Born Sonia Clark on June 21, 1968, in London, England; daughter of Shirley Douglas. Addresses: Record company--Universal Music Group, 2220 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404, website: http://www.umusic.com. Website--Sonique Official Website: http://www.sonique.co.uk.
Sonique's style of international dance music is as tech savvy as her quick rise to the top of the music charts. Using the Internet and a combination of DJ experience and singing talent, she pushed her beat-heavy sound into all the right venues. She was quickly spotted by two music executives who signed her and promoted her work heavily online. Within months of finishing her first album, Hear My Cry, Sonique was climbing the charts. "It Feels So Good," the first single from her debut, went to number one on the dance charts, where it stayed for an unprecedented 17 weeks.
Sonique was born Sonia Clark on June 21, 1968, in London, England. At a young age she discovered an affinity for gymnastics and went on to be a competitive track and field athlete in high school. She was a talented athlete who expected the best from herself; after losing a race, she was bitterly disappointed in herself and reevaluated what she wanted to do. At six feet tall she was a powerful figure on the field, but it was music that beckoned to her. Her heroes were women like Roberta Flack and Gladys Knight, and she happened to have the talent to pursue a career in music.
Her talent for writing songs and her beautiful singing voice as a child impressed more than just her family. While Sonique was still a teenager, her mother left the country to get remarried, and Sonique decided to live on her own, figuring it couldn't be that hard to get by. She discovered that life was tougher than she thought when she became homeless and lived on the street, where she had to scrape for food and shelter. It was a challenging time but, after being complimented on her singing voice, she joined a band and slowly emerged from the traps of poverty. Her imposing and beautiful presence, mixed with a wonderful singing voice, garnered her some recognition in the London music scene. She sang on her first single, "Let Me Hold You," with her reggae band for Cooltempo Records. The track was popular enough to become a dance club hit, hitting the United Kingdom top-25 dance charts without any promotion by Cooltempo. An artist goes to where she's loved and wanted, so from an early age Sonique hit the London nightlife.
Her love of making music might have led her to dance clubs, but it was DJing that captured her attention once she was there. The unique sounds of DJs in the London nightlife scene captured her imagination. She marveled at how a DJ could alter music to make a long and trance-like sound that could keep people dancing for hours. But, typically for Sonique, she wasn't satisfied to dance on the sidelines. She decided she was going to "spin some wax" herself.
Sonique's well-trained singing voice became an asset to her as she entered the professional club world. Instead of just making her own mixes, she would occasionally sing along, especially during transitions from one song to the next. Her low, sensual voice drove the crowd wild, and she quickly became one of the most popular DJs in the city. "I can't help myself," she told Stuart Barrie of the Scottish Daily Record. "It's always a part of me. If a middle bit of the record sounds boring, I think I'll just stick my voice in there." Her repertoire was heard at all the main dance clubs, including the famous Manumission.
While she made a deep impression with her spins she also continued to pursue a singing career. Her experience with blending music together was helping her to develop as a songwriter as well and by the time she reached age 20 she had written a number of original pieces. For Sonique, the music has always been the energy that drives her. "I never cared about what I looked like,"' she told Emma Johnson of Liverpool Echo about her early career as a club DJ. "I deliberately taped down my breasts so they wouldn't move and I wore army trousers all the time."
Being on center stage with her passion for music caught the attention of singer and songwriter Mark Moore, whose musical act S'Express had found some success with the hit single "Theme from S'Express." Moore was impressed with Sonique's voice and style, and he asked her to sing on his new album. The two worked closely and Moore taught Sonique some crucial lessons on how to make an album. The result was Intercourse. Although the album didn't do chartbuster numbers, it did put Sonique in the public's eye again as a vocalist, and a number of critics were impressed with her performance. All Music Guide's review noted, "[Sonique's] passionate, brassy wailing is an obvious asset on exuberant numbers like 'Twinkle (Step into My Mind),' 'Nothing to Lose' and 'Find 'Em, Fool 'Em, Forget 'Em.'" The album gave up a couple of small hits but never broke out of the dance clubs and into the mainstream.
But the experience with Moore and S'Express helped Sonique refine her songwriting skills even further. She proved herself to be not a flash in the pan but a serious artist who wanted to make lasting and thoughtful songs. She took her new knowledge right back to DJing on the dance floor and continued to wow the crowd with unusual mixes of obscure music, augmented by her singing voice. The result was described as haunting by many of her fans and club writers, and she continued to be one of the most successful DJs in London, playing venues in which only the best are asked to spin. "She's quite unique," Phil Nankivell, an assistant manager of a club, told Colin Nicholson of the Mirror. "It's the way she sings a couple of lines from a song, then plays a track, or sings over a track. It's a constantly building atmosphere."
But Sonique's aspirations also included being a singer and songwriter. She had tasted the music business twice, with her early dance hit and then her collaboration with Moore's S'Express. Although the public quickly forgot those efforts, Sonique did not, and even though she loved DJing, she wanted to have the thrill of singing in front of an audience of thousands.
With her unusual style she was earning fans in Europe, the United States, and even Hong Kong. Her vocals appeared on a number of DJ compilations. Slowly and methodically she was establishing herself as an international and multi-faceted talent--a niche international talent, to be sure, but it was only a matter of time before someone with a good eye would catch on to her potential.
Sonique's career really began to take off when a couple of music executives in Tampa, Florida, heard her single "It Feels So Good" at a local club. The executives saw how the crowd responded to the song, and that was all they needed to see. They contacted Sonique, and a record deal was born. It was 1999 and the Internet was considered a cutting-edge tool for music promotion. Farmclub, an Internet label aspiring to use the power of the web to bring music fans together, posted Sonique's music online, and her following grew exponentially.
While recording tracks for her freshman effort, Hear My Cry, Sonique's life was hit with a devastating tragedy. Eight months into her pregnancy, she lost the baby boy she was carrying. The tragedy became the inspiration for her hit "Sky," which would eventually chart at number two. It was the last track to be cut for her album.
As Sonique recovered from her loss, Hear My Cry was released in 2000. The Farmclub label was on the cover, but Sonique used the opportunity to start a label of her own, Serious, which co-released the album. Farmclub supported the CD heavily, offering television spots to Sonique and pushing the single "It Feels So Good" right into the mainstream. The single broke out of the dance clubs and caught on everywhere. It ended up in the Billboard Top 5 Mainstream list and peaked at number eight on the Billboard Top 100. The dance community embraced the single more than any song before or since, keeping it at number one on the dance charts for 17 straight weeks. Sonique's legacy was made.
But with fame comes extra pressure, and Sonique couldn't keep it up forever after her personal loss. Writing about her son's death certainly helped her to grieve, but she needed a short rest. Soon after her singles peaked on the charts, she pulled away from the public eye a little to write music for her next album and to spin records.
Her reputation as a DJ only blossomed while her singing career took a break. She became the self-professed best-paid DJ in the world, reportedly pulling in £200,000 per performance. But performing her own songs will always be a significant part of her career, and her second album, Born to Be Free, was released in May of 2003 to great reviews. Along with songwriters Rob Davis and Rick Nowels, she crafted an upbeat and catchy album. When asked by Johnson about her singing career following the loss of her baby, she responded, ``It didn't really affect [Born to Be Free.] This album was all about love, which I had not felt for a while because I had been busy feeling pain." Produced by Graham Pleeth, who has worked with artists like Peter Gabriel and Billy Ocean, Sonique showed a sophisticated sense of songwriting that proved she was growing as an artist.
Although she has flirted with retiring from the dance floors of London, something keeps pulling her back. From one year to the next she'll complain about the waning dance scene and then proceed to jump right into a line of gigs, proving that she loves it too much to leave it. For her, ironically, DJing might be a chance to step away from the spotlight she finds herself in as a pop star. "I've never liked to think of myself as a superstar DJ," she told Charlotte Spratt of the South Wales Echo. "It's the ones on the dancefloor who are stars and I'm just the one providing the music."
by Ben Zackheim
Lead singer for Fari, 1986; lead singer for S'Express, 1989-91; London DJ, 1991-2003; released first dance hit single, "Let Me Hold You"; second dance hit single, "Put a Spell on You," entered the dance top 20; contributed vocals to DJ compilations Introspective of House, Third Dimension, 1997; signed with Farmclub Records, 2000; released first album, Hear My Cry, which achieved gold status in the UK, 2001; released second original album, Born to Be Free, 2003.
BRIT Awards, Best Female Artist, 2001; Ivor Novello Award, International Hit of the Year for "It Feels So Good," 2001; Maxim Women of the Year Awards, Best Singer, 2001.
- Selected discography
- Hear My Cry Serious/Farmclub, 2000.
- Sky Serious/Farmclub, 2000.
- Serious Sound of Sonique Serious, 2000.
- Born to Be Free Serious, 2003.
- Can't Make Up My Mind Serious, 2003.
- Alive Serious, 2003.
- Billboard, February 26, 2000, p. 24; March 25, 2000, p. 13; February 10, 2001, p. 33.
- Daily Record (Scotland), June 7, 2002, p. 38; May 27, 2003, p. 16.
- Evening Times (Scotland), May 8, 2003; August 14, 2003.
- Guardian (London), May 30, 2003, p. 18.
- Irish Times, August 19, 2000, p. 63; March 5, 2003, p. 14.
- Liverpool Echo, June 13, 2003.
- Mirror (London, England), November 1, 2002.
- South Wales Echo, December 20, 2002.
- Sunday Mirror (London, England), May 18, 2003.
- Time, May 15, 2000, p. 88.
- "S'Express," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (September 23, 2003).
- "Sonique," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (September 20, 2003).
- "Sonique," VH1.com, http://www.vh1.com/artists/az/sonique/artist.jhtml (September 28, 2003).
- Sonique Official Website, http://www.sonique.co.uk (September 28, 2003).