Sofar Sounds & Hack Circus: Making the Interested Interesting

Wrote this for the Huffington Post UK about what I got up to last weekend.

 

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The Slow Revolt at Sofar+

I think it was Russell Davies who first drew my attention to the phrase ‘In order to be interesting you have to be interested’ – probably in the course of his Interesting events a few years ago. By nature, I’m interested in a lot of things, though that has its disadvantages as well as its advantages: ‘Look! That’s a great exhibition!’, ‘What about that lecture – she’s such a great author, I really should go listen’, ‘Dinner at that new Peruvian restaurant in town will be amazing!’ – it never ends. It’s like I have this constant tussle with myself, being pulled in different directions all the time. On the other hand, when that exhibition does turn out to be absolutely amazing, I feel a real sense of accomplishment.

So I couldn’t say no to two pretty cool events over the weekend – two events that were very unlike each other and all the better for being that disparate.

Sofar Sounds is a global musical movement that started out because its founders, Rafe Offer and Rocky Start (real names!), true music fans, couldn’t take the incessant chattering by people in the audience when they went to listen to a good gig back in 2010. They started Sofar in a living room (Sofar: Songs From A Room, geddit?!), got a few cool bands to play, invited a few people they knew appreciated music as an art and thereby started a series of events that has now grown to become a global phenomenon. People gather in volunteers’ living rooms from Auckland to Austin and Tallinn to Toronto once a month (more for London and New York) with only one objective: to listen to up and coming musicians. There is only one rule, which is that talking during an act is not welcomed. Of course Sofar has now grown so big that they’re a victim of their own success; tickets are obtained through the luck of the draw and though I was able to secure places at a couple of gigs back when they started, it’s not so easy anymore.

It is to mitigate this that Sofar Sounds are now experimenting with a new format they call Sofar+, which expands the format from an evening to a longer half-day, and the venue from a living room to a slightly larger venue like a studio. I attended their first such event on Saturday in a hipster-friendly warehouse in Hackney, and sat on an old carpet with a couple of hundred others as bands I hadn’t heard before took to the stage. A huge proportion of the audience were older teenagers and people in their early 20’s; I was awash with nostalgia for my youth (yes I know this betrays my age). I recall thinking that it would have been so amazing if these kinds of events existed when I was that age. But then I realised that that’s what makes life interesting: the never-ending forward march of technology and progress. Sofar Sounds is as much about music as it is about living the culture of our times, and years from now when those 20-somethings sit through the next incarnation of live music, perhaps they’ll realise that.

Coincidentally, I had a conversation with Rafe as part of a startup mentoring event calledThe Friday Club last month (huge thanks to Richard Fearn, founder); they’re looking to see how they can work with brands as they scale up. My advice was to stay authentic – that’s their USP and any alliance they forge needs to be with a partner that understands, but more importantly, lives that authenticity themselves. I’ll be watching them as they grow.

On Sunday, I became a time traveller. That was indeed as entertaining as it sounds! My friend Leila Johnston, who has a knack for organising rather unusual events (her last onewas about the end of the world), brought together an incredibly smart and passionate group – scientists, academics, hackers, musicians, novelists – who all had a unique take on the concept of time, at Hack Circus: Time Travel Live. Ruth Gregory, a Durham University professor spoke about the physics of time travel, Sinead McDonald, a Dublin-based artist, brought along a contraption she made that can tell you what you will be doing on a specified date in the future, programmer and designer Sandy Noble demonstrated his linear clock that rethinks the circular notion of time perpetuated by a typical (boring) clock, and Leila’s own talk about the Terminator movies was absolutely enthralling for any film fan, sci-fi enthusiast or not. In fact all the speakers were worth my time (and it isn’t easy giving up a Sunday nap for most people, now is it?).

The thing about Hack Circus: Time Travel Live is that it forced me out of my comfort zone. Science was never my strong point in school, and perhaps the desire to try and get to grips with it so many years out spurred me to listen particularly closely when quantum theory was being discussed. Redshifting? Delay cables? The twin paradox? The grandfather paradox? If you, like me, aren’t quite a 100% blue-blooded sci-fi fan and didn’t really know these concepts in detail before, well then at least you do now. And for that I thank all of Saturday’s speakers, those I’ve just mentioned as well as the rest: James Larsson, for showing me that if you get it into your head to put the front of a modern flat-screen TV together with the back of an old, box-shaped one, it’s not impossible. Tania Ahsan, for making me take the time to think of my future self. Sarah Angliss, for introducing me to the adventures of Misty; as someone who didn’t grow up in England I think not knowing her was a mistake you were able to rectify. Matt Westcott, because I didn’t know a ZX Spectrum could be played like an instrument to ‘Time goes by. So slowly’ the way you did.Alby Reid, for making me jealous I didn’t have a physics teacher as cool as you in high school. And Chris Farnell, because your story about whether you did or did not receive a story through the postbox so you could in fact stand there and narrate it to us, twisted my mind upside down and inside out.

To go back to what I started this with: being interested is important for reasons more than being interesting (though being interesting in and of itself will help you in more ways than one, no doubt). Being interested can add whole new dimensions to your personality, introduce you to new ideas and new people and inspire you to be, as Dame Vivienne Westwood said in Cannes this year, ‘your better self’. I think that’s totally worth exploring, for anyone.

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