, but with no humidity, and not a mosquito in sight.
Speaking of mosquitoes… this was a special night for a second reason: Sofar Sounds had the honor of hosting the worldwide preview of Karen O.’s Crush Songs! All around the globe on this same night, Sofar audiences listened to this solo album of hers, connecting over a specific music in this one night and not just the love of it in general. So between live sets, we aired Karen O.’s whispered admissions on vinyl.
Laura Lou was not only our gracious host for the evening, but our first act. Self described as “ukulele folk pop,” she performed several tracks off of her recent release, Seduction Lullaby, with a backing band of good (and talented) friends, on guitar, drums, mandolin, and upright bass. Although only recently - as of a few weeks prior to the show - they came together to play her tunes, they sounded as polished as a veteran touring group.
The jazzy musical backdrop her band provided was the perfect match for this singer’s well-tuned and powerful, yet sweet and syrupy vocals. Laura Lou’s melodic wanderings are simple and straightforward, like her lyrics, but agile and entrancing, wrapping you around her finger with her words. With tunes like “Tell Me How,” asking “what’s a girl to do when he brings me down?” and “If I Lay Here” pondering “if I lay here, would you stay here all night?,” her music is easy to relate to - letting the mind wander in the gray area of modern romanticism. Yet these are not somber songs, more often than not in major keys and with an upbeat feel, leaning into the positive, the optimistic. And by her last tune, she and the whole band were in full swing during a faster song, “Seriously,” and it was obvious they were all just having fun.
Laura Lou played at the Grand Marais Art Festival this summer - the highlight of her performing history to this point - and will be having a release show for her new album on October 19th at Aster Cafe over on St. Anthony Main in Northeast. This historic venue is known for hosting some of the best singer-songwriter talent in Minneapolis… so before word gets out, mark this show on your calendar and go hear her in person.
Sofar alum Bad Bad Hats took the stage next. Yes - we even had a stage at our outdoor show! plus the multi-talented Tommy Jacobs from Laura Lou’s band running sound for the evening. (We were quite spoiled at this show.)
But as I was saying, Kerry and Chris of Bad Bad Hats played for us last year and we were thrilled to have them back for such a charming evening. With just two guitars and their voices, this pair caught the crowd unaware, able to command an entire backyard with songs of quiet pleas and proclamations. They opened with “Say Nothing,” and I did not recognize the tune, realizing they were playing something quite new. So I asked after the set, and turns out they hope to include it on their first full-length album, currently in the works. After releasing their It Hurts EP in early 2013 and getting featured in an add by local news station KARE 11 as well as local movie “Death to Prom,” I have been rooting for these guys to record more material.
What’s so wonderful to me about Bad Bad Hats are the constant musical contradictions that are so pleasing to the ear. Whether it’s the syncopated inflections of the beats, or Kerry’s strong and confident secrets, these two can carry out the most intimate and lovely messages, or rock out with the pep of old style rock ‘n roll. It’s like she’s always got some cute secret that she’s bashful to admit, and does it so sneakily - and then it maybe wasn’t as cute as you’d thought! These two Macalester grads are definitely darlings of the Twin Cities, and I think they have much more than just an LP ahead of them.
Besides the magical string lights and the dimming of daylight, what made the atmosphere of this evening better than most was the generous donation of beer by local business Lucid Brewing. Personally, I have quite the love for the Lucid Air, and Minneapolis is all but married to hops, so this was a delight to be able to feature a beloved local brewery and treat our of-age guests to a refreshing drink. (That’s me on the right, furiously writing notes to my future self, who is currently typing this post.)
And finally, there was Har-di-Har, who is composed of Andrew and Julie and their drumset - who was missing for the evening. Relatively new on the Minneapolis music scene, these two are originally from Iowa (like me!), and a powerful pair of ambassadors from the state. I first saw Har-di-Har when they opened for Hundred Waters in July, and I asked them straightaway if they would come play for us because I was so impressed and excited. The way they write and perform music “is like an opera, it’s so complex and inter-related,” as my friend Paul said to me after hearing them live. I couldn’t agree more, as this couple creates compositions more than tunes, and watching them perform is truly a performance: Julie and Andrew are of one mind, sharing a thought at all times while hitting exact and even unions, and then rocking out with joy - all while never missing a beat.
My favorite song, “We’ve Been Missing,” started out their set, followed by “Parade,” which begins like a morning light that slowly wakes you up, but abruptly switches time signatures in the middle (like when your alarm goes off). They are able to command either a full or small sound when desired, and “Through Trees” demonstrated this well, playing on where the intimate and the violent collide. They finished off the set with a new tune they were still working on, which appears to be “Reunited.” Andrew picked up the trombone for this one, and Julie sang along in harmony with it later on, creating a gorgeous moment of mind-bending musicality. Then without warning, it all ended on an intimate and syncopated note.
Har-di-Har played the very next week at the Southern Theater Sessions, which I had the pleasure of attending. They also have a full fall touring schedule in the Midwest and there is nothing - nothing - like hearing them live, so get rid of your excuses and plan your road trip now!
So if I didn’t make it clear, this was really fun. Let’s do this again, okay?
Words by Kelsey Simpkins
Photos by Joel Menk
Words by Stephanie Miller for Dreams Of Sun
Photos by Laura Arango Photography
Tonight’s venue for Sofar Sydney had character. Tucked in a back street in Chippendale I was met by a half painted roof, dripping black paint details on the walls and a well-loved timber floor. We grabbed a seat on the floor as the bands hurriedly built their impromptu stage smack bang in the tiny kitchen under a rustic wooden ladder swinging with pots and pans.
For our first act tonight we were lucky enough to hear from Sofar Sydney’s own Therese and her band Enerate. They kicked off with a number that plodded along to a game of Ping Pong projected on to the wall of our home for the night. Josh’s guitar solo in Home brought a touch of traditional flamenco to the number that took me back to Spain 2011 and a few too many sangria’s. T’s cute tamborine accompanied her cute lyrics with “drop you off and then I take the long way home”.
Launching in to their new song with a slight technical glitch to start, (don’t worry - the impromptu bass solo covered it well), this one featured more electronics bringing to it a hint of Miami Horror and the band’s DIY dancing app added comedic value. Song #4 was again a really cute pop song with T’s high boppy voice sitting on top light-hearted synths. Finishing them off for the night I think I love struck a personal chord with me - the lyrics “I think I love the fuck outta you girl” reminding me of the common phrase uttered to me by my boy. (Sorry for getting all mushy on you there guys). Josh banging it out on the drum and shaker may have been the clincher in making this my favourite song, and by the joyous clapping that overwhelmed everyone else in the room they seemed to have liked it too.
After Enerate we launched into the official Karen O ’Crush Songs’ listening party. As her debut album won’t be officially released until September I don’t want to give too much away however I can say: don’t expect another Yeah Yeah Yeah’s record. Karen O strips back everything for this album using minimal instruments and effects and keeping her voice much more modest than when with the YYYs.
Band #2 – Nova And The Experience (aka NATE)
Having just released a new EP these guys bounded into their set with an enthusiasm and love of performing that was truly infectious. Anna’s gorgeous bluesy voice reminded me a little of Sarah Blasko and in their first song James really wowed me with that croon. I just wasn’t expecting that sound to come out of him! It was delicate yet had depth and it complemented Anna’s tone perfectly. The song built gradually keeping me on the edge of my seat. Its harmonies were understated and beautiful and the soft touch allowed both Anna and James’ voices to be the true stars of the show. Although markedly different in style to their others it was hands down my favourite. By the end of their first song NATE had me hooked. Hearing they were from Newcastle (my home town) made me love them just that little bit more.
Bopping my head along to Jennifer Lawrence I recognised the tune, it having had some airplay on Triple J recently. The live version delivered. I would love to see these guys on a bigger stage, as James’ dance moves were slightly suppressed and the band’s presence would definitely have filled a bigger venue. Before launching into Shipwrecked NATE handed out a raft (pun intended) of percussion instruments and newspaper sailor hats to get the crowd involved. I admit I got quite distracted by the bubbles placed in my hand and didn’t listen fully to the lyrics for this number but there’s no doubt the whole room had fun banging, shaking or tapping their way through it. In Dragonflies Anna’s voice again sung out beautifully and the band capped off their set with a cover of Believe in yourself from Archer cementing them as one hell of a fun-loving group of people and my tip for band of the night.
Band #3 was the Bell Weather Department, aka the men in black, aka “the only band that had a problem with the pots”. I liked the keyboard strings in their first number Pursuit of blue. The song was grand and atmospheric - the kind of song you imagine featuring on a movie soundtrack. Their second song Receivers had a more upbeat tempo before they slowed down again for Hole in the sky, which had really interesting choices musically with complex chord progressions and a more sober mood. Though not my cup of tea I’ll give these guys credit for having a unique sound that moves away from the myriad of indie rock pop we seem to be presented with these days.
For the icing on the cake tonight we were blessed with sweet country sounds of The Sweet Jelly Rolls. Matt had his stompbox in tow and Andrew had the fullest mane of hair and most delightfully styled moustache I’d seen in a long time. I knew these guys were going to be good when I thought their sound check song was catchy! Do me in the hayloft tonight was brilliantly un-subtle and so much fun. Whipping out the harmonica for Lasso my heart Andrew got the whole room up off their bums and boot scooting their way through verse 1, 2, 3 and 4. Bumblebee was only slightly sexual…cough cough… “let me put my banana in your fruit basket and I’ll be satisfied” but with a cheeky smile these guys got away with it. Just to make sure we knew what a truly skilled harmonica player we were witnessing, Andrew treated us to two solo’s in this one – what more could you ask for? Well, an encore, that’s what. After finishing their final song the crowd demanded just one more yee-ha and the boys obliged, making it the first encore I’ve witnessed at a Sofar Sounds gig. Hats off to them for making sure we all went home with a skip in our step!
And that’s a wrap on Sofar Sounds Sydney and the Karen O listening party. of Wednesday 27th August.