“I could be anything I want.” This is the gleeful, defiant lyric at the heart of “Immaterial”, one of SOPHIE’s most cherished songs. The late Scottish-born electronic artist was an expert at deconstructing pop forms and playfully piecing the bits back together. Here, Madonna’s “Material Girl” is inverted, stripped of the physical. The corporeal – our bodies – are tossed away entirely: “Without my legs or my hair/Without my genes or my blood/With no name and with no type of story/Where do I live?/Tell me, where do I exist?”
“Immaterial” instantly became a queer anthem when it was released in 2018, just months after SOPHIE publicly came out as a trans woman. It was destined to be played in sweaty basement nightclubs as much as in lonely, darkened bedrooms. The song was a personal document of transness, a means of “taking control to bring your body more in line with your soul and spirit so the two aren’t fighting against each other”, as SOPHIE put it in an interview. But it also continued SOPHIE’s incredible ability to break boundaries – the boundaries between pop and the underground, between sarcastic and sincere, between art and advert. Why be one thing, when you can be anything you want?
That limitless approach to creation was evident in SOPHIE’s first singles, especially through sound design. Just like a mind without a body, a SOPHIE track starts as a blank canvas. Software synthesisers are fine-tuned and manipulated to sound like tangible objects – fizzy drinks, rubber dolls, latex, sewer systems. The sounds on “Lemonade” and “Hard” are distinct: the former feels like being inside a spiked energy drink can that’s been shaken violently by a toddler; the latter is a cartoony, deadpan club banger that stretches and distorts its instruments into alien fetish gear and sheet metal. Both feel like a kind of magic. And, like the best magic, none of the joy is lost in knowing it’s a trick. A SOPHIE track proudly places the artifice front and centre, challenging the listener to consider the idea of “fake” as being positive. This idea notion was made both poignant and playfully sinister on “Faceshopping” years later.
This early collection of singles, released on Glasgow’s Numbers label, earned international acclaim and quickly established SOPHIE as one of the most exciting voices in music. The cult smash “BIPP”, the second single SOPHIE released, emerged from the underbelly of Glasgow clubs such as La Cheetah, and soon flew across the world at a rapid pace.
Before long, SOPHIE began a fruitful partnership with AG Cook at PC Music, a collective that also believed in the power of artifice to disrupt pop culture norms. The duo, along with the performance artist Hayden Frances Dunham, created QT, a popstar avatar who released just one song, which doubled as an advert for an…