SOPHIE

SOPHIE at Ladyland in Brooklyn, NY on June 22, 2018,

Jul 12, 2018 Web Exclusive
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There is no such thing as a SOPHIE DJ set. Behind a table littered with MIDI controllers and with the volumemostly the bassturned to at least 12, she can make any pop song with even a hint of darkness sound like she produced it. Each and every sound heard when she takes the stage is an expression of herself, her influences, her musical goals. Coming from one of the most influential and visionary pop music producers of the past half-decade, this diversity of musical stripes can be incredibly revealing and even cathartic.

Placed in the context of a headline set at the first annual Ladyland (an LGBTQ+ music fest that queer icon Ladyfag presents deep in East Williamsburg at the absolutely majestic, sprawling venue Brooklyn Mirage), SOPHIE's performance becomes even more meaningful. To see a trans womanone who hid what she looks like and even what her voice sounds like until four years into an already massive careernot just engaging, but absolutely commanding a room dominated by cisgendered white gay men is nothing short of vital. The trans community is certainly the most oppressed in the LGBTQ+ spectrum, and with transphobia so frequent from even within the LGBTQ+ community, to watch SOPHIE stare straight into the crowd with a look so stern as to nearly be robotic, to watch her jerk her shoulders forward forcefully and quickly when her starkest bass drops hitt's just as intense as her music is.

And her music can be intense. Following a two-hour DJ set by the always reliable Total Freedom, SOPHIE took the stage and opened with "Not Okay," the brutal and brief centerpiece of her years-in-the-making recent debut album, OIL OF EVERY PEARL's UN-INSIDES (which extensively features vocals from Cecile Believe, fka Mozart's Sister). The song had officially been out for only a week at the time of her set, but every personagain, mostly cisgendered white gay menin the room screamed its (admittedly simple) lyrics and jumped up and down in excitement. "Whole New World:Pretend World," which sounds like a terrifying, industrial soundtrack for a queer BDSM runway show, followed, and it elicited a similarly overjoyed, communal reaction from the audience. A trans woman leading a room of LGBTQ+ folks in shouting "Whole! New! World!" at the top of their lungs while bouncing gleefully off one another is a completely unsubtle call for revolution, and a much-needed one at that.

From there, SOPHIE ventured into other worksmostly not hersbut never tempered the distorted, searing bass that has become one of a handful of unmistakable signature traits across her work producing for herself, Charli XCX, Vince Staples, and plenty of others. She managed to bind disparate songs and eras together in a way that felt entirely hers, but there was one glaring problem: Few people make songs as viscerally riveting, as excitingly stuffed with high-pitched, digitally altered, PVC-esque vocals, and that roaring, vicious bass, as SOPHIE does, and her set suffered for the contrast. "Bipp," her breakthrough 2013 single, wasn't a part of her set, even though it's prime gay dancefloor material; back-to-back OIL highlights "Ponyboy" and "Faceshopping" didn't make the cut either, even though the video for the former suggests that SOPHIE is capable of producing a breathtaking, deconstructive, full-on live showwith dancers!that would capitalize on the dismantling of patriarchal gender, sexuality, and identity norms that her music both implicitly and explicitly explores. Although "Hard" appeared in SOPHIE's encorewhich ended an hour after she began (i.e., her set was way too short, especially since Total Freedom spun for two hours prior)in an extended form that ripped apart, rebuilt, and then re-destroyed its structure, it felt like too little, too late.

In one of the few mixed reviews that ran of OIL OF EVERY PEARL's UN-INSIDES, Stereogum wrote, "the follow-through leaves something to be desired.... sadly this one feels like a bit of a letdown." Reviews are subjective: I personally think the album is unstoppable and an absolute trip, a landmark for pop and electronic music (and this from a producer who has already left her weirdo fingerprint on the work of artists as mainstream as Yelle, MØ, and even Madonna), but SOPHIE's Ladyland set fit Stereogum's description to a tee. Its revolutionary potential, its empowering beginning of "Not Okay" and "Whole New World:Pretend World," were ultimately squandered, and this notion might not be subjective: The audience visibly connected less to her choices of other artists' songs than her own. At the set's end, someone in the crowd said to a friend that although he had fun, he had really set much higher hopes for her set and was going to call it a night. SOPHIE's set exhausted her crowd, but not in the way the best performances do.

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