Immaterial: Sophie, Gender, and Identity

For as long as I can remember, I hated my body. This wasn’t clear to me at first; as soon as I hit puberty, my brain started throwing up barriers that I had to untangle for years before any major progress could be done. As early as fourteen, I started fearing the effects of aging and outright dreading the possibility of dying with no guarantee of the afterlife. My high school years became dictated by this energy, pushing me into a tighter and tighter space until I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t have panic attacks as much as I was constantly on the verge of one. More and more, my body turned into its own sarcophagus, locked up and forgotten. I couldn’t perceive of a world where I was happy.

That was until I listened to Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides.

Sophie Xeon is a Scottish producer and DJ who was primarily known for two things before the tail-end of 2017. One was her specific brand of hyper textured electronic pop music, along the veins of AJ Cook and his PC Music label (and not, as common knowledge would attest, an actual part of the collective), where every instrument is carefully produced from scratch to form a physical texture in the song. The second was a proclivity to hiding her identity, keeping herself anonymous, definable only by her mononymous stage handle. And then the “It’s OK to Cry” video dropped, and there she was. Sophie used her own face and voice for the first time, on full display for the world.

I first heard of her during the release cycle for “Ponyboy,” which confused me, but still drew me in on a beat that took bass boost to another level, where the beat felt like it was being torn apart as the song progressed. I had never really heard Bubblegum Bass or Deconstructed Club; this was a new world of electronic music for me. But the single that really set up the album proper was “Faceshopping,” an ode to the power of photoshopping and facetuning your Dysphoria away to turn yourself into a perfect plastic replica. It was entirely on brand for Sophie, who’s music always had a plastic waxiness to it. But this was the first time the sound was really delivered with a song context. Sophie’s sound wasn’t based in industrial grime, it was based in the uneasiness of an unrealistic goal set by yourself and the culture around you. I was hooked. I had to hear the album.

It’s hard to put into words what an album like this feels like as the first cracking of a shell. After the opening triplicate of the singles, “Is it Cold in the Water” was an unreal experience. For the first time in my life, I recognized the landscape that the synths and singing were creating, an endless sea of purple and pink, undulating unnervingly yet like water. The rest of the album is closer to raw experience than a traditional pop structure, the sound expanding into a break of more ambient material, letting the atmosphere speak louder than lyrics. And it’s only after six minutes of dark ambient music that you get to “Immaterial.”

“Immaterial” is more than a classic pop song; it was validating in a way I had never experienced before. Sophie declares gender as a material form a dead concept; it’s defined by your mind, rather than any biological construct. Away from the dysphoria, the years of feeling “wrong,” the thoughts of never being happy, we are entirely our own mold to design, regardless of any concept handed down by Western European standards of living. I had to talk about this album away from a standard best of list, because it’s more than that. More than anything, this is the album that kept me here today. It’s a whole new world.

Musician, writer.

Musician, writer.