It’s Okay To Cry: Remembering Sophie

Key touchstones in their wonderful catalogue...

Sophie's musical legacy will be far-reaching and long-lasting; their work spanning everything from bubblegum pop to harsh ambient noise.

Driven by a desire to explore and push boundaries of sonic and aesthetic intensity, Sophie's love of pure melody, dancefloor beats and engineering innovation meant she was adored by clubbers, pop fans and music nerds alike.

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Already well renowned thanks to regular club-night appearances for the likes of Numbers and Lucky Me, 'BIPP' was, for many, the track that introduced them to Sophie.

The song is full of so many of the idiosyncratic brilliances that Sophie made their own; industrial bangs, liquid fizzing and popping, and pitched-up vocals, all built from the ground-up using their own sonic palate. 'BIPP' is a thrilling three minute pop-manifesto – a genuinely abstract piece of electronic art that sounds otherworldly and alien, yet playful and optimistic.

Avant-garde electronic music at its most danceable, Sophie's promise "I can make you feel better" on 'BIPP' is indeed a righteous statement of intent for everything that followed.

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QT – 'Hey QT'

Sophie collaborated with like-minded electronic producer and PC Music founder AG Cook for 'QT' – ostensibly a one-track project, fronted by US vocalist and performance artist Hayden Frances Dunham.

Yet 'QT' went far further, creating an elaborate backstory that posited the idea that 'QT' was a manifestation of both a music and an energy drink – with Dunham embodying the physical manifestation of a virtual character that was inspired by Japanese Kawaii and the sci-fi commercialism of the likes of Blade Runner.

QT was a post-modern cross-platform art piece, ryely satirising consumerism and manufactured pop stars, whilst simultaneously celebrating the endorphin releasing power of pop culture and products. Of course, the concept would only stand up if QT itself was as desirable as the products they were satirising; and here is where Sophie and AG Cook's collaboration stands independently of the artistic conceit behind its creation – 'Hey QT' is truly a perfect pop song, as fizzy, sweet and energetic as any caffeine-infused drink, wildly addictive and sickly-satisfying.

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Sophie's obsession with pushing the sonic boundaries of electronic music meant that the sub-bass minimalist tropes of trap music were ripe for exploring. Advancing on the mega 808 basslines and overblown drops of fellow Scottish producers Hudson Mohawke and Rustie, Sophie delighted in parsing back the ingredients of club music until only the vital ingredients were left; yet the minimalist trap arrangement on 'MSMSMSM' only works so well because the raw ingredients are so sonically developed.

After 90 seconds of an abrasively catchy videogame melody and earth shattering half-time sub bass, Sophie dares to drop a minute of near-silence into a club track, before coming in to finish off even louder and harder than before.

If any Sophie song needs to be heard through a full nightclub PA, it's this one – a thrilling dynamic overload of bass and jittery techno.

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Madonna – 'Bitch I'm Madonna'

With the US in the midst of the IDM wave, it didn't take long for mainstream pop stars to come looking to Sophie to keep their productions fresh and ahead of the game, and in 2015, the biggest name of all came calling.

With the likes of Avicii and Diplo taking the lead on Madonna's 'Rebel Heart' album, Sophie's input on 'Bitch I'm Madonna' marked the first time Sophie or any of their PC Music affiliated peers had transgressed the underground environment to the mainstream pop world they both parodied and loved.

The committee-based writing and production process means that 'Bitch I'm Madonna' suffers from the too many cooks problem; Sophie's sparkling verses are held back by Diplo's lumbering dubstep choruses. Indeed, future collaborations and mainstream pop production efforts would prove more fruitful – Liz's 'When I Rule The World' and Kim Petras' '1,2,3 Dayz Up' notable examples – but 'Bitch I'm Madonna' was a vital point in Sophie's career trajectory, where lessons were learned and admirers were made.

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Charli XCX – 'Vroom Vroom'

Charli XCX has an almost Kanye-like ability to find and work with the most exciting and imaginative producers, whilst Charli's mix of mainstream pop sensibilities tied to their artistic credibility and eagerness for musical exploration mean that she is a perfect foil for producers looking for charismatic and edgy performers to work with.

Sophie had been teasing the instrumental of 'Vroom Vroom' in their live sets for a couple of years, but it was Charli XCX who became the beneficiary of the track when the two collaborated in 2016. The four track EP was a real side-step for XCX, with Sophie's often brutal and nihilistic production a far cry from the major key pop of Boom Clap or Break The Rules. But it proved to be a glorious re-invention for Charli XCX, introducing the dark and oppressive beats of Sophie to an increasingly open-minded pop audience, and developing Charli's credibility amongst the underground Sophie fans who appreciated Charli's idiosyncratic artistic path.

The title track then is career a highlight for both artists – an aggresively bombastic beast that is part-dancefloor filler, part-hip-hop swagger, and part-romantic love note. Any other producer attempting to meld the violent acid techno, minimalist trap, and syrupy pop would run the risk of creating an almighty mess, but Sophie's mastery of their craft mean that 'Vroom Vroom' has become a dancefloor staple, equally at home at student unions or underground nightclubs.

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Vince Staples – 'Yeah Right'

Sophie's appreciation and interpretation of hip-hop beats and production techniques came full circle in 2017, when Odd Future collaborator acclaimed rapper Vince Staples snagged Sophie's production for two tracks on his second album 'Big Fish Theory'.

The record was a critical triumph, cementing Staples' reputation as one of the most forward-thinking voices in rap – and much was owed to the progressive production throughout. Yet 'Yeah Right' stands out on such a high-quality album – Sophie's sub-destroying beat driving the track, but providing plenty of space for Staples, and indeed Kendrick Lamar on a sparkling guest verse, to breathe.

Further forays into hip-hop production proved equally successful for Sophie, with Quay Dash collaborations 'Bossed Up' and 'Queen Of This Shit' two under-appreciated tracks especially worth checking out.

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'It's Okay To Cry'

While Sophie's visionary production and song-writing techniques will see them rightly celebrated as a pioneer, it may well be their inspirational impact for queer and transgender fans that sees their become an icon.

The first single and opening track to their much anticipated debut album 'Oil Of Every Pearl's Un-Insides', 'It's Okay To Cry' is a world away from the hyperreal pop or dancefloor bangers of their previous releases. Instead, it's a raw and tender power ballad, a vulnerable yet confident affirmation of identity and emotional candor.

An introduction to Sophie as a person rather than a producer – 'It's Okay To Cry' was a profound statement in announcing a glorious metamorphosis; not only the shedding of their anonymity of previous releases, but in announcing their gender, identity and appearance proudly and joyously. Sophie was a truly inspirational and authentic artist with as much to say about non-conformity and visibility as she had about pioneering production techniques and peerless song-writing, someone who pushed boundaries in their music, and in society.

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Words: David Weaver

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