U.K. Producer SOPHIE Q&A: On Secrecy, Synthesis & What's Next

Courtesy of The Windish Angency
U.K. Producer SOPHIE is Popularizing Kawaii Style Through EDM

Mysterious U.K. producer SOPHIE, who is best known for the use of post-generational bass and vanguard style of sound engineering, has lately been lighting up the Billboard + Twitter Emerging Artists and Trending 140 charts.

On July 27, SOPHIE released the song "LEMONADE," which appeared on the real-time Trending 140 chart for eight days, peaking at No. 2 on July 29. As a result, SOPHIE hit No. 8 on the weekly version of the Emerging Artists chart.

The producer followed up the release of "LEMONADE" with the equally experimental track "HARD" on Aug. 5. The song charted at No. 22 on the Emerging Artists chart during the week of Aug. 11 and at No. 72 on the Trending 140 chart.

SOPHIE is associated with the Glasgow-based label Numbers, which has also produced artists like Rustie, who charted on July 26 at No. 2 on the Trending 140 chart with "Attak," from his forthcoming Green Language LP. SOPHIE's last official solo debut was back in June 2013 with his two releases, "BIPP" and "ELLE," which have a combined 800,000 plays on SoundCloud.

SOPHIE's sound production shares a lot of the same properties as kawaii style of music, which originated in Japan. The music is poppy and euphoric and often includes high-pitched vocals, similar to how one would sound after inhaling helium out of a balloon. Kawaii means cute and adorable, and is aesthetically represented in J-pop and K-pop music videos with child-like palettes and playful themes. Brands like Hello Kitty are synonymous with kawaii style.

Between releases, SOPHIE has been writing for J-pop superstar and YouTube Sensation Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, who has charted four times on Billboard's World Albums chart in the past two years and has accumulated more than 60 million YouTube views.  Pamyu Pamyu is best known for spearheading the post-traditional kawaii movement, which mixes cute with grotesque. This unconventional style of kawaii has been described as anything that steers listeners away from their sense of balance and normalcy, but still prompts an automatic response of pleasure. 

The basic idea of kawaii style propels KyaryPamyuPamyu's popular single "PONPONPON."

SOPHIE interviewed Kyary Pamyu Pamyu for Dazed earlier this year at Atlantic Records in London, where the producer brought an odd array of props, including a car tire, a beach ball and a real octopus. The purpose was for Pamyu Pamyu to judge the objects by their immediate, surface-level qualities and answer the question "cute" or "not cute," which ties into SOPHIE's focus of sound creation.

The intersection between kawaii and American pop culture was spotlighted during Gwen Stefani's 2004 Harajuku Lovers tour. During the tour, Stefani toured with four female backup dancers posing as Japanese Harajuku girls. Lady Gaga has included the "cute" style in her "#ARTPOP" movement. During a performance on Fuzzy Keytar in Japan in November 2013, Lady Gaga adapted the kawaii style into her performance of "Applause."

On April 23, 2014, Avril Lavigne released the video for "Hello Kitty," which she described as an homage to Pamyu Pamyu. The video was met with mixed reviews, some claiming the video to be racist.

Where these artists are Americanizing the kawaii style through mainstream pop, SOPHIE is taking a different route. By increasing the tempo enough to be considered electronic music and expanding the range of sounds, SOPHIE is not only creating a new type of electronic music, but an opportunity for the kawaii style to be exposed to a different market.

During a rare and exclusive interview with Billboard, conducted via email, SOPHIE discussed the methodology behind the imagery and the process of sound creation.

(Editor's note: All of SOPHIE's responses -- except the final answer -- were originally sent in ALL CAPS but were edited to traditional sentence-case type for readability.) 

Please tell us about your alias SOPHIE. Why the secrecy? 

The music is not about where someone grew up or what they look like against a wall therefore you should try to use every opportunity available to say what you're trying to say instead of saying here's my music and this is what I look like. Nobody cares.

Was there a particular message or feeling that you were trying to provoke from your fans with your previous singles "BIPP" and "ELLE"? How does that differ from "LEMONADE"?

Exothermic body reactions in both cases.

What have been your most recent projects between BIPP / ELLE release and the upcoming Numbers album?

I produced a song for QT. It's called HEY QT. It's coming, QT. 

What genre do you coin yourself?

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Who has been your favorite artist or producer to work with so far and do you have any in particular artist you would love to work with in the future?

Whoever's interested in pooling together skills to make the most fun thing in the world.

When you are in the process of creating, do you see colors? If so, what colors did you see while making "LEMONADE" and "HARD"? (Seeing color as a result of sensory stimulation is a neurological phenomenon known as Synesthesia). 

A lot more so I think about physics and materials. "LEMONADE" is made out of bubbling, fizzing, popping and "HARD" is made from metal and latex -- they are sort of sculptures in this way. I synthesize all sounds except for vocals using raw waveforms and different synthesis methods as opposed to using samples. This means considering the physical properties of materials and how those inform the acoustic properties. For instance -- why does a bubble have an ascending pitch when popped and why does metal clang when struck and what is this clanging sound in terms of pitch and timbre over time? How do I synthesize this? Perhaps after learning about these things it might be possible to create entirely new materials through synthesis.