Music

SOPHIE: A Beginner's Guide to a Hyperpop Mystery

The imaginative pop musician has worked with Madonna, Charli XCX and PC Music. But who is SOPHIE?
By Yu-Cheng Lin
5 min readPublished on
SOPHIE

SOPHIE

© Theo Cottle / Red Bull Content Pool

In just a few years, SOPHIE has risen swiftly from being an obscure producer to an underground critical darling to now a sought-after artist by some of the biggest pop stars in the world. But despite charting high on year-end lists, collaborating with the likes of Madonna and the no-small-task of steering pop into new, weird and exciting areas, little is known about SOPHIE herself.
This mystery is in part intentional. In the rare interviews that she actually grants, SOPHIE often adopts an enigmatic, performative Warholian evasiveness. She has even masked her voice through a pitch-shifting effect for one interview and tapped drag artist Ben Woozy to stand in for him at a livestreamed Boiler Room set.
But since SOPHIE's impossibly bright, tantalizingly hyperreal pop work has led to much more press attention, we do know some basic stuff now, like where she comes from (Glasgow) and where she currently resides (London). We also know that she started his solo career back in 2013, quietly releasing a single on Huntleys & Palmers. Things blew up quickly later that year when he released the single "Bipp," a snappy dance track that was noted for its fresh sounds and bass-driven rhythms.
Sophie

Sophie

© Maria Jose Govea/Red Bull Content Pool

Since then, SOPHIE has released a handful of acclaimed solo singles and has linked up with a variety of pop stars, rappers, J-Pop artists and more. While she's not an official member, she's often collaborating with the PC Music crew, a like-minded London-based group of experimental pop weirdos who are together forging new paths for pop music.
In November, SOPHIE will team with pop star and possible spirit animal Charli XCX for a performance at Red Bull Sound Select: 30 Days in LA, a monthlong showcase of over 60 musicians performing across different venues in Los Angeles. Read below to find out more about their collaboration and to get a sense of what SOPHIE is all about.

What does SOPHIE's music sound like?

When Billboard asked SOPHIE what genre her music falls under, she responded "Advertising." There's truth to that pithy statement, too. Not only has SOPHIE's music soundtracked commercials for McDonald's and Samsung but she also seems to operate on the level of the brand, using indelible hooks and bright sounds to promise a certain (aesthetic) experience and to (artistically) differentiate herself in the marketplace.
Her music, which often features pitched-up vocals, cute dance rhythms, and impeccable sound design, is about as loud and brash and intense as pop can get. But there's an undeniable immediacy and inviting accessibility that makes the extreme, sensory-overloaded aspects of her music not only surprisingly palatable but vigorously original. When you listen to SOPHIE, you stop thinking and start listening to your body. It's molecular.

What does SOPHIE use to make music?

SOPHIE is a master of sound design. Primarily using a synth/sequencer called the Elektron Monomachine, she is able to sculpt raw waveforms into whatever sounds she can imagine. It's synthesis at its finest, and it results in music that sounds like nothing else — except, of course, the sounds of the objects she's trying to synthetically recreate. That's why you hear "bubbles" on a track like "Lemonade," "metal clangs" on "Hard" and "elastic rubber" on "Vyzee."
Rather than sampling or using a kit, SOPHIE takes to the lab to develop all the noises from scratch, which aligns her artistic process with the physical materiality of sound in a way that no other artist is attempting in a pop context.

Where can you hear SOPHIE's music?

SOPHIE has released five separate singles with corresponding B-sides, totaling only 10 official tracks. Four of those singles were released on the excellent Numbers imprint, which was eventually collected last year onto an eight-track release called "PRODUCT." The singles collection is available in a variety of formats, including a silicon bubble case CD and, at one point, a "silicon product" that's not appropriate to describe here.
Yes, SOPHIE's solo discography is sparse, but luckily, you can also catch her live (both solo and as part of PC Music showcases, like their Red Bull Music Academy Festival NYC event Pop Cube) and hear more of her music through his many collaborations.

Who has SOPHIE worked with?

For an artist with such a small track record, SOPHIE has managed to work with a healthy variety of artists, ranging from LIZ and Le1f to Namie Amuro and Yelle. Her biggest project was the song "Bitch I'm Madonna," a cut off Madonna's 2015 album. The track was made in collaboration with Diplo, whose prototypical EDM chorus production stands in stark contrast to SOPHIE's bubbly, forward-thinking sounds during the verses.
But SOPHIE's most significant collaboration is the ongoing one with the PC Music crew, whose front man A. G. Cook collaborated with him on the sickly sweet, pseudo-viral earworm "Hey QT" by performance artist QT. The track even arrived with its own limited-edition energy drink!

What is SOPHIE's connection to Charli XCX?

All of the above leads to SOPHIE's collaboration with the incredible, insatiable Charli XCX. The Cambridge-based pop singer had caught wind of SOPHIE early on and expressed her love for her production last year. The two started collaborating and knocked out a handful of songs, which were performed live throughout 2015 and early this year. They were eventually released as a Charli XCX EP called "Vroom Vroom," which serves as a preview for Charli's third studio album. The release is said to heavily feature SOPHIE's production, with PC Music's A. G. Cook as creative director.
SOPHIE and Charli XCX perform Nov. 10, at Exchange, with Montell2099 and Shaed as part of Red Bull Sound Select: 30 Days in LA. For more details, go to 30days.redbullsoundselect.com.

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