SOFAR SOUNDS PRESENTED BY COPPER DOG; MUSIC MADE INTIMATE words Filipe Phiztzgerard & Maisie Daniels - images courtesy of Copper Dog
London is known globally for its unique and ever so cosmopolitan approach to the arts. From music to fashion and design London has become a reference in doing it right for the right reasons. With a music industry that discovers, develops, and propels artists into stardom, London is the place to be when the subject is music. As part of the ones making history in the discovery and development of music is Sofar Sounds, the initiative that has been reimagining the live event experience as they provide curated and intimate performances in over four hundred and forty cities around the globe.
Established in 2009 by Rafe Offer the highly successful initiative started as Offer invited some of his friends over to a London flat for a "low-key, intimate gig." As the small group of eight gathered in the living room to listen to live music performed by Offer's friend and musician Dave Alexander, they shared a drink, sat on the floor, and really connected to Alexander by listening attentively to his music. From there, the concept grew into something they felt could be shared with more people while still preserving the concept - no phones, no talking while the artist performs - and what had started as a hobby in London became a global community for "artists and audiences to come together in unique and welcoming spaces - with an added element of surprise - to share, discover, create and, hopefully, make a friend or find their new favorite band along the way."
We had the immense pleasure to join one of Sofar Sounds' sessions in London where we had the chance to really experience what this concept is about. In an evening presented by our friends at Copper Dog whiskey, we had the pleasure of not only enjoying the delicious drinks provided by Copper Dog, ones that had been created in honor of the artists performing that evening but were also able to have a chat with the three artists performing that night. British instrumentalist and composer Okiem brought his sultry sounds to the evening where his mesmerizing melodies enchanted every single person in the room as we all watched him in awe and silence. You could literally hear a pin drop or a tear roll. Singer-songwriter Anaïs brought soulful vibes and heartfelt lyrics to the evening while young power-house Paigey Cakey set the house on fire with her punchy and powerful hip-hop.
The evening was a combination of emotions, soul, and fire all soaked in the absolutely gorgeous cocktails that just made this whole experience one to be remembered forever. As we sat down with the artists to chat about their perspectives on the evening, we found out more about their feelings and thoughts about the evening.
Filipe Phitzgerard: How are you feeling today?
Okiem: Fantastic. I am very excited about tonight.
F.P: How did you spend your day today? Were you in all day preparing or managed to go out as well?
Okiem: Literally both. I woke up and wend to the gym to get the body moving. Then I made some music.
F.P: And are you based here?
Okiem: I live in the Midlands.
F.P: Is the gym kind of part of your preparation ritual?
Okiem: Yes. It has been my ritual since I was about 16. In fact, any sort of physical activity is part of the ritual. There is a scientific re4ason for that because when you do some physical activity it raises your heart rate and that gets more oxygen to your brain which helps with creativity as well as your overall mood which is very important when you are going to perform.
F.P: Oh wow. Have you ever performed on a day you didn't work out and then saw the difference it was from when you did do your exercise ritual?
Okiem: Yes. And I saw the difference in my mood. [Laughs] And how that affects the audience both good and bad. A while back I was going through something really emotional in my personal life and I went to perform and my energy was so emotional that most of the room started crying. It is incredible how your mood on stage affects the people watching you. People connect to music differently and it is incredible.
F.P: This awareness of how your mood will influence the atmosphere in the room, does that add another layer of pressure?
Okiem: I think it makes me more perceptive of what I am doing, why I am doing and who I am doing it to, or who I want to engage with.
F.P: Your music is sultry on its own and it causes something to us when we are listening to it.
Okiem: Yes. I try to make lyrical melodies. It isn't just sounds but a story. In my mind, I want to create a story through sounds and synths and just allow myself and people to experience that.
F.P: As well as activating memories. I had that experience with one of your songs where old memories just came back and your song became the movie score inside my head.
Okiem: [Smiles] Oh wow. That's so good to hear. You know this is one of the things I hear the most. I had a guy once come to me after a gig and he said that while I was playing he remembered his wedding day and the song took him back to when his wife was walking down the aisle. I want my music to have that impact on people. To be able to lead people into good memories. Some people remember their spouses, or grandmother, or an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend from fifteen years ago, and so on.
F.P: When are you creating, is your process something that includes this sense of activating emotions or memories or is it something that just comes inevitably even if you are not thinking about it?
Okiem: It is a combination. The main mindset is about the music and creating a space for the sounds to grow. A few years ago I wanted so hard to be one of those artists who create impressive music with impressive skills that I was like “do to do da da – to do do ta da” (gesturing playing the piano in a frenetic speed) [Laughs] that there was no space for the sounds to grow. I think there is definitely a place for that kind of music but to me, it became more about the listener and me being able to create a space for them to see the melodies developing. It is all about the music and the listener and interpreting what I hear in my mind and then stepping away. I think that is why people connect because I give them the space to hear the melodies and see them grow.
F.P: That is indeed the beauty of your melodies because there is so much noise out there and even music that is so convoluted that we can't really dwell in it. Your creations allow us to listen and hear it as well. It goes deeper than just white noise.
Okiem: [Smiles] Thank you! That is so important to me. And I think this is the hardest thing because when you are on stage you sit there for one minute and that feels so long. A lot of artists struggle with that.
F.P: Do you still get nervous when going on stage?
Okiem: Sometimes. I feel more nervous about the sound engineer because it is all about the sound. Like tonight, we never worked together and they haven't studied my music and it needs to sound perfect.
Okiem at Sofar Sounds
Maisie Daniels: And how did it go today at the soundcheck?
Okiem: We got there.
Okiem: It is weird because I never want to sound like a diva but in my case, I do need to get the sound right.
F.P: You play at both the intimate gigs as well as arenas with thousands of people watching you. In terms of the sound and performance; does it change much depending on where you are going to perform or the number of people watching you?
Okiem: You know what is interesting; I had a situation that threw me a couple of weeks ago. I was performing after someone really famous and there were a lot of VIPs in the audience and a royal family in the audience and the production guy comes to me and says 'okay, you are going next!' [Laughs] They set me up real good. Then I started having all these thoughts and my mind was rushing because I got nervous about the performance, but then I stopped and focused on what is really important to me which is the music itself. So I took myself back to that place where I don't think too much about myself and allowed the music to take over.
M.D: Did it go well?
Okiem: It was amazing. [Laughs] It was fantastic!
F.P: What are your thoughts on the Sofar Sounds aesthetic and concept overall?
Okiem: It's incredible. This is where you learn to perform. If you can get this right the bigger ones actually get easier. When you get 100% attention from the hundred people watching you and you can see them gripped then you are ready. I think Sofar Sounds is the place to master this control of nerves and the connection with the audience.
F.P: How are you feeling about tonight?
Okiem: I am really excited. I think just about ten percent of the people here may know my music which is interesting because it is literally me introducing myself and my music to them...
F.P: Like a first date?
Okiem: [Laughs] Yes. It is like a first date somehow.
F.P: Well, every good date has to have good cocktails. I have just found out that Copper Dog has created a great drink in your honor tonight.
Okiem: [Laughs] Yes. I found this incredible. I am really glad about this.
F.P: That will definitely set the tone for tonight's date with Okiem.
Okiem: [Laughs] Yes. Drinks and music...what else do you want?
F.P: Thank you so much for speaking to us and have a great time tonight.
Okiem: Thank you!
Paigey Cakey at Sofar Sounds
Filipe Phitzgerard: That performance was incredible! Really, really good!
Paigey Cakey: Oh thank you! I was so nervous because I met my guitarist just today and I was a bit nervous.
F.P: Really? Did you meet just today?
P.C: Yes. I was looking for a guitarist to play with me tonight so I posted on social media and asked people to send me some people they knew and I got some links about this guy and he was really good. As soon as I met him earlier today and we played together we had this instant connection and I was very happy to play with him tonight. And I really wanted him to play one of his original songs as well.
F.P: He was really good as well. How were you feeling before you went on stage?
P.C: I was really nervous because I didn't know what the crowd would be like or if they were gonna like me. But they were amazing. I am really shocked I am used to performing at shows where everyone stands up and goes mad and even though tonight they were sitting down they were still so engaging and I'd say something and they'd respond and that was amazing.
F.P: Was this the first Sofar Sounds you did?
P.C: The first of many! I want to be there in the next one.
F.P: Your gigs are packed and everyone goes mental; were you apprehensive about tonight knowing that it would be something completely different?
P.C: Yes! My shows are like everyone standing and security and gates [laughs] it's so mad. This was so different than anything I have done. I have done something like this in Austria where it was a bit more intimate but this has to be one of my favourite shows. [Smiles]
F.P: How do you feel about these more intimate shows?
P.C: I love it. Because I feel like people are really listening to you and what you have to say. When a lot is going on you have people on their phones, and going to the bar or the toilet and you know, here, everyone sat there and was looking at me, no one was looking on their phones or doing this or that, everyone was so engaging and they were really there for the experience. That's why this has to be one of my favourite shows.
Maisie Daniels: People were not watching you through a screen as well like you go to concerts and people are taking videos and they are watching you through their screens.
P.C: Yeah! That happens all the time at big gigs. Like tonight was very different and it felt like performing at a time when phones didn't exist. [Laughs]
F.P: How has the year been for you so far?
P.C: Good. This year has been so good. I've done a European tour, Russia. I did a jazz Fest there.
F.P: Oh wow. How did that go?
P.C: It was really good. Like I was nervous when they booked me because I was like ' I don't do jazz' but then they told me 'No, this is the first year that we are doing Hip-Hop' and it was actually really sick. I also performed in China this year. Three different cities. China was absolutely crazy and I never imagined they were going to dance that much. They don't run out of energy. I had never been in that kind of place. It was sick.
Paigey Cakey at Sofar Sounds
F.P: Where is your favourite place to perform?
P.C: Paris is my favourite because my biggest fan-base is there. But I love performing everywhere.
F.P: Where are the top three places you like to perform?
P.C: Paris, Austria, and Germany. I love performing in Germany and China as well.
F.P: What are your thoughts on the concept at Sofar Sounds?
P.C: I loved how intimate it was. It felt like being among family. I can't wait to do it again, even though I was super nervous about it.
F.P: Your engagement with people is effortless. It's incredible. Do you have any rituals before you perform?
P.C: I don't like to keep talking before I perform. I try to stay in my own zone and battle my own thoughts. I also like to have a drink before I go on stage.
F.P: Do you still get nervous?
P.C: I am. At things like this I get more nervous cuz' it is more intimate and everyone is really looking at you when if you go to a club everyone is already drunk [laughs] so you can say 'blah blah blah' and they're living for it. [Laughs]
F.P: If you could describe tonight in one word; what would that be?
P.C: 'WOW'. Because I was so impressed by it and the people. Gigs like this make my day.
F.P: Last but not least; favourite F-word?
P.C: 'FFS' [laughs] I use it all the time like more into texts.
Anaïs at Sofar Sounds
Maisie Daniels: Hey Anaïs, thank you so much for taking the time out to speak with us. How are you today?
Anaïs: I’m good, I’m excited. It’s a really cool space so that’s great.
M.D: I haven’t seen it yet, so I am intrigued!
Anaïs: Well you’re in for a treat [smiles].
M.D: How has your day been? Have you just been prepping for this evening?
Anaïs: Today was good! I’ve been preparing for tonight and running some errands. I’ve also just started working out again, so yeah!
M.D: So you’re feeling pumped?!
Anaïs: Yeah! But I’ve been waking up really early for no reason recently like 6 am…
M.D: Oh no, and it’s still dark at that time…
Anaïs: Yeah! I used to always get up at 9 am, I’m not sure what’s happening.
M.D: I find as I get older, I’m waking up earlier and it’s so cruel. And I could use to nap…No more disco naps for me!
M.D: Let’s get on to your stunning, soulful and simply beautiful sound. I’ve been listening to your music a lot recently and your voice gives me goosebumps…
Anaïs: Awh, thank you so much.
M.D: And with Sofar Sounds being a really intimate venue, I feel like both your vibe and voice really lends itself amazingly to gigs like these. Would you agree?
Anaïs: Definitely! I much prefer smaller, more intimate shows. I mean I wouldn’t say ‘prefer’ because it’s not like I’ve performed to loads of people but in terms of what I experience as well, I love it. Plus I don’t like to watch artists from a TV screen, I like to be right there. Through the music, I’m making, and the way I express my live shows, it’s quite personal. We play with a harpist, so it’s very ethereal. We also do shows with a drummer- and that’s sick as well- but it’s still really contained.
M.D: You’ve had a busy October; with a mini-tour supporting Daniel Ceasar - huge congratulations! How was that?
Anaïs: Thank you! That was actually the craziest thing that I’ve ever done in my life.
M.D: I bet! Did you just get a phone call, or…?
Anaïs: Yeah, they just messaged me like “Hey, this is going to sound crazy but…”
M.D: And do they give you much notice?
Anaïs: I would say pretty short notice; I only had like 4 days to rehearse. What I didn’t expect though was the reaction of the audience and you never really know, especially when you’re opening for big, famous people. Sometimes fans can be really fanatic and they could get on the stage asking “where’s Daniel?!” I was expecting that but they were super loving and really warm, and I just think of them as a good bunch of friends [smiles].
M.D: Have you ever seen changes in a crowd first-hand?
Anaïs: Yes, and it’s crazy because they can be so different. I love James Blake but when I’m at his shows, I feel like his crowds aren’t giving him the energy that he deserves…but maybe that’s because I’m a super fan [laughs].
Anaïs at Sofar Sounds
M.D: Have you done Sofar Sounds before?
Anaïs: Yes, I’ve done one before.
M.D: And how does it feel knowing that nobody knows who is on the bill, until they arrive?
Anaïs: It can be nerve-racking because people have all kinds of tastes, and when you’re giving your energy, spirit and soul, sometimes how you feel can be deceiving. As sometimes if someone isn’t into it, it’s just because they’re not into it. However, I also think that the kind of people that come to these events will have an open mind!
M.D: Absolutely. Not long now before you go on stage, do you have any pre-show rituals?
Anaïs: I’m working on it. I’m not really good at it and so I go on stage not very well-grounded. And then I come off stage being like ‘I could have done this and this better…’ So now I’m realising that each of these performances are so precious, and so I should take the time to really enjoy them.
M.D: Yes and to reflect also?
Anaïs: Exactly. Sometimes it can be quite a hectic backstage, and the soundcheck can run late…
M.D: …and people want to interview you? [Laughs]
Anaïs: [Laughs]. I should make that time and this is something I want to make the time to. To really work on for the future. For me I think it would be a little meditation, to go up there calm.
Filipe Phitzgerard: I guess you need to be in a whole different headspace, to connect with the crowd? If there’s too much going around, that must distract your mind.
M.D: With only a 20 minute set time, do you find it hard to select which songs to perform? What is the thought process that goes into this?
Anaïs: I definitely always base it off the show I am doing. I say something like Sofar Sounds where nobody knows who I am, I am not going to play some deep-cut stuff. It’ll be songs I think they want to hear, not necessarily my ‘best songs’ but my most impactful songs. A little taste. I’m also doing 2 new songs. I like to test these out to see what people like, and just to work it out as well. Sometimes I record myself and the song will get better once played live.
M.D: Yes, and this is the perfect platform to do that! So, what colour describes your current mood, and why?
Anaïs: Teal. It’s kind of like blue but it’s its own special colour. It’s calm and it’s fluid but also powerful. And that’s the energy I’m trying to channel now. I’m really calm but I’m also not complacent.
M.D: That’s a wonderful answer. Some people would just be like ‘yellow because I feel sunny…’
M.D: I’m not sure if you know this but there has been a cocktail made after you by Copper Dog for tonight’s guests to drink whilst they enjoy your performance. Titled ‘The Mootown’ it’s a velvety and creamy drink named after Mowtown Records, silky smooth and sensual…
Anaïs: Yes! I think the description is absolutely gorgeous! But the ingredients, I’m not a cinnamon or coffee fan [laughs] but other than that it’s gorgeous.
M.D: What would be in your ideal cocktail?
Anaïs: I’m the worst because I don’t really drink, so I’m not the best person to ask!
Anaïs: I’d have lavender and honey. I want it to be sweet but not too sweet, so it needs some zest but lemon and not orange [laughs]. And then something flowery, just so it has some texture. I would make it with Tequila because that’s alcohol I would drink!
M.D: Sounds delicious! Thank you so much Anaïs, we can’t wait to see you perform later on.
For more information on Sofar Sounds visit sofarsounds.com.