Sofar so good: Estefania Sequeira on the best-kept secret music movement

Ever wonder what it’s like to be one of the behind-the-scenes people in one of the most behind-the-scenes movements happening today?

Estefania Sequeira happens to be one of those very cool people. For the past few years now, Sequeira, an editor for film and music videos, has helped shape Sofar Sounds, an underground music event that’s spreading at the speed of, well, sound.

Sofar Sounds
      Estefania Sequeira capture the magic of a Sofar Sounds’ event

The movement’s formula is basic, but brilliant. Sofar Sounds brings together a group of people in a small space, for example someone’s backyard, living room or even a desolate barn out in the sticks, where attendees share the similar desire to listen to really, really good live music.

Whether it’s the result of social media and its lack of human contact, the quick and cheap downloadable tracks of our time that leave people craving real raw sound, or all those packed festivals that went on for days and days and days— for music lovers, Sofar Sounds is a grassroots breath of fresh air that offers the close-knit community experience that has been so hard to find in the modern age.

For those who have missed the global phenomenon to date, this isn’t your catchy Groupon gimmick. The story of how Sofar Sounds started is repeated just about every time the name is mentioned. This lends even more to its lore, which goes like this:

Sofar Sounds began in London in 2009, when three friends—Rafe Offer, Rocky Start and Dave Alexander—went to a pub to hear Friendly Fires, a band whose debut album the year before had cast them into success. But when these three music-loving friends got the chance to hear the amazing band—it was in front of an awful crowd.

Recalling that night, Sofar Sounds founder Rafe Offer, who is actually a Chicago native, tells the Wall Street Journal, “Rocky, Dave and I all could not believe that this superb band was playing their hearts out and yet half the room was busy talking about other things, fondling phones or clanging drinks.”

Of the guys, Dave Alexander was, himself, a musician, who invited a few friends over to his London flat to try out some of his new songs. The atmosphere at that event was so markedly different, and better, than the night at the pub that these guys decided to host another one just like it.

It didn’t take long for their idea to take off—and land overseas. One of the first major cities to latch on was San Francisco, where film editor Estefania Sequeira, a life-long music lover who earned her BFA in Motion Pictures and Television, helped firmly implement Sofar Sounds in the US.

Already making music videos, Estefania’s editing skills and knowledge of the area’s music culture made her the perfect person to translate the founders’ idea—which, remember, is meant to introduce good music beautifully.

In a way Estefania Sequeira jumpstarted Sofar Sounds SF using her background in editing to shoot and cut videos of the group’s events, among other things. “I’ve worn many different hats, as I’ve been very involved from the beginning stages,” Sequeira explains. “I was there in San Francisco when it was first starting out. I was the video production supervisor, as well as a videographer and editor. In Vancouver I took more of a leading role and managed the whole event while also being very involved in the video production.”

In addition to the San Francisco and Vancouver, Canada branches, she has also participated in some events in Costa Rica. Definitely a labor of love, Sofar Sounds requires a lot of amazing people to make these secret music events happen. Money has never been a big issue as the events are financed by attendee donations, which pay the production staff, including great talents like Estefania Sequeira, and also covers the cost of the beer, wine, and refreshments served.

Using cell phones and other recording devices is usually discouraged during the gigs, so having someone like Sequeira, a trained videographer and editor, there to record the acts and putting out excellent quality videos of Sofar concerts is incredible. Those videos will be the only chance most people ever get to see these gigs, since the number invited to attend is so low.

However, even though Sofar Sounds’ attendees are hand picked, it’s worth the effort and so much fun to try and gain acceptance. First go onto the Sofar Sounds website and sign up for the newsletter. Pick a city (again, with the popularity there’s bound to be one nearby) and fill out a brief survey. Yes, survey—to determine if you’ll be selected to attend.

The locations are kept secret until hours before. Even the performers’ names are not usually disclosed. For those invited to attend, they arrive and are guaranteed an unforgettable music experience. For those performing, it’s a chance to gain new fans as well as make contacts with other musicians. Sofar is about really cool people, like Estefania Sequeira, who love good music and want to hear it, rather than watch a mass of phone screens float in the darkness of a crowded club.

Sofar Sounds
                                       One of Sofar Sounds’ events in San Francisco shot by Estefania Sequeira

Half-Korean and half-Costa Rican, Estefania describes how the movement is universal at its core. She says, “I think people love how global it is. How you can experience the same event in different parts of the world. Also, both the musicians and the guests relate to the respect for music that Sofar Sounds represents.”

So what once was known as “Songs from a Room” has morphed into Sofar Sounds. And what once was a room in a London flat has grown into a worldwide movement.

Sequeira, who continues to also work full-time on her documentary films and music video projects as well as with the movement, says Sofar should never lose its essence, the closeness to the music and to others.

“People love Sofar Sounds because of how intimate it is and because of the music you’re able to discover through it,” she says. “It will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s a truly special community to be a part of.”

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