Thursday, December 2, 2021
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Remembering SOPHIE, a sonic pioneer and trans icon

In an unexpected accident on Jan. 30, 34-year-old Scottish music producer Sophie Xeon fell to her death. 

“Tragically, our beautiful Sophie passed away this morning after a terrible accident. True to her spirituality, she had climbed up to watch the full moon and accidentally slipped and fell,” read a statement released by her label, Transgressive. 

Sophie (sometimes styled as SOPHIE) leaves behind a historic legacy as one of the most influential and innovative electronic producers of the last 10 years. 

Madonna, Rihanna, Vince Staples, Charli XCX, Flume, Kim Petras, Quay Dash and Mykki Blanco were just a few of the artists the producer worked with. She broke onto the scene with a slew of synthetic and strangely beautiful singles, compiled as a project titled “Product.” Music publications like Pitchfork celebrated “Bipp,” released in 2013, for being a completely unique departure from the typical club music of the time. 

With the rest of the singles on “Product,” Sophie created a sound that was completely her own and impossible to recreate. Somewhat abrasive, her music has been teasingly said to include samples of pots and pans banging. Remarkably, Sophie’s solo music rarely used samples. She created corrosive and maximalist sound effects completely on her own, harnessing music technology in a way no one had ever seen before. 

Sophie rose to further prominence through her work with U.K. label PC Music and the release of Charli XCX’s 2016 “Vroom Vroom EP,” which she produced. The project is often cited as one of the largest influences to an emerging genre of electronic pop music sometimes referred to as ‘hyper pop.’ 

The title track, “Vroom Vroom,” positively pulses with all the excitement and stress of a final lap on Mario Kart, where the music speeds up considerably to light a fire under the simulated driver. Clanging hi-hats and booming drum hits adorn the track, coming together to create an avant-garde pop anthem. 

While her work with artists like Charli XCX and Vince Staples is part of what defined Sophie’s style as a collaborator, her solo work presents some of her most stunningly intimate music. As a transgender woman, her sound often strove for a future where the confines of gender are arbitrary. 

“I could be anything I want,” vocalist Cecil Believe calls out in the pre-chorus of “Immaterial,” from her 2017 “OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UNINSIDES,” “Any form, any shape, any way, anything, anything I want.” 

“Transness is 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,” Sophie said in an interview with PAPER magazine. “On this earth, it’s that you can get closer to how you feel your true essence is without the societal pressures of having to fulfill certain traditional roles based on gender.” 

Many musicians, trans and cisgender alike, celebrate her as an icon and an influence on their work. 

“Sophie, the news of your passing feels unreal, and I’m still trying to process the sense of loss. Growing alongside you helped me feel less alone throughout the years. I will miss our correspondence very much,” wrote Venezuelan experimental producer Arca, after learning of her death. “To have been a part of each others’ journey, to have made music with you remains a formative experience that I will always cherish.” 

“The loss of Sophie is huge,” Jack Antonoff, producer for Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey and Lorde, wrote on Twitter. “She’s been at the forefront for a long time and we see her influence in every corner of music. If you’re not aware of what she has done then today is the day to listen to all her brilliant work.” 

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Vince Staples, a close friend of Sophie’s, praised her fearlessness in her identity, her music and her writing.

“I never saw her once afraid to be who she was, to wear what she wanted, to say what she wanted, to play what she wanted. Not once,” Staples said. “I think that’s the most important takeaway: You don’t have to be afraid. Producers, musicians, trans people, people all over, no matter who you are, to be honest—I don’t care who you are, that’s something you could take something from.”

While her music often remained underground, Sophie was an undeniable and inimitable force in the music industry and many people’s lives. 

Her music can be found on all streaming platforms.

allison.harris@mail.umkc.edu

Edit: A previous version of the article incorrectly identified Sophie as the vocalist in “Immaterial.” While Sophie was the songwriter and producer, Cecil Believe is credited as the vocalist for the song.

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