Sophie, Grammy-Nominated Avant-Pop Musician, Dies at 34

A.D. Amorosi and Jem Aswad
·4 min read

Sophie Xeon, the Grammy-nominated producer-musician whose pioneering work combined sweet pop melodies with mechanical noises into a genre now known as hyper-pop, died in a climbing accident in Greece on Saturday. She was 34.

“True to her spirituality she had climbed up to watch the full moon and accidentally slipped and fell,” a statement from her label announcing her death reads. “She will always be here with us.”

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Equally inspired by pop music and the crushing industrial sounds of acts like Autechre, from the release of her first single, “Nothing More to Say,” in 2013, Sophie’s influence was quickly evident throughout the more adventurous realms of the pop world. Within two years she was working with Madonna on her meme-spawning song, “Bitch, I’m Madonna.”

Of her 2018 debut album, “Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides,” Variety wrote, “Sophie combines sweet pop melodies and sounds with absolutely hideous noise — grinding, clanking, blaring, burbling, blurting, unpleasant and jarring sounds, wildly autotuned voices — to create a form of pop music that, if not entirely new, may never before have been presented in such extreme fashion.”

British singer-songwriter Charli XCX, who had been pursuing a successful but more conventional pop career, abruptly changed direction with the release of her Sophie-produced 2016 EP, “Vroom Vroom.” Charli, who with collaborator A.G. Cook was awarded Variety’s Hitmakers Innovator award in December, said she had long been seeking a more aggressive pop sound in her music. “It was only when I met Sophie and then A.G. that I finally found what I was searching for,” she said. “We just immediately spoke the same language — we didn’t even have to talk.”

That sound has spread rapidly in recent years via acts like 100 Gecs and artists on Cook’s PC Music label, and Sophie’s influence can he heard in virtually every artist on Spotify’s Hyperpop playlist.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland as Samuel Long in September 1986, she attended local raves as a kid, began DJ-ing and producing as an adolescent, and by 2013 began dropping aggro-electronic singles such as “Nothing More to Say,” “Bipp/Elle,” and, one year later, the weirdly frenetic dance floor classic “Lemonade/Hard.” By 2015, she was working with Madonna, Charli XCX and, later, Los Angeles rapper Vince Staples on his audience-polarizing 2017 album “Big Fish Theory.” While she was initially reclusive and performed concerts shrouded by dim lighting or from a D.J. booth, she ultimately came out as transgender.

Sophie then focused on her own work, releasing the eerily elegant “Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides” in 2018, which earned her a 2019 Best Dance/Electronic Album Grammy Award nomination. Her most recent work was collaborations and remixes with like-minded artists such as Arca, Cashmere Cat, Brooke Candy and Shygirl.

Tributes poured out early Saturday as the news spread of Sophie’s death. Words of British vocalist Sam Smith, wrote on Twitter: “Heartbreaking news. The world has lost an angel. A true visionary and icon of our generation.”

Legendary producer and Chic cofounder Nile Rodgers wrote, “#RestInPower SOPHIE! You were one of the most innovative, dynamic, and warm persons I had the pleasure of working with at 2019 ⁦@southbankcentre.”

Producer-musician Jack Antonoff, who has worked extensively with Taylor Swift, Lorde, the Chicks and others, wrote on Twitter, “To me the genius of Sophie was how she took this concept of bigger brighter harder shinier, a tool that so many have used cynically, and made it brilliant & challenging.”

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