Sofar Sounds in Haggerston - Raising the bar of the stripped-back gig

Bad Honey at Sofar Sounds, Signature Brew Taproom & Venue, Haggerston. Picture: Jay Burgess

Bad Honey at Sofar Sounds, Signature Brew Taproom & Venue, Haggerston. Picture: Jay Burgess - Credit: Jay Burgess

In 2009, eight musicians hosted an intimate gig in a living room in London, and Sofar Sounds was born.

Eleven years later, the startup has reached 447 cities, taken nearly 1 million guests, and raised $31 million in investment.

Their recipe is simple. Dress up a 'secret' venue to be Insta-ready, add a good sound system, and guarantee enthusiastic bums on seats to perform to.

Tonight's (February 11) setting is the Signature Brew Taproom in Haggerston, a chic bunker bar tucked underneath the Overground line's arches. True to form the venue was floor-cushioned, fairy-lit, and packed full of bubbly twenty-somethings.

Young duo Bad Honey kicked things off with a set of deep jazzy synths over alternative electronic beats, landing somewhere between James Blake and Maggie Rogers. Lydia Clowes' voice was the centrepiece, evoking Eva Cassidy in her control and angelic tone.

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The duo skirted between stylish pop songwriting and something more technical and edgy. They excelled at the former, showcased on set highlight Circles, which was released on Friday, February 14.

Next, charming Nigerian singer Jarell Ebuka whipped up the crowd with empowered opener Saved. This arresting and soulful start was oddly followed by a bout of weaker saccharine tracks more akin to Jason Mraz, with some slightly ropy guitar work.

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However, Ebuka triumphed again on closer Abuja, named after the Nigerian capital where he left a lover of old. This soothing and candid lullaby was a beautiful end to a somewhat inconsistent set.

To close was smooth husky crooner Leon Jacques and his impromptu three-piece, laying down imaginative R&B reworks that included Luther Van Dross, Justin Timberlake and Jacques' idol, Beyoncé.

The ablest musician of the evening, Jacques' slightly unsettled set flitted between good-time fun and serious artistry, his own material loaded with lyrical prowess. However, he was here to entertain - and easily became a crowd-favourite in doing so.

Not every act may have landed perfectly, but Sofar's savvy model of exclusivity and slick marketing made for an energetic and devoted atmosphere, buoyed by an impassioned host at the helm. Tickets are on the steep side at £18, but in providing a reliable venue, roster and audience (in a scene often devoid of all) Sofar are raising the bar of the stripped-back gig.

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