Friday, June 25

How SOPHIE’s Music Inspired a Generation of Underground Artists


From the earliest singles, SOPHIE’s music had an electric pull. Luminescent, visceral, and delivered with impeccable comic timing, songs like “BIPP” and “HARD” cleaved open an irresistible niche within electronic music and avant-pop. In collaboration with vocalists like Charli XCX, Quay Dash, Cecile Believe, Vince Staples, and even Madonna, SOPHIE sharpened synthesis to a propulsive edge, spurring the voice into ecstasy. The voice moves freely in SOPHIE’s work—snapping, collapsing, mutating, blooming against fantasies built from tactile, lurid sound.

SOPHIE played among the futurisms spawned from the past 50 years of electronic music, drawing innovations from Detroit techno, Chicago house and footwork, and UK bass into a field equally inflected by chart-topping bubblegum pop and hip-hop. The artist’s death at the age of 34 last weekend leaves an abyss in the world of music, which SOPHIE touched at every level, collaborating with underground icons and A-listers alike. Here, contemporaries including intercontinental hip-hop experimentalist Mykki Blanco, Seattle drag performer and musician Michete, Montreal horrorcore rapper and producer Backxwash, Chicago techno producer Ariel Zetina, and Berlin vocal sculptor Lyra Pramuk reflect on SOPHIE’s incisive synthesis and sound design, and the worlds the artist broke open with them.


Mykki Blanco

I first became aware of SOPHIE’s music through PC Music, which always seemed like this chemical version of pop music—pop music at its most bare bones. I’ve always been attracted to minimal production, but this was minimal production that had been through a blender or a paper shredder. I’m always inspired when I meet someone who’s really committed to their aesthetic and their vision. I could tell that the PC Music kids were crafting this very distinct sound that also went into the aesthetics. One of the best things about being an artist is world-building, because then that creates something for other people to step into.

A lot of my admiration for SOPHIE came from the fact that there was someone who was super talented and produced her own music. Usually, queer people are behind-the-scenes, doing art direction or styling, or being the performers. And SOPHIE was a performer, too. But most of the time in my career, the people behind the mixing boards, who were actually running the programs or producing the music, were always cis-heterosexual men. I remember when I was really understanding that [production] was also part of SOPHIE’s skillset—I found a lot of power in that. SOPHIE’s talent put her into these really big rooms with really big names. I always found that really fucking amazing—it’s you holding the reins, it’s you pulling the strings. I had so much respect for that, because in doing that, she didn’t compromise anything at all. When you’re in that kind of position of authority—that, to me, as a fellow queer artist, was super inspiring.

If there’s the Matrix and then there’s a world outside of the Matrix, SOPHIE’s sound reminds me of the force field around the world. It would be like getting outside of the Matrix, realizing one day that there was this other invisible, magical thing that your hand reaches out and buzzes. And you’re like, “Oh, wait. There’s another place to go.”


Michete

When I moved to Seattle and started clubbing around 2016 and 2017, I would hear SOPHIE songs in DJ sets. I remember hearing “Queen of This Shit” by Quay Dash [produced by SOPHIE] in a lot of sets back then. I started seeing drag numbers to SOPHIE songs—to “LEMONADE” or “VYZEE” or “Hey QT.” I’ve probably seen a drag number to most SOPHIE productions at one point.



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