Photography Faris Badwan

My friend SOPHIE

The Horrors' Faris Badwan first met SOPHIE when they were 12. In this letter, he retraces the life they spent making art and what she meant to him.

by Faris Badwan
04 February 2021, 12:01pm

Photography Faris Badwan

There are few people who, on the surface, may connect the deep guitar reverb of The Horrors’ Faris Badwan with the contortionist electronic work that SOPHIE created. But for over two decades, the pair knew each other. They bonded before they were teenagers, and followed each other’s ascent to fame in wildly different sonic realms, occasionally converging to create audacious music for other artists. 

Last weekend, SOPHIE died following a tragic accident in Athens, Greece, leaving behind a remarkable body of work and the sad reality that there was more music we’ll never hear. In this letter, Faris looks back on the 20 years they knew each other; her singular genius articulated by someone who had the rare honour of calling her a lifelong friend.

Sophie and I first met when I was 12, our birthdays four days apart. We didn’t really become close friends till a couple of years later, bonding through smoking like a lot of people at that age. She had the kind of charisma that made you want to be close to her, even older kids. With that rare magnetism came a total disregard for authority, and a lack of any sense of consequence. Already DJing at 13, she played guitar and wrote songs with a natural gift for melody.

Sophie had a wicked sense of humour, a wide and wolfish grin, an appreciation for anything surreal. She formed a joke band called Deep Heat and while the lyrics were ironic and ridiculous, every song stuck in your head and I still remember them now. She had a kind of dreamy quality that set her apart from the near-inevitable macho social environment of being a teenager. Despite her flamboyant edges, she could blend in easily with those kids as she was athletic and often in trouble. She always loved Bowie and when we were 15 she gave me the BBC sessions, my first CD of his, and the PixiesDoolittle. I gave her the Flaming Lips and a garage punk compilation.

Anyone that knew Sophie could tell she would go into music as her talent and enthusiasm were obvious, but no one could have predicted how wide an impact she would have, taking a lifetime of influences and reshaping dance music in her own unique image. I got signed with The Horrors so quickly after moving to London that it was a blur, meanwhile Sophie went to Berlin. For a couple of years, aside from the occasional email update we weren’t in touch so much, the only gap in our communication since meeting. 

Then, I remember the week she returned with bright orange hair and a long black coat, standing by the gates of Highgate cemetery with her familiar half-smile. She gave me her new card, shocking pink plastic: Sophie MSMSMSM. 

Her music took me by surprise, at once referencing Handel and a child’s nightmare. I didn’t know what to make of it, it was so different and totally her -- her humour, her love of melody, all the years of playing house music somehow distilled into this new, energetic, exciting thing. A total reimagining of how modern pop music should be, so much power in the post-industrial flourishes, no need for predictable dance drops. Behind the visual aesthetic was real technical ability. She knew exactly how different textures were created, how many layers you need to synthesise a snare drum that hits harder than anything else, how to make a sound like rending sheet metal. It was challenging but accessible, the hardest trick to pull off.

Sophie was generous with her support, particularly of Cat’s Eyes, which made me incredibly proud. She would share our songs with anyone, at every opportunity. The naivety of the 60s girl group sound that we referenced and the emotion it provokes was so close to the feeling I got from hearing songs of hers -- “Just Like We Never Said Goodbye” hit me in such a similar place. A futurist teen melodrama with that same sense of longing.

I was an analogue purist at that point, favouring tape echo and pedals over soft synths, but I remember one evening at her studio in Kings Cross she showed me how she’d built all her drum sounds from different waveforms. I was blown away by how tactile the digital textures she’d created were. 

We started making music together for fun, and those sessions were some of the most rewarding I’ve been involved in. We produced “Hot Pink” and “It’s Not Just Me” with Let’s Eat Grandma, two hugely talented musicians from Norwich, and I was so excited by the results, so happy to be working together. 

Sophie was totally transformed by that point, reborn, a new creature. Despite the length of our friendship, it wasn’t hard to adjust. She was at once the same person I’d been close to and someone entirely new. It felt like she had been searching for something her entire life and had finally discovered her path, stepped into her natural form. She was fearlessly calibrating her body for a new purpose. She hadn’t always been fully in touch with her own emotions but she was brilliantly adept at inspiring emotion in others, part of her magnetic appeal. 

When “It’s Okay to Cry” came out the video was so perfect, a flash of her exposed breasts, her voice also on display for the first time. Both funny and awe-inspiring. People have described it as brave but I saw it differently -- she did everything with total conviction, confidence in her own ability, driven to pursue her path with a rare single-mindedness. It didn’t occur to her that she could fail, she was fearless, with a lack of a sense of consequence that allowed her to take the risks that she did. It’s as if she never felt fully rooted to the world and its dangers.

I couldn’t help myself, I’ve read countless online tributes people have written in the last few days, but Vince Staples’ quote was one of the more perceptive ones. On the surface they seem like simple observations but they made me laugh as he clearly understood what she was about:

“Sophie was different you ain’t never seen somebody in the studio smoking a cigarette in a leather bubble jacket just making beats not saying one word. And don’t let the verse be deep or heartfelt cause she stopping the computer and walking outside until you get bacc on some gangsta shit. Can’t even be sad cause cuh would look at me like I was crazy lol”

The music they made together had the kind of edge I hope more of modern hip-hop will adopt. The idea of drill incorporating that kind of sonic palette could have been a really special prospect, but one of the people best-placed to work in that way is gone.

Grief is so hard to predict. I don’t know if it’s a result of being in the music industry, where risk is often portrayed as its own reward, but several people close to me have died and I’ve felt blank, unable to process it for months or even years. This time feels horribly vivid and lurid, sudden and final, amplified by the fact that Sophie was in the middle of an intensely creative period. She was fascinated by technology -- new forms of expression, new means of playing instruments, further ways of calibrating her body. Every time I saw her she would show or play me something incredible, exploring genuinely innovative ideas for lighting, stage sets, and sound.

She had moved to Athens to be inspired by her surroundings. I was planning on visiting as soon as travel became an option. 

As is common I guess, I play endless possible scenarios in my head, imagining her death and preventing it, trying to come to terms with the magnitude of loss. I feel crushing regret for every opportunity I missed to spend time with Sophie, every time she asked me to come over and I stayed at home, I remember the simple intimacy of every car journey. I read all our old texts. I think about her family and wish I could do something to ease what they’re feeling. Sophie was the centre of their world in many ways. 

It’s easy to think of all she was yet to achieve, and it’s a torturous thought, especially given the random nature of her accident. She wasn’t ready to die, she was entranced by life, whether playing new songs in her front room with her strobe lights on full blast, or looking at the moon. Regardless, like everyone else she reached I’m grateful for the time we had with her, and amazed at her continuing impact on music. More than anything I’ll just miss my friend.

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