New York’s own one woman soundclash Santogold tells Malcolm Jack how she’s going to fix pop with her mutant take on hip hop, electronica and punk
‘I’m trying to fix pop,’ proclaims Santi White (aka Santogold) with an impish laugh. ‘It’s broken.’
If anyone is qualified to take their toolkit to the genre, it probably is White. A music industry veteran of over ten years, she’s seen the business from front to back: as an A&R assistant at Epic and Sony in the late 90s, as a songwriter and producer for R&B starlet Res in the early 00s, as frontwoman for punk rock near things Stiffed, and now as a genre-flitting solo artist. Her list of collaborators – Diplo, Freq Nasty, Steel Pulse, Chuck Treece, Spank Rock, Sinden and Switch – reads like a who’s who of dance, electronica, hip hop, hardcore punk and reggae at their most cutting, erudite of edges.
White sews this broad range of styles into a garishly colourful patchwork on her eponymous debut album, released earlier this month. The stitches, she believes, are the pop mechanics at each song’s heart. ‘I think I write pop songs in terms of their structure,’ White explains. ‘It’s really like verse-chorus-verse-chorus, and I like melodies that are catchy and you can sing along to. I think that’s why it works, because all my influences are from subculture genres, but the reason why I think my songs are so accessible is because I really like hooks.’
For her rapid-fire vocal style, archly-hip day-glo getup, tribal blur of choppy, whirring electronica and echoing dancefloor on the likes of her debut single ‘Creator’, White is frequently compared to another of her many co-conspirators, Mathangi ‘M.I.A’ Arulpragasam. It’s a fair cop for sure, but art-punky Radio 1 favourite ‘L.E.S Artistes’ could equally invite comparisons with The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, whilst uplifting indie rock number ‘Lights Out’ – the track most generously endowed with those hooks White speaks so proudly of – recalls The Pixies.
Accessibility can be a dirty word, but for White it’s gospel: she even hired dancers to accompany her recent promotional DJ sets to give the crowd some clues as to how to move to her songs. ‘You know how Public Enemy used to have those S1Ws that marched on the stage?’ she says. ‘It’s kind of like that. They do visually what the music is doing, for all these people who are like “how they hell do you dance to this?” It’s another tool helping the audience to digest it.’
The Santogold moniker, in case you were wondering, refers to a childhood nickname she earned through a love of cheap gold earrings – a love that endures as part of a wider unconventional sartorial taste which has won her as much attention as her tunes have. ‘Right now I see it pushing in all different directions,’ White says of fashion in 2008 (although she could just as easily be talking about her music). ‘I think we’re heading into a time when it’s really diverse, and there’s no one hip style. Everything had all got a bit conservative in the cuts for a while, but I see all different kinds of colours and shapes now that have been missing for too long and it’s getting more bold.’
Santogold guests at Kinky Afro, the Sub Club, Glasgow, Fri 30 May.