A conversation with Paulina Piechota and Agata Motyka, organizers of Sofa Underground Cracow
Text: Kasia Pilitowska
Photo: Sofa Underground Cracow archive, Michał Chmielewski
Sofa Underground is an artistic project of micro-scale art and music festivals initiated by Chris Peterson in Madrid. Culture-oriented evenings take place in apartments made available by their kind owners. These evenings’ aim is to create an intimate artistic space and shorten the distance between an artist and an audience. Musicians are at arm’s length for people sitting in the first row and everyone can talk to them during breaks which tend to last longer than they should. Performers are usually unknown, young bands, whose performances are sometimes accompanied by mini-exhibitions, puppet theaters’ shows, drawing contests and poetry readings. What they are always accompanied by are guests and delicacies they bring to share with everyone. Two students of architecture in Kraków, enchanted by the idea (they discovered it while on a scholarship in Madrid), decided to bring the “musical sofa” to Kraków. So far, during 32 months, there have been 10 sofa meetings that hosted 32 bands and almost 500 guests.
How did you end up on the sofa?
Paulina: We study architecture at the Kraków University of Technology, but we became friends during an ERASMUS exchange in Madrid. That’s also where we were invited for the first time to a concert in someone’s private apartment.
Agata: The name of the project – Sofa Underground – didn’t ring a bell. We were actually asked to help preparing sandwiches – food and drinks basically – for the upcoming guests. After this, we were lucky enough to participate in Sofa twice during our half a year’s stay.
Paulina: On my way to the concert I kept wondering how that was supposed to work. A concert in an apartment of someone we didn’t know, invading someone’s personal space to listen to music – the whole thing felt strange. We didn’t have to sign up on the first go, though it was necessary for the next two concerts: you had to send an e-mail and justify why you should be the one to be invited. At last, you just had to wait for a response.
What the first Madrid’s apartment was like?
Agata: It was a loft located in the neighborhood of the Royal Palace of Madrid. There was a glass wall that worked as a natural background for a sofa and provided a wonderful view of the city. A sofa, as a piece of furniture, is always present during concerts because it’s a tradition – invited artists sit on sofas while performing.
Paulina: It was also possible to go to the rooftop!
Were there only musicians invited?
Paulina: Sofa aims at presenting the diversity of artistic creation. During Madrid’s meetings, there were also exhibitions of graphics, poetry readings and film screenings.
Agata: What's more, there was the so-called “dibujo a domicilio” – the initiative focused on live drawing during concerts and eternalizing scenes on paper.
What about food?
Paulina: Right! It’s Sofa’s integral part. Everything was always delicious, I remember Gloria’s chocolate cookies.
Agata: Simple, local and very tasty.
Moving on, how did you drag this Spanish furniture to Kraków?
Paulina: During the last of the Sofa concerts we participated in, I said I was sorry that it was the last time and that I regretted we didn’t have something similar in Kraków. Then, I heard the organizer of Sofa in Madrid, Chris, saying: “So be the first to do it!”. He became very excited about the idea, even more than we were at that time, I suppose.
Agata: Right then, Sofa was unknown in other cities, though, after some time Madrid was joined by Bilbao, Seville, Valencia, Budapest and San Francisco. When we started initiating Sofa in Poland, Kraków was the first city outside Spain!
What happened after you came back to Kraków?
Paulina: We couldn’t resign, that’s for sure. Chris supported us greatly, writing to us and asking how we were doing or whether we made any preliminary arrangements.
Agata: We felt his spiritual support and were strongly motivated to organize a pioneering concert in Kraków.
Paulina: The first Sofa was for friends only – sort of a friendly testing ground. We had no idea what response to expect nor how to organize it. Agata set up a Facebook page “Sofa Underground Cracow”.
Agata: Also, we gave a presentation in a famous Pecha Kucha form in one of Kraków’s clubs. We had six minutes to present our project and expectations.
Paulina: I remember talking to my friends about the first Sofa meeting, explaining to them that it would be a concert and not an ordinary party. I got the feeling they didn’t believe in this idea and thought it to be my whim.
Agata: The place was super small, 30 meters, a room with a mezzanine referred to as a “nest”. One couple contacted us via e-mail! (laugh) We really looked forward to meeting them, curious about who they were and how they would react to this formula. They never showed up. We felt sorry.
Paulina: Back then, someone told us that we’d invited more people for documenting and picture taking than real listeners. We just wanted to have someone to spread the word about the action.
Didn’t it put you off?
Paulina and Agata (jointly): Sure it didn’t!
Paulina: The next Sofa took place three months later in a beautiful and enormous old apartment on Karmelicka Street.
You invite musicians who come to Kraków at their own expense and perform for free. It’s not really typical of this city.
Agata: There are not only musicians. We had a puppet theater and exhibitions of photographs, graphics and paintings.
Paulina: We keep wondering ourselves, how come they want take part in it.
Agata: They view the project as something unusual, something that may help boost their careers. Sometimes, we invite specific artists whom we or our friends know. However, a lot of musicians contact us first. They like the noncommercial character of the project and, very often, turn out to be supporters of grassroots initiatives and extraordinary ways of presenting music.
Paulina: For the majority of them it’s the first performance in front of an audience. They get stressed and have a stage fright, but that’s when concerts end up being the most beautiful and authentic. An audience can surely appreciate that!
Musical eclecticism characterizes Sofa.
Paulina: Yes, it does. So far, we’ve had a truly temperamental bunch of people here. One of the concerts began with a subtle and nostalgic music of Patrick the Pan, went on to Ania Andrzejewska’s wonderful jazz interpretations and ended up with an energetic performance of Is it Tomorrow duo. Sofa doesn’t lack in theater-related projects as well. During the last but one meeting, performer Dominika Śniegocka improvised together with Sibiga music project. The effect astounded an audience and artists alike.
Do “Sofa artists” make a career?
Paulina: I’m glad you ask about it. Our friend, who is getting married in August, fell in love with the music of one of the bands inspired by sounds from the Middle East countries. They’re going to play on her wedding reception. Collaborations are being developed, musicians are being invited to other cities to play similar concerts. One of the musicians started performing with a puppet theater we hosted earlier. Sofa connects people! Patrick the Pan, who took part in the second edition of Sofa, sold a couple of his newly-released albums right after the concert.
Agata: And those who come to listen to music say they love it and want to let us into their homes. So it goes. We’ve even found out about a love story! Two people met during Sofa and fell in love with one another.
How does Sofa come into being?
Paulina: Firstly, we have to find a place. We spread the word and wait for someone to offer their apartment. Once we have it, the time comes to choose musicians and that’s when problems arise: we have to set a date that would satisfy both an artist and a house owner. This isn’t easy hence long breaks between Sofa editions.
Agata: Even though the whole thing proves tiring at times and we’re often surprised with all the changes we love doing it and think it unimaginable to wipe Sofa off the Kraków’s map.
Does this mean you’re staying in Kraków? What else do you do in your lives?
Agata: Now, I’m in the process of preparing my diploma project, I design the Center for the Performing Arts in Nowa Huta. Sometimes I create set designs for student-directed plays and I happen to design store window displays.
Paulina: I’m preparing my diploma project as well – a redevelopment of the Polfa swimming pool. One thing we know for sure is that architects are people who do million things at once ;)
Thank you for the interview!
The current sofa always on Sofa Underground Cracow!