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On SOPHIE, Avant-Club, & Queerness

The following article is a reprint from the original 2019 U92 Zine following the tragic death this week of SOPHIE at just 34 years old.

Combining abrasive, experimental club sounds with the glamor and gloss of pop music, the Scottish-born, LA-based musician Sophie (stylized as SOPHIE) is one of the first transgender artists to break through the barriers of the pop industry. Having caught the attention of major artists such as Lady Gaga, Madonna, Charli XCX, and Vince Staples, Sophie has made a name for herself from the inside. Prior to the release of her Grammy nominated debut album “Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides” in 2018, Sophie primarily produced for other artists while making smaller experimental pop singles on the side. Taking a sonical left turn, her debut dived deep into a niche and experimental subgenre of electronic music. 

Sophie is one of a growing number of artists creating “avant-club," otherwise known as deconstructed club. This ‘sub-genre of a sub-genre’ is just as gritty and exclusive as it may seem; music that doesn’t quite fit in a traditional club setting, but just perfect for the underground scene. I would characterize it as glitchy, industrial, high impact, edgy club music. To contrast with EDM, it is far more experimental and has a much more dystopian tone to it. As I have found in my work of searching for new music, this sub-genre is also overwhelmingly queer. Many of the top avant-club performers are queer and, particularly, transgender or non-binary. 

Sophie is just one of many queer artists making this specific type of music, though she is the most popular and the first to reach the mainstream. Because of her personality and popularity, Sophie might soon become one of the most well known transgender figures. 

Trans visibility is important because very few transgender artists, musicians and actors are given time in the spotlight, despite their talents. At the end of 2018, GLAAD reported that the number of transgender characters on TV had increased by 9 from the previous year, to a total of 26. While this number is inevitably smaller than the total number of trans musicians, it shows how few trans representations most Americans are exposed to year-over-year. 

Music is an excellent way to increase visibility, as a media that essentially allows for full freedom of direction as well as a certain degree of privacy. Musicians generally have the choice to show only what they choose of their personal lives. Sophie’s sophisticated sound design and production skills have brought her notoriety from the upper echelon of pop stars. This is an upward trend that shows no signs of slowing down. As more transgender artists make waves in music, others will be inspired by them and do the same. From the perspective of the subgenre of deconstructed club, Sophie is pushing a niche genre into the mainstream and broadening listeners’ horizons.

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