Written by Sam Kohn
Sophie Xeon (1986 – 2021)
SOPHIE – visionary producer and trailblazing trans icon – has passed away this morning at the age of 34 following a sudden accident in Athens. In the midst of the shock and confusion, her label released this statement: “True to her spirituality she had climbed up to watch the full moon and accidentally slipped and fell.” Speaking to Mixmag, they continued: “SOPHIE was a pioneer of a new sound, one of the most influential artists in the last decade. Not only for ingenious production and creativity, but also for the message and visibility that was achieved. An icon of liberation.”
To her fans and peers, the news is nothing short of devastating. SOPHIE was an innovator and a catalyst for change in so many ways, and for so many people. As a member of the PC Music camp, she pioneered an entirely new sound that shattered the boundaries between underground electronic music and commercial pop. As a trans woman in the music industry, her very existence fractured cultural binaries and carved out a space for countless other non-conforming artists to be seen and heard.
Born in Glasgow before relocating to Los Angeles (and later Greece), SOPHIE has always existed in an indeterminate and amorphous space. Her earliest singles hit YouTube, SoundCloud and other corners of the internet with little to no explanation. Tracks like ‘Bipp‘ and ‘Lemonade‘ caught the attention of listeners everywhere – but who was behind them? Cheap CGI graphics and that single-name moniker were the only clues. SOPHIE. SOPHIE. SOPHIE.
She remained anonymous for some years, concealing her identity in interviews by distorting her voice and masking her appearance. In early music videos, eerie stand-ins mouthed along to the words of her songs. At a Boiler Room set in London in 2014, she disguised herself as a bodyguard while a muscled drag performer played to the crowd – all of whom were none the wiser. Thus, the cult of SOPHIE was born. Who was she? Where did she come from? Was she even real?
Years of feverish curiosity were finally answered in 2017 when Sophie released the music video for ‘It’s Okay to Cry’ – the lead single from her long-awaited debut studio album, ‘OILS OF EVERY PEARL’SUN-INSIDES‘. The video was the first time she had used her real voice and image in her work, and was also widely interpreted as her coming out as a trans woman.
The album went on to score a Grammy nomination and widespread critical acclaim, being named the #1 album of the year by both Crack Magazine and DJ Mag and, later, the #74 album of the decade by Pitchfork. SOPHIE was no longer a mythologised anonymous producer – she was an icon at the very apex of the music scene.
SOPHIE was equally influential behind the scenes as she was under the spotlight, working with artists like Madonna, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Vince Staples, Flume, Charli XCX, MØ and Shygirl. All of her sounds
For those of you unfamiliar with her work (or anyone wanting to revisit the classics), we’ve compiled a playlist of 10 essential tracks to commemorate her life and career. Though her loss is an incalculable one, she leaves behind a legacy of music and innovation that will live on forever.