ABOVE: JODIE BELMAN AND DAMON VERSAGGI. PHOTO COURTESY OF MARC MCANDREWS
It’s rare to see rules at a concert or performance space—and even less common to see rules like “no talking” and “don’t be late”—but the New York coordinators of SoFar Sounds, a series of pop-up gigs, consider these guidelines essential to the fun vibe at their traveling creative space. Jodie Belman and Damon Versaggi originally conceived of SoFar Sounds as a safe space for performance artists in New York City; the pair has since expanded their project to 15 cities across five continents. The intimate gatherings typically include three to four bands and spoken-word artists—past lineups have included Dry the River, Wishes and Thieves, Julia Haltigan, and You Won’t—playing exclusive tracks and doing acoustic performances.
We spoke with Jodie Belman and Damon Versaggi about how social media has spread the word about SoFar Sounds, the most SoFar gigs they’ve had in one month, and spreading their love for music throughout the nation.
ILANA KAPLAN: How did you guys start this project?
JODIE BELMAN: A couple of friends of mine in London in 2009 started it out of the sensation of being at music gigs and not being able to hear because of people talking. One of the musicians actually had about six people around at his apartment in London, and it kind of grew from there, the amount of people, and then grew in the amount of cities. When I moved here, he asked me to start it out here about 18 months ago. Damon has been assisting me ever since.
KAPLAN: Who are some of the artists that you’ve been able to work with?
BELMAN: Specifically in New York: Pearl and the Beard, Will Knox, which is our next event, The Dirty Urchins, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, You Won’t, The Grand National, Freddie Stevenson, and Julia Haltigan.
DAMON VERSAGGI: We can keep going, if you want.
KAPLAN: How has your worldwide event spread so quickly?
VERSAGGI: Word of mouth and social media, I think. We’re a big proponent of the worldwide thing: streaming this stuff live. When we do an event in New York, we try and live-stream it, so that people in London, Buenos Aires, Paris, and Berlin can see it. We have a lot of people who are like, “I have a friend from London who told me about this,” and they’ll come to the New York gig.
BELMAN: We try to build a viable network of music lovers, basically. A lot of it is word of mouth. Someone here might tell someone in London about our So Far event.
KAPLAN: Who have been some of the most inspiring people that you’ve worked with?
BELMAN: A lot of the people we just mentioned.
VERSAGGI: We have a lot of spoken-word poetry. Kate Tempest.
BELMAN: Yeah! Kate Tempest is an artist from London who works with a band called The Sound of Rum. She actually played at the last event and does spoken word. Literally, by the time she finished, half of the audience was in tears. Her delivery and the power of her words is really quite incredible. That’s amazingly inspiring. One of my favorites is Pearl and the Beard. I really loved working with them. As Damon always says, it’s about the people. We’ve had amazing people. We get to spend time with them. They seem to exude this incredible energy and love of what they’re doing. I think that’s the most inspiring thing.
KAPLAN: How do you choose people for performances? Are they people you personally admire? Do you know them all beforehand?
BELMAN: Well, we have quite a huge network of people. I met someone last night who came through a friend. Damon and I went and had a coffee with her. She was like, “I really connected with these bands.” She gave us a list of names of a bunch of different people that we should listen to or go and see. Or just people coming to events that say “I have a friend that’s in a band who would be amazing for something like this.”
VERSAGGI: Or sometimes we see someone playing on the subway, which just happened.
BELMAN: We found Moon Hooch, they’re two saxophonists and a drummer. They’re incredible. You should definitely listen to their stuff. We go to gigs a lot. We are probably at gigs three or four nights out of the week.
KAPLAN: How often do you have events in NYC and around the world?
BELMAN: Here in New York, we do them once a month. We could definitely do them more if we had the manpower and obviously we all have full-time day jobs. This is a hobby that we do for the love of music. In London, they do them twice a week because it’s bigger there, it started there. In the rest of the world, I would say they probably do them every six weeks.
VERSAGGI: Actually May is probably going to be the most SoFars in a month. There is going to be one every other day. There are fifteen. There is a SoFar in Minnesota. There is a SoFar in Toronto. A lot of American cities are also just popping up. They’re all over Tel Aviv.
BELMAN: In India and Sydney. All over the world.
VERSAGGI: I did the flyers for the upcoming month. I had to do so much work. It used to be easy when it was a couple of cities. Now it’s a lot.
KAPLAN: What are your full-time jobs?
BELMAN: I work in fashion for casting, so my company predicts trends like 18 months in advance to designers.
VERSAGGI: I’m a graphic designer. I do graphic designing for television.
KAPLAN: That’s awesome. Are you guys in charge of events in the NYC area only?
BELMAN: Yeah. We helped to get Philadelphia started. We went there a couple of times for training the people there, how to introduce the movement, control the crowds and mentioned a bunch of different things. Now they’ve got a whole team going there. It’s going pretty well there. We’re just running New York. I think that’s enough. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into it. Not that I’m complaining.
KAPLAN: What can we expect from the next event on May 7?
BELMAN: I can’t tell you who, but there are going to be five bands and one acoustic guitarist. There are a couple of indie bands and a stripped-down rock band. We’re actually still looking for a space.
SOFAR SOUNDS WILL BE HOSTING THIS MONTH’S NYC EVENT IN BUSHWICK TONIGHT. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.