It’s impossible to overstate SOPHIE’s impact on music. She quickly rose from being an obscure experimental artist to becoming a grammy-nominated cultural phenomenon with production credits for icons such as […]
It’s impossible to overstate SOPHIE’s impact on music. She quickly rose from being an obscure experimental artist to becoming a grammy-nominated cultural phenomenon with production credits for icons such as Madonna, Shygirl, Charlie XCX, and Vince Staples, as well as a confirmed unreleased demo she had sent to Lady Gaga.
Her music was defined by synth-based abstract sound design and stylized vocals. She carved out a global following with memorable music videos and vibrant yet controversial performances. Despite tragically passing away at the end of January in 2021, her music and career exist as a testament to self-expression as a form of self-discovery.
SOPHIE started her music career touring with a German electronic band Motherland at the tail-end of the Myspace era, in 2008. Outside of DJ’ing, SOPHIE maintained a relatively anonymous public identity for many years. She primarily started appearing on stage as a prominent producer for the London-based label PC Music. Her style was right at home with the music they were releasing. This form of “hyperkinetic” pop is characterized by over-exaggerated sounds, unique and upbeat vocals, as well as a refusal to be classified by a single rhythm or tempo and is carried on today by artists like Danny L Harle, Hannah Diamond, and PC Music labelhead A.G. Cook. That refusal to be boxed in was one of the biggest ideas SOPHIE sought to accomplish with her music.
In 2013, when questioned on BBC’s Radio 1 about what genre to refer to her early break-out single “Bipp” as, she responded with:
“It starts with music just like everything else. That’s the only type of music that exists. And anyone that says anything else is a liar.”
Before SOPHIE became a star, she had a few breakout releases including “Bipp”, “Lemonade” (both of which were also released in her singles compilation Product in 2015), as well as “Hey QT” off PC Music. “Hey QT” was released with a new side project called QT that consisted of American performer Hayden Dunham, English producer A.G. Cook, and our beloved Scottish producer SOPHIE. They released one single song together, with an accompanying music video in 2015. The music video focused on a fake energy drink brand which in turn solidified this mythos of bringing together the material and immaterial world, which was a recurring theme in SOPHIE’s music and attitude.
“I try to imagine a hyper-real world of sounds…” “sounds which cartoonize and exaggerate naturally occurring or organic sounds and phenomena and materials that don’t exist at the moment,” she said in an interview with Arte TRACKS in 2018.
SOPHIE was so committed to making her identity specifically about her music that she didn’t make significant public appearances until releasing a music video for “It’s Okay To Cry” in 2017. Even the brief appearances she did choose to make were deliberately subversive in nature. In 2014, she had a drag queen DJ while she stood off to the side disguised as a security guard for her Boiler Room Performance.
Prior to that, in the 2013 interview with Radio 1, she used some kind of voice changer to make herself sound like a child for the entire duration of the piece. When the hosts questioned it, she iconically responded “I have a cough.” The result is that this early part of her career is mostly ephemeral. If you were not there, you missed it. Simple as that.
“The music is not about where someone grew up. It’s not about what they look like against a wall. Therefore you should try to use every opportunity available to say what you’re trying to say. Instead of saying here’s my music and this is what I look like. Nobody Cares.”
-Billboard – August 2014
The main transformation of SOPHIE as a cutting-edge producer to pop-icon came with the release of the music video for “It’s Okay To Cry.” This was the first track released off of Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, which received a Grammy-Nomination. The anthem was released in 2017, and the music video is the first-time SOPHIE ever used her face in any promotional or marketing material. It also was the moment SOPHIE publicly came out as a trans-woman. The music and video were praised as remarkable and brave, which quickly took her stardom to the next level ahead of the release of her upcoming album.
This is something she had conflicted feelings about initially, but proved to be a changing point in her career:
“…it displayed a lot of the hangups people have around needing, requiring an image to be attached to music.”
“I felt like I could use my body more as a material to express through and not fight against.”
-SOPHIE to Arte TRACKS 2018
Her album Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, released in 2018, perfectly critiqued this phenomenon. The idea is that the superficial world of art is often at odds with physical manifestations of the art, artist, and world itself.
“It’s Okay To Cry” was our honest and vulnerable initiation to SOPHIE aggressively taking her space on stage. Every song is dripping with SOPHIE’s stapled refusal to be classified. It is delicate and soft at times and caked with grit and distortion at others. It goes from the dense and erotic with “Ponyboy” to a cheeky upbeat shoutout to Maddona’s “Material Girl” with “Immaterial.”
This album put SOHPIE’s view of the future into focus. It was self-aware, graceful yet sharp, and, above all else, uncompromising. Unfortunately, aside from one single, this album was the last SOPHIE released before she tragically passed in 2021.
“I can’t get too excited about anything happening now, I’m really about what should be happening in the future.” – SOPHIE said to Arte TRACKS in 2018.
There is one thing that is certain about SOPHIE, she was just getting started. You can’t compare her or her music to anything else. No one is questioning who the next SOPHIE might be, because her career and her music stood on a pillar all on its own. We were lucky to have her with us for the time we did, and she will be missed. Hopefully, as time goes on we will get to hear more and more of her unreleased music and reflect on her view of what the future would have looked like.
Thanks for taking this deep dive into SOPHIE and her impactful legacy with us. Be sure to watch some of the interviews and sets throughout the article and check out her album below!