Pop music has lost an innovative voice.
Experimental artist and producer Sophie, full name Sophie Xeon, died on Saturday after falling from the balcony of her apartment in Athens, Greece. She was 34 years old.
The news was announced through a joint statement by Sophie's family and UK record label Transgressive Records.
"Tragically our beautiful Sophie passed away this morning after a terrible accident," it read.
"True to her spirituality she 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 statement went on to hail the transgender artist's career and for her work on expanding the sound of modern dance and pop music through her innovative production approach.
"She was a pioneer of a new sound, one of the most influential artists in the last decade,” it said. “Not only for ingenious production and creativity but also for the message and visibility that was achieved. An icon of liberation.”
In testament to her varied music, an eclectic array of artists, from major pop stars to indie acts, posted tributes online.
UK singer Sam Smith led the condolences by describing the news as "heartbreaking".
He added: "The world has lost an angel. A true visionary and icon of our generation. Your light will continue to inspire so many for generations to come. Thinking of Sophie’s family and friends at this hard time.”
Producer and founder of the band Chic, Nile Rodgers recalled collaborating with Sophie in 2019 at London's Southbank Centre: "You were one of the most innovative, dynamic, and warm persons I had the pleasure of working with."
While Kele Okereke, UK artist and frontman of indie rock group Bloc Party posted a 2020 video of him playing guitar along to Sophie's 2015 breakout track Bipp. "'I am very saddened to hear the news of Sophie's passing today. She was a true visionary," he said.
Who was Sophie?
Born in Glasgow in 1986, Sophie's music career didn't begin until 2009, when she joined the electro band Motherland and provided the background score for the Dutch short film Dear Mr / Mrs.
After receiving some favourable press with 2013 debut single Nothing More to Say, Sophie fulfilled that potential with blazing Bipp. Full of serrated synth riffs and muscular percussion, the song appeared in numerous end-of-year lists for best songs, with critics hailing her "hyperkinetic take" on dance music.
That growing attention reached the upper echelons of the dance and pop worlds, later leading to collaborations with Madonna, English singer Charli XCX, rapper Vince Staples and indie duo Let's Eat Grandma.
Through two collections – 2015's compilation Product and 2018's Grammy-nominated album Oil of Every Pearl's Un-insides – Sophie managed to produce a bright and ebullient sound widely considered to be the harbinger of the hyper-pop movement, a niche genre renowned for its maximalist approach to pop music, drawing on influences from trance, hip-hop and emo rock genres.
In describing her approach to songwriting and production, Sophie said she is not one for subtlety.
"I think all pop music should be about who can make the loudest, brightest thing. That, to me, is an interesting challenge, musically and artistically," she told Rolling Stone magazine in 2015.
“And I think it’s a very valid challenge – just as valid as who can be the most raw emotionally. I don’t know why that is prioritised by a lot of people as something that’s more valuable. The challenge I’m interested in being part of is who can use current technology, current images and people, to make the brightest, most intense, engaging thing."
Here are five key tracks from Sophie’s career:
1. ‘Bipp’ (2015)
This was a track that announced a bold new voice in the dance scene. With darting beats, blips and computer sound effects, the raucous sound is held together by sweet vocals by Sophie's former Motherland bandmate Marcella Dvsi. The chorus refrain of "I can make you feel better. I can make you feel", has gone on to be a favourite among electro dance clubs ever since.
2. ‘Vroom Vroom’ (2016)
Sophie got the pop music world's attention with this brilliant collaboration with Charli XCX. With shuddering beats and heaving basslines taking from the Chicago house genre, the daring and uncompromising sounds of Vroom Vroom elated Charli XCX fans concerned with her commercialism at that period.
3. ‘Lemonade’ (2014)
You know you are doing well when even McDonald's wants to collaborate with you. The fast food chain used this track in an advertising campaign and it's not hard to see why. With stalking synths and pitched-up vocals, this fun single is one of Sophie's more carefree works.
4. ‘Hot Pink’ (2018)
Sophie shows a more nuanced and soulful side to her producing skills in this single by British pop duo Let's Eat Grandma. While the track has Sophie's trademark abrasive percussion, it is tempered with some beautifully emotive synth lines in the soaring chorus.
5. ‘Ponyboy’ (2017)
As uncompromising as it is exhilarating, Ponyboy features basslines that shudder like earthquakes and ghoulish vocals. The opening track to album Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides is a fine distillation of Sophie's sound that is steeped in modern dance and is futuristic when it comes to its application.