Almost every industry was disrupted by the pandemic and had to find ways to adapt, almost overnight. But one trade that was hit particularly hard was live music. Social distancing doesn’t suit the nature of live concerts, where people gather together in one space with copious amounts of singing and dancing. So, for London-based music events company Sofar Sounds, the past couple of years have been especially challenging. But every cloud has a silver lining, and along with relaxed restrictions, Sofar’s trademark intimate gigs in unique and unusual venues around the world are back on the agenda for the summer. The company was founded in London in 2009 and has played a part in bringing smash-hit music acts such as Billie Eilish, Khruangbin and Ed Sheeran to the mainstream through its curated, intimate performances. In May, Sofar Sounds is coming to The Lockdown Room for a one-off performance. To celebrate, The Islander caught up with Sofar’s UK host operations manager, Joshua Charles, to talk about the magic of live music and why London City Island has its finger on the pulse.
TI: What is the concept of Sofar Sounds and what is your role within the company?
JC: Sofar Sounds is all about people coming together in an intimate setting to discover their next favourite artists. From museums and boutiques to rooftops and private homes, our community creates an inclusive space where music matters, so that you can get lost in the performance. My role at Sofar Sounds is to locate, identify and programme the best possible spaces for our shows in the UK to ensure our guests have a truly magical experience.
How do you find artists to take part?
Artists apply via our website. We welcome artists of all genres and backgrounds and don’t care if you have 10 or 10k followers on social media. If you’re talented and great at your performance and craft, we want to hear from you!
Do you have any moments that really stand out during your time at Sofar Sounds?
I had the pleasure of seeing Tom Odell play at Shoreditch Treehouse – a stunning residential/event space with a Steinway piano. There were only 80 guests at the show and he played the album Jubilee Road in full. Also any show at our co-founder Rafe’s house in Belsize Park – it’s always truly special to be at the “home” of Sofar.
‘I have been to London City Island many times over the last few years to scope out venues and there’s constantly something new and exciting popping up.’
Do you think that people are keen to reconnect with live music following the pandemic?
Absolutely. I was at our first gig that we held in July 2021, after nearly 18 months of no gigs and it was honestly such a beautiful moment to see everyone genuinely excited about being at a live gig again. We’ve seen a huge increase in demand for tickets over the past few months and are excited about the hundreds of shows that will take place over the summer.
The music industry was hit hard during the pandemic. How did Sofar Sounds deal with the challenges and what do you think you learned because of it?
As an intimate live gig company, a global pandemic was far from ideal for our business! Like many, we had to pivot into the virtual space in order to ensure our artists had shows to play and guests had music to enjoy. We launched our Sofar Listening Room in August 2020 (a regular livestream performance from an artist from around the world via our website) and our Sofar Sounds virtual private concerts (targeted at corporates who wanted to have an extra-special celebration instead of another Zoom quiz…). I think we learned that people still had the desire to enjoy and listen to music, even when going to IRL gigs wasn’t an option. We also learned to be flexible with our business model and diversify our offering, which has enabled us to return to putting on the in-person shows that you see today.
What do you like about The Lockdown Room and why do you think this venue fits with the ethos of Sofar Sounds?
When I first walked into the venue, I got really excited about the prospect of shows there. It ticks a lot of the boxes for what we look for in a space – it’s intimate, cosy and has a friendly atmosphere. It’s perfect for the ethos of Sofar as it’s a space that looks to bring the local community together into a cultural hub. Also, the owner, Dan, is so lovely and clearly lives and breathes events, which makes it such a great venue for our shows.
What do you like about London City Island in general?
It’s a landscape that is ever-growing and developing. I have been to London City Island many times over the past few years to scope out venues and there’s constantly something new and exciting popping up – whether that’s a new residential area or a trendy restaurant or bar, it looks like a fantastic place to be. Also, being a short ride into the epicentre of London is also a bonus.
Sofar Sounds operations manager Joshua Charles
Who are you listening to at the moment?
Sam Tompkins (a Sofar alumnus) has been one of my favourite artists for the past four years and it’s great to see his recent commercial success in scoring a top 10 album. Other alumni that I can’t get enough of are Orla Gartland, Zach Said, Petrie and Holly Humberstone.
What are your hopes for Sofar Sounds in the near-future?
I hope that Sofar continues to expand into every local neighbourhood across London and beyond, and gives access to all music lovers out there to attend music events at a reasonable cost. I hope we maintain the magic of our events so guests who show up for the first time tell a friend about us and those returning keep coming back to more and more gigs!
London City Island residents are exclusively invited to Sofar Sounds’ intimate afternoon gig at The Lockdown Room on Saturday 14th May from 3:30pm – 6pm. Check your emails 36 hours ahead of the show to read all information, including who will be performing. What’s more, use the discount code CITYISLAND15 to get a 15% discount! Places are limited and booking is essential, so please book your tickets here.
For up to date information and your chance to win free tickets follow London City Island on Instagram: @londoncityislandlife. sofarsounds.com