In a climbing accident in Greece on Saturday, Sophie Xeon, the Grammy-nominated producer-musician whose groundbreaking work fused sweet pop melodies with electronic noises into a genre now known as hyper-pop, died. She is 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.”
Equally influenced by pop rock and the grinding industrial sounds of acts like Autechre, Sophie’s presence was soon visible in the more ambitious realms of the pop world from the release of her first single, “Nothing More to Say,” in 2013. She collaborated with Madonna for two years on her meme-spawning hit, “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.”
In recent years, the sound has expanded rapidly through acts such as 100 Gecs and artists on Cook’s PC Music label, and he can hear the influence of Sophie on nearly any artist on Spotify’s Hyperpop playlist.
Founded as Samuel Long in September 1986 in Glasgow, Scotland, she attended local raves as a child, started DJing and producing as a youth, and began dropping agro-electronic singles such as “Nothing More to Say,” “Bipp/Elle,” and, one year later, the oddly frenetic classic “Lemonade/Hard.”
“By 2015, she was working on her 2017 audience-polarizing album “Big Fish Hypothesis” with Madonna, Charli XCX and, later, Los Angeles rapper Vince Staples. Although she was originally reclusive and performed concerts shrouded by dim lighting or from a D.J. Ultimately, booth, she came out as transgender.
Sophie then concentrated on her own work, releasing the eerily beautiful “Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides” in 2018, which won her a 2019 Grammy Award nomination for Best Dance/Electronic Song. Her most recent work was collaborations and remixes with like-minded musicians such as Arca, Cashmere Cat, Brooke Candy and Shygirl.
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.”
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.”
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.”