Born: September 17, 1986;

Died: January 30, 2021.

SOPHIE, who has died aged 34 following an accident in Greece, was one of the most innovative musical talents of the 21st century so far. Whether producing mainstream hits for global superstars like Madonna, or composing her own visceral slices of avant-pop, the Glaswegian contributed to the evolution of the entire pop genre by pushing the limits of its musical possibilities while embracing her own pull towards the idiosyncratic.

Remaining anonymous early in her career, Sophie was soon recognised as the mysterious wunderkind behind some of pop’s most colourful and futurist constructions, including the 2014 saccharine-sweet Hey QT.

She remained largely out of the public eye, once sending a drag queen in her place during a 2014 live set, setting herself up as a cryptic entity that many attempted to decode. When she finally made her first official appearance as Sophie (the name was always printed in capitals) in the self-directed video for the 2017 single, It’s Okay To Cry, the cloak of anonymity was lifted to reveal an artist untied to any rigid binaries or definitions of what gender, art or creativity should be.

The transgender musician revealed something fearless but beautiful, her face and naked torso front and centre, a visible expression of the freedom and autonomy that would embolden both the trans and wider LGBTQ+ community. Her legacy went beyond music. She was a queer trailblazer and an icon of otherness, the synthesis of her sound and visuals becoming a sanctuary for anyone that felt in any way different.

This was palpable during her 2018 appearance at Leith Theatre, where she headlined a show presented by the Glasgow record label, Numbers, as part of Edinburgh International Festival. It felt like a game-changing moment for both the festival and the city, the hugely diverse audience visibly thrilled to be able to welcome this pop pioneer and epitome of queer self-expression into an institution traditionally reserved for more classical forms of art.

In an interview for The List prior to her show, Sophie spoke from Athens about her excitement at returning to Scotland and seeing family, who would be coming to Edinburgh especially to watch her perform. She also understood and appreciated the relevance of her inclusion on such big international stages, commenting: “I’m very happy to be a part of that movement forward. I’ve always thought of electronic music as the future.”

Sophie Xeon was born Samuel Long in Glasgow, and developed an early love for electronic music via her father, whose rave cassette tapes she escaped into for hours on end. She learned how to experiment with sounds using a keyboard and simple pieces of equipment, which progressed into a fascination with the idea of producing music full-time.

Her professional career began in the early 2000s, when she moved to Berlin to join the dance-pop band, Motherland. Before long she was attracting attention for her own compositions, including early singles like the glistening electro-house of Nothing More To Say, released on Glasgow label Huntleys & Palmers; and the liquid helium-infused anthem Bipp, and the fizzing bubblegum song Lemonade, both issued by Numbers.

Around this time, she began working with producer and PC Music label boss AG Cook, whose similarly synthetic sounds made them kindred spirits.

Soon she was in demand, being headhunted by Madonna to co-produce her 2015 single, Bitch I’m Madonna, and collaborate with such cutting-edge names as singer Charli XCX, rapper Vince Staples and experimental pop duo, Let’s Eat Grandma.

When she released her debut studio album Oil Of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides in 2018, she was breaking into new territory, both musically and conceptually. It placed her dynamic production techniques at the forefront, but with added chaos, bliss and humour in equal effect. “Liberation was a big theme on this album,” she explained to The List, prior to the album’s release. “And also liberation from a lot of ideas in terms of concepts that feel oppressive within music or within society.”

While Sophie collaborated with numerous artists, she made clear in 2015 that she didn’t want her own music remixed by anyone, except her “heroes”, Autechre. The pioneering electronic duo delivered the goods earlier this year with their remix of Bipp, released by Numbers.

“Everything we did with Sophie felt like a leap into uncharted territories,” Numbers said in a collective comment. “For the single Bipp, we sent Autechre every file imaginable and they delivered something incredibly short, punchy and stripped back. It was both old and new, a cycle of influence between Sophie and Autechre. Sophie loved that – it was always about moving forwards.”

Her widespread influence is evident from the response to her passing, with many speculating on where she could have gone next on her fantastical sonic journey.

She was always thinking ahead and envisioning the potential of a better future, inviting others into her universe to do the same. In her own words: “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.”

She is survived by her girlfriend, Evita Manji.

Arusa Qureshi