On Saturday morning, groundbreaking experimental pop artist and producer Sophie Xeon, more known mononymously as SOPHIE tragically died in what her publicist described as a “terrible accident.” According to the official statement, “true to her spirituality, [SOPHIE] had climbed up to watch the full moon and accidentally slipped and fell. She will always be here with us. The family thank everyone for their love and support and request privacy at this devastating time.” The accident occurred around 4 am in SOPHIE’s home in Athens, Greece. This truly saddening occurrence has left the world without not only one of the most promising rising stars in pop music, but one who had already left behind such an impactful legacy after only about half a decade in the limelight.
One of the many remarkable things about SOPHIE’s music was just how widespread her work was in the mainstream, both directly and indirectly. Many will likely not even realize just how much of the producer’s work they are familiar with. Any hardcore Madonna fan will have heard her work on the uber-modern “Bitch I’m Madonna,” while even casual fans of superstars Charli XCX, Kim Petras and MØ will find themselves aware of SOPHIE’s signature glitchy style through their many collaborations like EP Vroom Vroom and singles “1,2,3 dayz up” and “Nights with You.”
Aside from her ubiquitous nature as a producer, impressive as it is, where SOPHIE really shone was as a solo artist, where the raw, unfiltered energy she channeled into her music was on full display. It is one thing to mix genres, but to meld dance, house, bubblegum, electronica and more with an unabashed auteur style of a true avant garde creator is what made SOPHIE stand out. Experimental to a fault, SOPHIE never made the same track twice, yet was able to craft a distinct sonic identity all her own, no easy feat. From one of her very first singles “Bipp,” SOPHIE injected new life into the dance music scene.
SOPHIE’s music flitted the lines between stylish, abrasive, profound, and downright filthy, all with a remarkably surreal and sophisticated point of view. She relied little on direct samples – unusual for an electronic artist – and instead synthesizing her own sounds as the basis for most tracks. It is common practice for producers in any genre to sample natural ambient sounds, like city life or the rumblings of a cave or forrest; SOPHIE took that idea and ran with it, creating her own sounds from scratch to emulate the harsh, often nails-on-a-chalkboard texture of metal, latex, plastic, balloons and elastics. Only in SOPHIE’s world were these sounds the source of art, and yet she found a way to make artificial sound organic. Nowhere is this dichotomy more present then on her Grammy-nominated 2018 debut album Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides. From the stunningly beautiful opener “It’s Okay to Cry” (the only track of her entire discography to feature her own vocals) to the attention-demanding “Ponyboy,” the LP is one-of-a-kind.
But SOPHIE’s legacy stretches far beyond her resume. A pioneer in every way, SOPHIE was at the forefront of a wave of experimental musicians representing the transgender, non-binary, and otherwise LGBTQ+ communities. With contemporaries like Arca and Dorian Electra, SOPHIE absolutely invaded the scene in not only her native Scotland, but around the world, and never shied away from her own transgender identity. Her avant-garde style not only broke the stigma of any LGBTQ+ stereotypes associated with music, but established her as an artist first, transgender person second. Despite her trans identity, the persona of SOPHIE was largely genderless. The artist detested “feeling boxed-in by labels,” and prior to their coming out kept any identifying information largely obscured from the public. SOPHIE’s music is her “chosen method of communication,” and despite coming out, transness was never a label SOPHIE was fully enamored by; it was never the full message, the music and artistry were primary.
The fact that SOPHIE was just breaking through in a big way to the mainstream with high-profile collaborations and releases makes her untimely passing all the more tragic. SOPHIE will undoubtedly be missed by both fans of her music and LGBTQ+ members looking for a wild and quirky kindred spirit. What she leaves behind, however, will live on in influence for decades. SOPHIE was the future.