Sofar Sounds: Beauty Sleep & Wake America
Friday 24th June 2016 – Open University, Belfast
For those not in the know, Sofar Sounds is an organisation that aims to host intimate shows worldwide. Based in London, with events in hundreds of cities around the world, Sofar Sounds has been brought to Belfast with by a couple of local folk. Last Friday night saw the first of their monthly gigs, with the audience applying and signing up for tickets beforehand. As first shows go, Friday night certainly ticked plenty of the right boxes.
Sofar Sounds’ desire to host such intimate shows allows and even encourages a bit of creative thinking for venues but the setting of a room in the Open University sounded like it was a particularly unusual choice. Nonetheless, the room seemed a fine choice. Surrounded by an outside balcony and well lit by the early evening sun (with plenty of rain to boot), the room was lovingly decorated, with blankets and pillows for those sitting on the floor.
First on a two band bill was Wake America, the latest project of Derry’s Eoin O’Callaghan, perhaps best known as Best Boy Grip. Joined on stage by a guitarist and positioned behind a dual keyboard/synth set-up it was a chance to see an act which has played few shows to date.
After a brief introduction to Sofar Sounds by organisers Caoileann Hegarty and Cathy Moorehead, plus much applause, Wake America launch into first track ‘Everything I Want’. With much backing synth and beats behind the two-piece, it’s an impressively full sound. While the backing lends itself to an alt pop sound, O’Callaghan and his compatriot on bass and guitar drive the song forward in a rockier fashion. Throughout their set the songs move effortlessly glide between the rockier side of things, such as indie-rock mover ‘Reptile’ and pop songs. ‘Love You More’ encapsulates this with its buzzsaw synth and O’Callaghan’s vocals brandishing an 80s inspired sound that wouldn’t sound out of place on the last Arcade Fire record. ‘Silly Boy’ takes us in another direction again as it closes their set out and the duo pull off an inch-perfect ending to a good reception.
Next up is Belfast based band Beauty Sleep. The last time I saw this trio was merely a couple of weeks ago as part of Murmur, a big four-act production featuring dancers and plenty of stage props. This is an altogether different set up. Sitting on the floor as the new band run through their set with plenty of stage chat and banter, the close-knit feel of band and audience shines through.
A few sound issues hamper the first track or two but with these out of the way, the band’s abilities and appeal becomes apparent. Along with some backing drums, the three-piece showcase their dream-pop sounds with each member bringing something integral. Aimee Williamson’s bass playing is strong, particularly on that first track. Guitarist and vocalist Ryan McGroarty takes centre stage with lead vocals on a number of songs, and his clean-cut, inventive guitar playing is a huge part of what they do, at the forefront on tracks such as ‘The Heart’ in particular. Fellow Wonder Villains’ member Cheylene Murphy soldiers on through sickness for some unfortunately inconsistent vocals but provides that important synth sound. On ‘First Time’ the band encourages us to bring out the supplied bubbles to create a delightful, unique experience.
It may be down to familiarity, or that the band grow in stature through their set, but penultimate track ‘The Dark’ shows them at their confident best. It’s their first, and only, single so far and contains all that they offer. Overlapping vocals from McGroarty and Murphy, a memorable guitar line and a wash of dreamy synth. The positivity anthem of last track is plain to hear, as Murphy belts out “be kinder to yourself”.
This was a great taster for Sofar Sounds, with a warm atmosphere that can only come from such a small crowd in a such a unique venue. Both bands played their part in delivering an intriguing introduction to Sofar Sounds Belfast.