South London-born Viennese artist SOHN has no name, at least as far as I’ve heard. I know it’s a deliberate choice to keep it a secret—he wants to keep his identity away from his music—but it beckons the question nonetheless: Who is SOHN?
Electronic music is rarely just that anymore—these days most artists add a hyphenated subgenre clarifier to further differentiate themselves from everyone else, maybe because critics and fans more readily discard music completely congruous to only one genre. Some would argue that when artists incorporate nuances lifted from other points in the spectrum of musical influence, it makes for a more well-rounded, compelling sound.
And I’m sure many would argue that SOHN is an apt example of that. He’s not a DJ, though reviewing last night’s set at the Independent, he’s certainly entertained the idea of that, and he’s definitely not a straightforward R&B singer, though he clearly has the tonal depth and vocal capability to excel at it. Meanwhile, the imminent pop element is a byproduct of trying to make palatable that odd marriage of electronic and the soulfulness of his voice.
SOHN performed an hour-long set mostly visiting songs from his newest release off of 4AD, Tremors. To accompany his set, he set up 10 four-foot poles synched to beats, rotating between enveloping hues of green, red, and blue. They entertained like they would at a minimalist DJ set, pandering to the ex-ravers now searching for their alt fix. He used them to his advantage, particularly during the intro to “Warnings,” highlighting the gunshot-sounding intro with flashes of white.
SOHN swayed along to the very non-R&B single “Artifice,” his first encore song. The first single from Tremors had initially suggested that the album might fall in line with some of his collaborative pop work (like songs he did with BANKS, Lana Del Rey, and Disclosure), but his embracing of the R&B quality on his own LP was too non-committal, leaving Tremors wanting for both soulfulness and the captivating nature of pop, instead falling somewhere between the two rather than uniting them.
That’s not to say SOHN isn’t exceptional. He is clearly a brilliant and very thoughtful artist. However, though he has made his destination known as far as how he would like to sound, he hasn’t yet reached it. He’s an artist still working to smooth out textures and compress his influences into a dense, immersive sound. In the meantime, SOHN is undefinable, with roots in electronic and a penchant for a lot of other sounds.
We’d like to know who he is when he gets there. We’ll be listening.