SOPHIE is pushing the boundaries of 21st-century pop music

This article is from 2018


credit: Charlotte Wales

SOPHIE's addition in the EIF programme with Glasgow label Numbers signals a seachange for the International Festival

Since 2013, SOPHIE has been widely recognised for her effervescent experimentations within the pop landscape. Distorting the recognisable textures, artificial melodies and dizzying playfulness of mainstream pop, she succeeds in creating a visceral pastiche of the familiar. Early singles like 'Bipp', 'Elle', 'Lemonade' and 'Hard', released on forward-thinking Glasgow label Numbers, are kinetic and colourful fusions of genre and style, but with her new album OIL OF EVERY PEARL's UN-INSIDES, the producer, songwriter and DJ presents something that breaks the mould of pop as we know it.

'I suppose it has a lot of ideas that I've always kept close to me and wanted to communicate through music,' she explains. 'Liberation was a big theme on this album. And also liberation from a lot of ideas in terms of concepts that feel oppressive within music or within society. And those things were on my mind around the time of the creation of the album and they ended up being central themes, expressed in different ways and in different moods in songs.'

Up until fairly recently, SOPHIE was something of an enigma in the music industry; a seemingly anonymous creator of pop wizardry with a knack for penning ultra-hyper, bubblegum-flavoured bangers. Having made her first public appearance last year in the self-directed video for her sprawling ballad 'It's Okay To Cry', it feels as though SOPHIE has finally emerged from behind a shroud of mystery, materialising as the avant-garde pop star of our modern, digital age.

'I think that I do find a more natural mode of expression and sound in pop music,' she says when asked about her affinity for the aesthetics of pop. 'Musically, what I'm interested in doing is visual by nature because I spend a lot of time synthesising textures and therefore as the song develops, it already has a very distinct bunch of visual elements. So for example, when I was doing a live performance recently, the moving image visuals which were played on the LED screen had a lot of propaganda-style imagery and bold words and I really wanted it to be as literal as possible. I wanted to spell out words without trying to abstract the messages of the songs. I wanted the messages to be as bold and sharp as possible. And that's an approach that I try to take in all of my music.'

Her skills as a songwriter and producer have earned her some well-deserved credits and collaborations with the likes of Madonna, Vince Staples, Kendrick Lamar and Charli XCX, but OIL is a new beast entirely, placing SOPHIE front and centre. It's the product of an artistic vision that is daring, highly expressive and ultimately powerful in the delivery of its themes and concepts.

'It tends to happen that when I'm writing a lot of music, some of it will be collaborative, involving trying to bring people together, combining our ideas and finding common ground. And other times, it's really like meditation for myself in terms of designing sounds. Certain things I'll think of as SOPHIE songs because they have the right number of dimensions, new sounds and design ideas which interact with the lyrical purpose, which also interact with concepts and beliefs that I want to express to the world.'

Though she now lives in LA, SOPHIE will soon be arriving in Edinburgh to play the International Festival, where she'll take to the stage for the Numbers night at Leith Theatre alongside Lanark Artefax, Spencer and Sofay. The event, which is part of the Light on the Shore programme, signifies a real seachange in the International Festival's approach to contemporary music, which has often taken a back seat to more classical strands. But the addition of the Numbers crew to the programme and the appearance of SOPHIE represents something hugely positive for both the city and the Festival moving forwards: it proves that there's a space for electronic music and more abstract forms of art on big international stages. Certainly, SOPHIE is excited to be involved and working with Numbers again.

'It's a really big deal to me. I think I've been very inspired by all of those people in that scene and what they represent and just their attitudes to music and life in general. It does feel exciting and I'm very happy to be a part of the International Festival's movement forwards.

'I've always thought of electronic music as the future,' she continues. 'I think the great writers of the past, the classical composers, if they were around today, they would be working in the same field because it just allows you potentially infinite possibilities with expression. So it does make sense to me that it follows that lineage.'


Her upcoming performance in Edinburgh comes at a time of real growth for SOPHIE, both emotionally and professionally, and the responses to OIL have highlighted the connection that people feel to her brand of minimalist and cerebral pop.

'I feel energised to keep doing what I'm doing. It's basically non-stop and I find that in between doing shows, I'm really working quite hard. I do get energy from touring and speaking to people and being in these different cities. I try to build a certain set-up and studio and work with people I meet or local people that inspire me in every place I go. My plan, I think, is to continue to be as ambitious as possible over the next year.'

As an antidote to the chaos of the 21st century, pop music fits hand-in-hand with our increasingly digitalised culture. SOPHIE, as part of a new generation of artists, encourages the construction of alternative realities with her music, temporarily taking us out of the mess and noise of the world's many problems.

'I think that everything is a response to what's going on around me,' she says. 'Certainly, I try to make my music relative to things that I've seen and feel that are happening in the world. I think that's almost your job as an artist; to be perceptive in responding to new alternatives. It's like we have to predict the future a tiny bit and make a suggestion on how things might progress from where we currently are.'

Pop music has forever been the epitome of escapism; a provocative, fantastical and synthetic look at reality. In her writing and production, SOPHIE has contributed to a shift in the nature and vernacular of 21st-century pop, abstracting its core elements to create a new type of modern escapism.

SOPHIE, Lanark Artefax, Spencer & Sofay: Presented by Numbers, Leith Theatre, 11 Aug, 10.30pm, £15.

SOPHIE, Lanark Artefax, Spencer & Sofay

Glasgow record label Numbers presents an evening of exciting names in electronic music, with innovative live performance and DJ sets from a selection of national and international guests including SOPHIE, Lanark Artefax, Spencer and Sofay. A leading Scottish exponent of original and forward thinking electronic music…