Release Date: Nov 27, 2015
Record label: Numbers
Genre(s): Pop, Electronic, Pop/Rock, Club/Dance, Alternative Dance, Left-Field Pop
Artists as thoroughly divisive as SOPHIE don't come around often, so when they do it's worthwhile to analyze where the disconnects are. Of course, the actual music is always a factor, and SOPHIE's singles to date have ranged from effusive to unprecedented to befuddling, depending on who you ask. But the deepest rifts have been more conceptual than specific, with questions and critiques on the merits of underground dance music that's so unabashedly silly, bright and enamored with pop and EDM tropes.
Samuel Long earns the rarest of pop boasts: He doesn’t sound like anyone else. This isn’t lost on the once-anonymous, lowercase male who’s adopted the uppercase female name SOPHIE and has likened his music to molecular gastronomy. (There’s one chief difference, though — it’s far cheaper than eating at the Fat Duck.) At press time, all but one track on SOPHIE’s long-brewing debut “album” PRODUCT (which totals a spry 25 minutes) are available free on SoundCloud, and four of them were rounding the year-end list circuit before 2015.
"We can go crazy and go pop," a helium-laden voice chirps on Product, the cheekily named singles collection from SOPHIE (aka producer Samuel Long), which was also sold as platform shoes, sunglasses, and a puffy jacket. It's an apt manifesto for SOPHIE's music, which nods to the subversive fun of PC Music; Long and the collective's mastermind, A.G. Cook, collaborated on "Hey QT," one of PC Music's most prominent artifacts.
Although SOPHIE, aka Samuel Long, first drew attention in 2013 for "Nothing More to Say," it was the undeniable plastic pop of "Bipp" that really established his sound and made him one of the most sought-after producers of the last few years. His aesthetic, which loosely reflects that of his pals on PC Music, is as vinyl-smooth as that label's pop confections, but harbours a latent darkness, too; there's something threatening about the manic energy of SOPHIE's music, and it adds a layer of intrigue to the songs on Product. Less an album than a collection of SOPHIE's singles over the past three years, Product — available as a download, CD, 4x12-inch or as a menacing black sex toy referred to harmlessly as a "silicon product" — provides an all-in-one-place glimpse of an artist whose flirtation with Top 40 (he's produced for Madonna, Charli XCX and Le1f) is tempered by an unshakeable feeling that he's critiquing pop as much as paying tribute to it.
Digital music is a particularly slippery genre to corral into neat theses. But a few distinct strands have recently found their way out of the margins and into the mainstream. Many look backwards: the 21st-century house revival of outfits such as Disclosure, say; brisk with 0s and 1s, but easy on the ear. One in particular looks forwards, pupils dilated, teeth full of cavities: a hyper-processed sound nailed by the London-based PC Music collective, but most succinctly embodied by Sophie – real name, Samuel Long – the PC Music affiliate who has come furthest.
Little more than two years ago, a mysterious song started swirling around the internet—a sugar-coated, maximalist anthem of bubblegum bass, as most people would later learn to call such tag. The song in question was “BIPP”, by London-based electronic music producer SOPHIE—real name Samuel Long, as fans would take a while to figure out—released via the then infant, entirely internet-based label/collective called PC Music. It sounded like nothing else this decade had witnessed thus far—an unabashed, trap-oriented take on 1990s colourful pop music.
If one were to focus only on the helium-high vocals that run the entire way through Product, it would be all too easy to write off U.K. producer SOPHIE as an immaterial, hyper pop wannabe. But glitching, twitching cuts like "Lemonade" and "Bipp" demonstrate a unique ear for turning serrated cut 'n' paste beat patterns into remarkably compelling propositions.
The most appealing aspect of PRODUCT doesn’t have anything to do with the music itself. In fact, give SOPHIE's, aka UK producer Samuel Long, compendium of singles a fair amount of listens and your opinion of it will probably not waver too much. Its musical appeal is purely surface-level, serving an appetizing platter of gleaming, rickety sounds that are grossly considered consumer goods.
When music from the project SOPHIE first emerged in 2013, it sounded state-of-the-art. It was the work of a producer who had rarely been photographed and who never gave interviews, which seemed appropriate if also tiresome. Such mystery had long become a cliché by this point, but uncertain authorship suited these bulbous, sparkly audio objects, which seemed to float down out of the sky like a cluster of neon-colored balloons ready to pop.
Whether ballads or bangers, pop songs come designed to spike our blood sugar. They’re meant to scoop up as many ears as possible into the invisible alchemy of mass appeal, to solidify themselves as cultural touchstones, to fill our veins up with uncomplicated pleasure. So, what happens when you take the slickest, most crystalline ingredients in pop’s arsenal and twist them into something ever so slightly sinister? You get Sophie.
The debut album by the mysterious electronic producer Sophie – actually a compilation of two previously released singles and four new tracks – comes in a variety of formats, and not just the usual download, CD and deluxe vinyl options. According to Sophie’s website, Product has also been released as a variety of objects, purchasers of which get MP3s of the songs as well. The shoes, sunglasses and quilted jacket have apparently already sold out, leaving only one item available: it retails for £50, is described as a “skin-safe, odourless and tasteless platinum silicon product”, and looks suspiciously like what would once have been tactfully called a marital aid.
London-based producer Sophie (aka Samuel Long) describes himself as a sound sculpturist, basing his music on "raw wave forms" and bass lines rather than samples and drums to evoke things like moisturizer, energy drinks, molecular cooking, balloons and, in the case of the song Hard, getting a boner from a latex glove yanking a ponytail. That probably sounds somewhat abstract, but unlike more ascetic, cerebral producers, Sophie's world is full of hyper-colour. It's heavily indebted to the cheery aesthetics of European bubblegum pop, aggressively playing up the genre's artifice through his emphasis on sonic tactility.
Product [prod-uh kt, -uhkt]; noun. “1. A thing produced by labor: products of farm and factory; the product of his thought. 2. A person or thing produced by or resulting from a process, as a natural, social, or historical one; result: He is a product of his time.”. Whilst both definitions are ….
BEING SOPHIE seems exhausting. As one of the more prolific characters associated with the helium-filled dance pop of England’s PC Music label, Sophie has spent the past two years in a frenzied state of multitasking. His penchant for dropping buoyant, elastic bangers like change on the sidewalk feels more natural than calculated. Meanwhile, his collaborations with divisive artists like A.