Entertainment

How SOPHIE Fans Are Recreating The Late Producer's Sound

Through technology, collaboration and a bit of ingenuity, fans are remaking the sounds SOPHIE left behind.

During an interview for her July 2019 DJ Mag cover story, the ever-dynamic electro-pop producer SOPHIE provided reason for the overwhelming cache of cerebral, eclectic, and transcendental unreleased tracks she would leave behind following her sudden passing in January of 2021. “I’ve toured it all without it being released — it gave great performance, but I’ve already gone too fast,” she said of her time spent touring after the release of her breakthrough 2018 studio album, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides. “I feel like I’ve definitely moved even beyond those ideas now.”

SOPHIE was referring to the assortment of songs she’d play at her live shows during this period that would never see an official release via her labels, Transgressive Records or the Glasgow-based Numbers. For fans at the time, this meant they had only three ways to get the full, bass-heavy new-music-experience from their favorite electronic savant: (1) see SOPHIE live, (2) hope patiently for the release of new music, despite the aforementioned dissonance between SOPHIE’s creative pace and the pace of the public’s consumption, or (3) attempt to reconstruct her music themselves.

It was a curious third option, actually, and one that not many other musicians’ fanbases possessed concurrently in either capability or inquisitiveness. The project of recreating SOPHIE’s sounds starts to make more sense, though, when one considers its synergy with SOPHIE’s own production techniques. Despite being guided loosely over the years by experimental pop tropes, SOPHIE was entirely entranced with synthesis and the manipulation of waveforms, or the enveloping of audio to create sounds that oscillated between harsh and ethereal — an exploratory and interactive art in and of itself.

Her fans’ eagerness to study and inspect her concepts through their own digital audio workstations (DAWs), like Ableton and Logic Pro X, was born out of just how inimitable her trademark “sound” became through public perception, as well. The additional exclusivity of official SOPHIE material only multiplied online hype surrounding full-length unreleased songs, along with amorphous melodic motifs more keen fans noticed she interloped repeatedly over the years in her live DJ sets (“Faceshopping.”) Any and all levels of output from the electronic producer excited fans, and the need to replicate high quality recordings of her work began through buzzes of excitement and academic-like reverence.

I first stumbled upon the SoundCloud account of a SOPHIE remakes enthusiast at some point in 2019 while looking for live recordings of a section from SOPHIE’s Meltdown Festival set at the Royal Festival Hall in London, in which she first played her jovial remix of Kim Petras’ debut-project namesake, “Clarity.” The account belonged to a musician named Lorence Edquid, who went by the producing alias trron.

“The account for trron was made originally for [synthwave] tracks, though I quickly forgot about it until my first remake, the intro to SOPHIE’s ‘Burn Rubber’ aka her Splice sample pack demo outro,” Edquid says of their eighth-grade beginnings as trron. “SOPHIE played a plethora of unreleased bangers that I was dying to hear in studio quality, and released works that I could already study properly.”

Edquid’s DAW setup for remaking SOPHIE’s tracks quickly began to mirror that of what SOPHIE used, a type of specificity and attention to detail integral to approaching an authentic representation of her sound library. “Through various videos and images I’ve seen of her, I found that she uses a Macbook with Ableton and Logic Pro X when outside her studio,” they note.

Edquid has undeniably amassed an impressive knowledge of SOPHIE’s craft through instrumental experimentation over the past three years they’ve been producing as trron, too. “I remember rummaging through presets in Logic Pro X’s EFM1 synth and finding the same preset, named Bell Swarm, she [used] in ‘Vroom Vroom’ and ‘Hot Pink.’ A majority of PRODUCT uses Errorsmith’s Razor,” they explain, referencing a Native Instruments synth used in SOPHIE’s earliest project. “The bell sound on ‘No Angel’ is a factory preset on reFX Nexus, but I haven’t been able to confirm for myself since the plug-in is way too big for my computer. I only have on-demand access to Razor, so it’s the only distinctly SOPHIE plug-in I incorporate into my production.”

Prior to 2020, some remake enthusiasts used a decentralized collection of discussion boards, like the PC Music subreddit, to hypothesize about such technical information related to SOPHIE’s production skills, Splice sample pack, and presets. On June 25, 2020, the #sophie-remakes Discord channel was created in the SOPHIEMSMSMSM server, categorized under “The Oil Realm.”

Conditions were never more perfect for the formation of an online community to discuss remaking SOPHIE’s tracks than when the majority of her new works remained unreleased in some replayable format to the public. The #sophie-remakes channel fostered discussion of SOPHIE’s musical capabilities in a DIY-forum-like workflow, both celebrating her textured artistry and clamoring for a piece of her genius. “When I came around it was about a month of people posting SOPHIE remakes in #sophie-leaks [now archived] until one of the mods created #sophie-remakes,” Edquid says. “I was ecstatic finally coming to talk in the SOPHIE server, because I usually didn’t have people who I could typically geek about SOPHIE with or even other people I could discuss remaking with. Now, I was having these discussions about the sounds SOPHIE made and how she possibly made them, with other people who love her just as much.”

Edquid’s excitement was perhaps key to the motivation behind the concept of SOPHIE “remakes” in the first place. It’s as if the sounds and textures in SOPHIE’s works were so exciting, so momentary, that fans couldn’t help but be so ambitious as to try and capture every sine wave and monomachine blip in their own reconstructions. This excitement was also what sustained the budding community of producers and artists on Discord, allowing them to consistently provide one another with feedback on their tracks. From small notes about EQ and Q&As about distortion, to just sharing progress updates, server members started sending audio files and SoundCloud links of their remakes to each other on a regular basis.

Even the current title of one of Edquid’s most storied remakes, “Clarity [with drums],” reflects the always-evolving fashion remakers work in, due mainly to the feedback loops on the #sophie-remakes Discord channel. There is an asymptotic limit on remakes, though, and a sense among fans that there will never be a perfect SOPHIE dupe — perhaps fittingly so, considering the conversations spurred about consumerism from her early projects like “Hey QT” and PRODUCT.

“I believe the hype surrounding some of SOPHIE’s unreleased work is what attracts most people to remake it. People were also fascinated with the sounds she made, how she dominated every synth she came in touch with. I think that was a push for some to see how far they could go doing the same,” Edquid says. “She created this unique musical and sound world that people wanted to emulate and play with.”

The news of SOPHIE’s death on January 30, 2021, at age 34, felt unreal to all those whose lives the icon touched. Every detail contained in play-by-play news reports released in the hours following her passing in Athens, Greece, intensified mourning on a global scale. Tributes and posts in her honor on social media flooded in from friends and collaborators, but a unique grief settled over the SOPHIEMSMSMSM Discord server, and more acutely for members of the #sophie-remakes channel.

On February 3, 2021, user activity returned to the remakes channel, but not without an undeniable tonal shift. “I think it’s a good creative outlet especially I think many people will be covering [her] songs too,” the server’s owner stated in the chat log. Where there once was clamoring in the chat for unreleased material, there were now users eulogizing SOPHIE’s life and legacy. A frantic need to analyze her very latest production capabilities was replaced by a sentimental and fragile calm in the months that followed her passing. One user posted a remake file for “L.O.V.E.,” one of SOPHIE’s first officially released songs — a track that’s been available to stream and purchase for nearly six years. There is a sense of reflection at the core of the remakes that get shared between users nowadays.

“If I just kept going on with trron, remaking and whatnot, I would just constantly remind myself that she’s gone. … I don't think it'd be good for me emotionally to keep on doing it,” Edquid says about their now-shelved trron SoundCloud account. “SOPHIE, especially as a young person, has impacted me in so many ways, but I want to express that in a way that isn't harmful to me.”

“There is no trron without SOPHIE. [This] account will be left up but will be inactive,” the bio for Edquid’s trron archive reads. Their grief is palpable even through just a couple lines of text, conveying years’ of closeness to her craftsmanship. I’m particularly reminded of Edquid’s relationship to SOPHIE’s melodies or beats in Ableton when a friend of mine shows me her own replication of a favorite painting she’s planning to hang in her new apartment. A master of one’s medium takes on dedicated apprentices every day without ever coming to know them.

But SOPHIE perhaps knew of her most actively-listening students. In contemporary and close friend A.G. Cook’s heartfelt eulogy for SOPHIE, the PC Music head wrote anecdotally about SOPHIE’s idea for a music experimentation platform based on stems prior to her death. “Sometime at the beginning of [2020] ... she was completely disenchanted with the conservative notion of ‘the album,’” Cook wrote. “With a mix of self-aware hubris and total dedication, she sketched out this idea of an extremely generous platform that would give listeners ... access to stems, fragments, and revisions of her music.” In hindsight, SOPHIE displayed such a keen awareness of her works’ intertextual potential through the concept for this platform — a potential still made so alive through her fans’ continued organizing and remaking of her works.