Sophistipop Then and Now…

Sophistipop Then and Now…

According to wiki, the term: “Sophisti-pop was a subgenre of pop music that emerged during the mid-1980s in the UK. It incorporates elements of jazz, soul and pop. Music so classified often made extensive use of electronic keyboards, synthesizers, and polished arrangements, particularly horn sections.”

Anybody over 40 that used to think of themselves as being hip and slightly alternative remembers that 80’s wave of bands: the bands that started out as synthpop/ new romantics and then gradually started flirting around with dance-beats, brass sections and jazz chords, dressed up in ties, suits and hats. Us, the girls, aspired an arty French look a la Sade: black turtle-neck top, huge eyebrows, ultra-short fringes and hoop earrings. Very slick and sophisticated

Our bands were amongst others: ABC, Everything But the Girl, the Style CouncilPrefab Sprout, Haircut 100, Tears for Fears, China Crisis, Scritti Polliti, Aztec Camera and later on bands like Pet Shop Boys and Swing out Sister came onto the scene when Sophistipop started becoming more and more dance/jazz influenced. Things went from suave “Paris Match” to “It didn’t Matter” disco and to us, it didn’t really matter. Then Stock, Aitken and Waterman kicked in and things went downhill from there.

I stayed loyal to those bands for a long time, they still produced some really strong stuff at the end of the 80’s/ start 90’s. Think of Aztec Camera‘s “Love”, China Crisis‘ “Diary of a Hollow Horse“, Prefab Sprout’s “Jordan: The Comeback and Scritti Politti’s “Provision”!! But after that, it basically became so formulaic and mainstream that, I for one (after some crossover bands like The Fat Lady Sings, the Jeremy Days and Then Jericho), left it behind to be forgotten…

In the 90’s I dived deeply into more guitar based stuff like Shoegaze/ Dreampop, Indie, Britpop and even into non-guitar based subgenres like Triphop, Lounge and Drum’n’Bass for a while…then in the “naughties” the progression of things just seemed to stop dead in its tracks, until we arrived into hipster era in which suddenly everything was recycled, rediscovered and elevated to cult status again. Full circle. Of course lots of bands reunited and started touring again….(embarrassing audience alert!)

One of the newer dreampop bands was the Brooklyn based The Depreciation Guild fronted by multi-talent Kurt Feldman who basically got me back into shoegaze. By the time I found them, Kurt, who is part of the avant-garde music/art community in Brooklyn, had already disbanded the Depreciation Guildand started his own neo 80’s/ Sophistipop project The Ice Choir.

To me, it was the first time I actually heard the term Sophistipop and realised how very progressively fashionable it was becoming in certain circles. The first Ice Choir album “Afar” is not only a collection of snapshots of 80’s sounds but also an outstandingly clever piece of work. Kurt Feldman does sophistipop remixes, and collaborates with fellow artist and friends. One of those brilliant collaborations was Roman a Clef: a project with members Ryan Newmyer and Jen Goma from dreampop band Sunny Day in Glasgow. Their album “Abandonware” was released in August 2015 and was like Prefab Sprout revisited. (Prefab Sprout is one of the few bands from around the time, that I still listen to: one of those 80’s bands that continue to sound relevant and are totally timeless to me. The others are China Crisis, the Style Council and the Smiths.)

Another connection here is the latest project of the Hochheim brothers: Ablebody. Christoph and Anton Hochheim are, again, a direct link to Kurt and are known for their involvement in not only the Depreciation Guild, but also The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. Their debut albumAdult Contemporarieswas released on October 14 and reverberates tones of the Sophisti-pop era combined with dreamy pop, and, of course, Prefab Sprout again. The intro of “Marianne” is a citation from China Crisis’ “Wishful Thinking”!

Many contemporary acts (mainly from Brooklyn) seem to be influenced by Sophistipop. Bands like Paperwhite, Minks, Ducktails, Germans, Phoenix, Rhye and Roosevelt often define themselves as dreampop acts, and although that’s not necessarily false, fans of original dreampop acts like Cocteau Twins, the Sundays and Lush will not find any of those references in their music. They will probably detect more of an 80’s vibe. Sophistipop as a term or label seems to be ideal to collect all the aforementioned influences nowadays: the dreamy element is there, but blended with 80’s synths and maybe…hey…a sax? hazy memories of happy days that went by too fast….


    1. estellarosa

      I love them but to me they were at the end of that era, where the music became more guitar oriented again. It is Sophistipop but I just decided to focus on mid 80’s sound. Sorry.

    2. estellarosa

      Deacon Blue were a wonderful band from the late 80’s but I do not consider them Sophistipop. There’s hardly any jazz or dance influence in that band.

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