In a moment when nearly every form of collective mourning is almost impossible, the sudden death of 34-year-old producer and musician Sophie on January 30 is uniquely painful. Over the past eight years, the Scottish-born musician has remade pop and electronic music in her own image, pushing both genres past their breaking point, leaving whole new worlds in their wake. At any other point in time, Sophie’s life would be honored in sweaty, packed nightclubs; instead, we were forced into solitary dance parties in apartments around the globe—still something, but not nearly enough.
That Sophie passed while reaching up to touch the first full moon of the year feels especially devastating. She was, perhaps, already an extrasolar being, bringing to life sonic worlds that burst from the brittle shell of existing pop music into unrealized new forms. Her formal experimentalism was perfectly poised against a knack for earwormy hooks. Tracks like “L.O.V.E” worked at the fulcrum between the two: The song’s abrasive moments tunneled into otherworldly dimensions, creating spaces where its crystalline beauty could expand in all directions, unconstrained by the expectations placed on more pedestrian pop tracks.
Sophie understood music’s radical potential. In a 2017 interview with Teen Vogue, she described drawing upon the tradition of queer resistance found in earlier house and disco music, updated to resonate with listeners today: “We’re in a different world now. I’m trying to imagine what music that’s positive, liberating, weird, dark, and real could be in the current day.” Particularly in collaboration with other queer artists like Le1f and Arca, we could begin to taste an immaterial world of Sophie’s making, where being anything we wanted meant pushing beyond the stifling confines of capitalist self-restraint.
Even in collaborations with high-wattage acts like Madonna, Sophie’s imprint was always obvious. Otherwise standard electronic fare like Cashmere Cat and M.O.’s “9 (After Coachella)” became essential listening thanks to her touch, explosive bursts of chaos remapping the possibilities of mainstream pop from the inside out. No other producer walked the tightrope between mass visibility, unmistakable idiosyncrasy, and underground credibility so elegantly. To create the body of work she did as a producer and solo artist—all while emerging from silence about her gender identity in the face of cruel comments about her “appropriative” femininity—still feels impossible in retrospect.
For trans people, Sophie’s impact has been inescapable. In the breakout track, 2013’s “BIPP,” I hear her channeling the emergent potential of synthetic hormones: “I can make you feel better, if you let me / I can make you feel better, if you want to,” a pitched-up voice sings with aching sincerity, giving expression to the little blue Estradiol pills that patiently waited for me after years of detached longing.
Even before she began her own gender transition, Sophie’s music gave us a new vocabulary: As Harron Walker writes in Jezebel, “I didn’t have those words at the time, much less the rudimentary understanding of who I was and what I wanted that would’ve been needed to speak them into existence.” Operating beyond the inherent limitations of language, her music was a conduit, a resonance chamber where both present joy and future transformation were celebrated. Also on “BIPP”: “However you’re feeling, I can make you feel better.”
Knowing how Sophie’s final moments were spent reaching for the night sky, I was reminded of a poster that’s framed on my bedroom wall. An azure moon rises behind four lavender pillars, not unlike the place Sophie found herself at the end, living near ancient ruins in Athens, Greece. The poster reads: “Finally, a time to look at the same moon and know we are looking together. A time of balance—of being and becoming, both present and planning. A chance to grow up again with empathy, not apathy. The same moon it’s always been, but now, we notice it’s for all of us.”
All signs suggested that 2021 was likely to be another transformative year for Sophie. Last July, she released “HEAV3N SUSPENDED,” a 20-minute transmission that both encapsulated her sound and sounded unlike anything she’d created before. As we try to picture the people we’ll become following a year of devastating change, it seems particularly unfair that Sophie won’t be there to join us. After being contorted into unrecognizable forms just to survive these past 11 months, perhaps we can look forward to one day dancing to Sophie at a late-night, in-person rave—guided from beyond by someone whose fluid conception of being paid no mind to the static assumptions about gender and sound that greeted her early career.
On Saturday, I spent the day in shocked silence, punctuated by a call to my dear friend Sasha Geffen, whose copious writing on Sophie has lent depth to her brilliant music. Together, we mourned the last year that wasn’t, an alternate dimension in which Sophie would have played at Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago last July, where we could have been reunited in the gleeful frenzy of a sweaty summer mosh pit. After a year of inexplicable cruelty meted out through willful neglect and brutal violence, remembering this lost possibility pointed not toward the broken world that already was, but the possibility of changing things from within hostile conditions, as Sophie taught us.
Later that night, my partner and I held an impromptu dance party in our apartment. Deprived of so many excuses to get dressed up, we took the occasion to do our makeup, put on dancing shoes, and lose ourselves in bittersweet reverie for a few hours. As a blizzard raged outside our window, we watched the “It’s Okay To Cry” video, perhaps the most iconic moment of gender euphoria in trans history. While I’ve been transitioning for more than two years, only in recent weeks have I gotten closer to accepting my desire to identify as a woman in full force. Whenever I need reminding of why I’ve chosen this path, I return to the video, grateful that Sophie seemed to find as much joy as she did while on this plane.
For a moment, we stepped out into the silent night. I looked up, hoping to catch a glimpse of Sophie’s moon, but was blinded by the unrelenting snow. Back inside, I wrote the following words in her honor, knowing she’ll be with us whenever we choose to look at the night sky above us:
Gender euphoria is
seeing rainbow circles through
dancing the night away
remembering someone who
has left us too soon.