Sophie Xeon, known professionally as SOPHIE, died on 30/1/21 following a “sudden accident” in Athens. SOPHIE was a Glasgow-born, Grammy-nominated, experimental avant-pop musician and producer, who worked with the likes of Madonna, Vince Staples, Diplo, and Charli XCX.
SOPHIE’s label Transgressive released a statement explaining that the artist had tragically slipped and fallen whilst climbing to spectate the full moon. In light of SOPHIE’s passing, and with February being LGBTQ+ history month, it feels right to take a look back on SOPHIE’s incredible and influential discography.
SOPHIE’s identity was affirmed as transgender in 2017. SOPHIE preferred not to use gendered pronouns; therefore, throughout this article, the artist will not be referred to with any pronouns. SOPHIE told Billboard that being transgender meant “taking control to bring your body more in line with your soul and spirit so the two aren’t fighting against each other and struggling to survive”. This led to SOPHIE becoming a transgender icon, as well as being viewed as one of the most pioneering artists in the music industry.
Nothing More To Say / Eeehhh:
SOPHIE’s debut release came in 2013, a single titled Nothing More To Say, and it’s B-side Eeehhh. Around this time, SOPHIE said: “I make music which is fun to dance to – that should be the loudest voice talking”. Both tracks are bright, cheerful pop songs, but they are simultaneously sharp and cutting-edge, with slick production that you can instantly imagine hearing in a club or at a rave. The futuristic and clean sound was an immediate sign that SOPHIE was working well ahead of the times.
In 2015, SOPHIE released a series of acclaimed singles, which would later be compiled on 2015’s ‘PRODUCT’. These singles included BIPP, ELLE, LEMONADE, HARD, MSMSMSM, VYZEE, L.O.V.E. and JUST LIKE WE NEVER SAID GOODBYE. The tracks followed many of the tropes of mainstream pop, but with a more perfect, computer-generated, and artificial sound.
The project consists of hyper-stylized club music, with a mixture of futuristic, almost alien-sounding instrumental cuts such as MSMSMSM, and tracks with pitch-shifted vocals such as project opener BIPP and project closer JUST LIKE WE NEVER SAID GOODBYE. The former features a warped bassline, whilst the latter is based on textured synthesisers.
The third track, LEMONADE, fittingly incorporates a bubbling sound effect into the instrumental, and was even used to soundtrack a McDonald’s commercial, very much fitting with the key theme of ‘PRODUCT’ – commercialism and the act of buying and selling.
The main criticism that the project received at the time was that it was a slightly repetitive listen, especially seeing as the majority of the tracks had been released in advance of the project. However, overall, ‘PRODUCT’ successfully demonstrated SOPHIE as an artist and producer with a huge amount of potential and a unique, experimental take on the pop genre.
OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES:
In 2015, when ‘PRODUCT’ was released, the artist’s identity was a mystery. SOPHIE was faceless and anonymous. However, identity became a hugely important aspect later in SOPHIE’s career, with the revelation in 2017’s It’s Okay To Cry music video that SOPHIE identified as a transgender woman. This single led to the release of SOPHIE’s debut record, the Grammy-nominated ‘OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES’, released in 2018. It was nominated in the ‘Best Dance/Electronic Album’ category, and it was one of 2018’s best-reviewed album released in any genre. The Guardian wrote: “Sophie has crafted a genuinely original sound and uses it to visit extremes of terror, sadness and pleasure”.
The experimental sound of SOPHIE’s previous releases evolved to new levels on ‘OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES’. The songs have more layers and more vocals than before. This album was where SOPHIE truly began to feel like a real person, as a result of two things: the new knowledge that the artist identified as a transgender woman, and the feature of SOPHIE’s own vocals on album opener It’s Okay To Cry. Despite these vocals being auto-tuned and digitally-altered, the vulnerability and tentative cracks shine through. Everything is no longer clean and perfect – now, for the first time, SOPHIE’s work sounds like it was made by a human rather than a computer.
A focus on establishing an image of other-worldly, ethereal and transcendent beauty
One of the stand-out tracks is the understated Is It Cold In The Water?. It entirely contrasts to anything SOPHIE has released before, with a focus on establishing an image of other-worldly, ethereal and transcendent beauty. The angelic, breathy female vocals are surprisingly the main focus of the track, with a gradual build-up of synthesisers in the background during the verses. This direction continues with Infatuation, another understated track tackling the topic of admiring someone from a distance.
Ponyboy, Faceshopping and Immaterial are more comparable to SOPHIE’s previous releases. Whilst none of them are purely instrumental tracks, the focus is undeniably on the heavy, stomping, hard-hitting industrial beats. Faceshopping sees a complete change of direction two-minutes into the track, with the heavy beat coming to an abrupt halt, replaced with soft twinkling synthesisers and smooth, soulful female vocals, before returning to the sounds of the first half of the track for the remaining forty-five-second outro.
Meanwhile, Immaterial is another track which sees an abrupt change of pace and direction midway through. Riffing on Madonna’s Material Girl, an artist who SOPHIE has worked closely with, it celebrates the overarching message of the album: one of gender, being, and selfhood, emphasised by the lyric sung by Cecile Believe, “I can be anything I want”. This is a theme which resurfaces on the following track, the album’s 9-minute closer, Whole New World/Pretend World.
Despite being abstract and experimental electronic music, a genre which is sometimes difficult for some listeners to find accessible, this album is a true masterpiece which accentuates all of SOPHIE’s strengths as both an artist and a producer, whilst further demonstrating that SOPHIE was at the forefront of the pop genre.
BIPP (Autechre Mx) and UNISIL:
The BIPP (Autechre Mx) was released on 14/1/21. Back in 2015, SOPHIE claimed she wanted “NO remixes” of her music “unless it’s Autechre,” according to a press release. “Sorry this is so late,” the duo said of the remix. “Hope it’s still of some use.” It is reassuring and heart-warming that SOPHIE will have been able to hear this remix and have this wish fulfilled before passing.
It was recorded during the ‘PRODUCT’ era but was never given a full release until 2021
UNISIL, which served as a B-side to this remix, was released a mere two days before SOPHIE’s death. It was recorded during the ‘PRODUCT’ era but was never given a full release until 2021. Before, it was only available on the Limited-Edition Silicon Product version of the record.
It therefore follows logically that the title of the track is a reference to the silicone production and curing process. The track is entirely instrumental, excluding the chanting “Hey!” vocals throughout. The abrasive, up-tempo, synthetic beat is characteristic of the ‘PRODUCT’ era. Despite being recorded 5-years ago, even SOPHIE’s older music manages to maintain a futuristic element today.
For more content including uni news, reviews, entertainment, lifestyle, features and so much more, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like our Facebook page for more articles and information on how to get involved.