It took a lot to get away from Sigur Ros. Last night, barely half-full of gozleme and basically filling the space between Grizzly Bear and Santigold, I plonked down in front of Sigur Ros at Harvest Festival to savour the oily aftermath of my Turkish supper and iron out the crick in my back that rears its ugly head whenever I decide to stand for more than four hours in a row. Sigur Ros were magical, the experience inexplicably immersive, and I’m sure many words will be written about that Finnish band in days and weeks to come. The allure of Santigold (previously Santogold, formerly/formally Santi White) is something to be considered today as, transfixed by twelve players and trippy visuals, it resembled something powerful itself. Santigold is not a pop star – she’s not really a rap star or an electronic star either. Instead, what drew me towards the Brooklyn local, three band members who didn’t obviously do that much and two dagger-ific back-up dancer/singers, was the appeal of the unknown. Representing such a pastiche of influences herself, you’d expect a Santigold performance to be ridiculous, high octane and totally overwhelming. In most respects, Santi delivered.
It’s hard to know what to make of Santigold. Some days, she’s a big-noise inspired ethnic-fusion queen, vibing on the same mix of pomp and aggression that made M.I.A. a name people once cared about. At other times, especially on the most recent of her two albums, it’s clear that she’s moved beyond the M.I.A. comparison to embrace songwriting that tracks past the gimmicks of Diplo production. And still again, hanging out on record with Julian Casablancas or Major Lazer, she segues smoothly into character as rock chick and dance-hall master respectively. As much as Santigold remains elusive when you attempt to pigeonhole her, it was equally difficult to comprehend why the festival’s organisers had her billed in the headliner slot on a day otherwise jam-packed with rock bands and indie stars. Part Beyonce, part Gaga, part Stefani, part Karen O and all action, that conundrum was quickly resolved. Working her way through Jay-Z features, Major Lazer classics and more reserved, politically-inclined tunes from ‘Master of My Make-Believe’, Santigold gave palpable expression to the title of her second album, in control from go to woe.
Amid all the astounding, well-received reggaeton antics and supremely rehearsed and choreographed dance sections, it was probably ‘Creator’, an oldie but a goodie, that stood out for me last night. From talking to others, it seems that inviting 20 exhuberant kids up on stage for this one was not a new device. But as a ploy for getting the rest of the crowd going ape-shit crazy at the prospect of normal fame, it works an absolute treat. Live performance tricks generally lose their awesome quality rapidly thanks to YouTube, iPhones and word of mouth but even a year deep into this one, it still strikes me as a powerful image. Watching that many ordinary people not paid to move just lose themselves in the tribal beats and wonky synths of producer Switch (formerly Diplo’s Major Lazer sidekick) is something to behold. Santigold, for her part, didn’t shirk at the prospect of rewinding through her catalogue to the first track she ever released (replaced as first single by ‘L.E.S. Artistes‘ because the video clip was poor quality) and reproducing the bird-calls that so invigorate the whole piece. Five years on from its release, ‘Creator’ continues to sound cutting-edge, continues to get the masses jumping, continues Santigold’s rich legacy of doing whatever she wants and somehow making it work.
Santogold – Creator