Buffalo Zine:
Santigold & Jean-Charles de Castelbajac

It’s not so easy to be cre­ative in such a Material World”
 — Jean-Charles de Castelbajac

Chanteuse, pro­ducer and cul­tural provo­ca­teur: is there any­thing Santigold CAN’T do? Her most recent album, 99¢’, chal­lenged her unwit­ting status as a con­sumer object and the con­fla­tion of celebrity with com­mod­ity.
Jean-Charles de Castelbajac ush­ered in a fash­ion rev­o­lu­tion with his work at Iceberg in the 80s, putting Betty Boop, Kermit the Frog and Snoopy on sweaters. Enamoured by her per­sonal style and elec­tric stage pres­ence, Jean-Charles and Santi have become fast friends and fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tors. Santi dialled in with Jean-Charles at his Paris office to talk heroes from the past, the chal­lenges of social media in the present and the how to keep those cre­ative juices owing in the future…

SANTIGOLD: Hello?

JEAN-CHARLES DE CASTELBAJAC: Hello?

SANTI: can you hear me? 

JEAN-CHARLES: the con­nec­tion between France and England is dodgy.

SANTI: It’s been oblit­er­ated by Brexit.

JEAN-CHARLES: yeah, I think so. they’ve started to tamper with the com­mu­ni­ca­tions. it’s incred­i­ble what’s been going on.

SANTI: I was just saying that I read in a news­pa­per head­line this morn­ing that remain had won, it was on one of the main papers but they’d printed the wrong result! it’s crazy.

JEAN-CHARLES: I’ll be in London in a few weeks — I am doing a kind of per­for­mance called La Femme Tableau. It’s inspired by a Japanese writer who was living at the begin­ning of the cen­tury called Edogawa Ranpo. he took his name by copy­ing Edgar Allan Poe. He wrote a very famous story the human chair, about a man who is spurned by a woman, she doesn’t want him. So he designs a chair that he can hide inside.

SANTI: Like a trojan horse. 

JEAN-CHARLES: Exactly. This chair is beau­ti­ful and he offers it to her — but of course he has a secret place he sneaks into every night to be near her.

SANTI: That’s bizarre! 

JEAN-CHARLES: When I did my first cre­ative job, oh my gosh, forty years ago, I was shocked by that sur­re­al­is­tic dimen­sion Japan has, it’s very mys­te­ri­ous. But then I thought, what will happen if a woman is inside a paint­ing.

SANTI: Oh, I get it, so that’s why it’s called la Femme tableau.

JEAN-CHARLES: I came out with this con­cept that I did in the 80s with Jean- Michel Basquiat, with Keith Haring, to do a paint­ing made incar­nate. I threw my dress into the canvas of the painters.

SANTI: You actu­ally put a dress in the paint­ing?

JEAN-CHARLES: The lady goes inside and I paint on her, with spe­cial music. I’m going to be doing that in Covent Garden.

SANTI: I’m only in the UK for a few days. I’m play­ing Glastonbury tomor­row.

JEAN-CHARLES: Is it going to rain?

SANTI: Oh, it prob­a­bly will rain. Hopefully that won’t stop the party.

JEAN-CHARLES: And you’re not coming to do a con­cert in Paris?

SANTI: I was just there!

JEAN-CHARLES: Oh no. I was not invited.

SANTI: I’m the worst, I know. It was my first show on the tour, we played at Le Trianon. I always forget to invite every­one until I get there.

JEAN-CHARLES: Everything in life goes so fast!

SANTI: It’s so fast.

JEAN-CHARLES: I’ve lived a long life, but sud­denly it’s like everything’s sped up, like an arrow… [makes a whistling noise]

SANTI: It just gets faster and faster. I have a son now, since the last time I spoke to you.

JEAN-CHARLES: How old is he?

SANTI: He’s two. And he’s on the road with me, so I’m trying to be a mum and a per­former. There’s so much going on, and it’s just speed­ing by, I can barely believe that he’s two already.

JEAN-CHARLES: Is Trevor [Andrew, Santi’s hus­band] there right now too?

SANTI: Yeah, he’s here. This really strange thing hap­pened, where he was just draw­ing with mark­ers over trash cans and stuff, and he was draw­ing the Gucci mono­gram and came up with this Gucci ghost char­ac­ter. Then Gucci called him! And asked him to come and col­lab­o­rate on his last two col­lec­tions. So he’s been going to Milan all the time, it’s insane.

JEAN-CHARLES: Alessandro Michele? Wonderful. He’s such a tal­ented designer. I can’t under­stand why he called just your hus­band though, and not you to do the music of the show too. The world I have been dream­ing of for forty years seems to be finally mate­ri­al­is­ing, this exchange between music, art, fash­ion — there is no limit any­more. It’s per­fect timing for people like you and me.

SANTI: I totally agree with you. I think we are really sim­i­lar in that we like to do all sorts of things under one umbrella. Nothing’s off-limits in our cre­ative process. I remem­ber in the 90s when people would say what do you do?’, and if you replied with more than one thing, they wouldn’t take you seri­ously. so you had to choose one thing to say. it’s not like that any more.

JEAN-CHARLES: I’m prepar­ing a book about my thirty years in fash­ion and col­lab­o­ra­tions, and there’s some pic­tures with you. It’s coming out in October. When I see my car­toon pieces from the 80s with ice­berg, every­thing feels very now, noth­ing has aged. I feel like eccen­tric­ity ages better than that clas­sic look.

SANTI: Definitely. It’s strangely time­less.

JEAN-CHARLES: I remem­ber your first album cover with the glit­ter, I loved it so much.

SANTI: That was so easy to make. It was a mock-up of what the cover was sup­posed to be. And then we re-shot the real one and we liked the mock-up better. So i’m on the cover in my pyja­mas, on my couch.

JEAN-CHARLES: One other thing I should say about your music: what I love is that there’s no fron­tier between influ­ences. I feel the same about where my inspi­ra­tions come from.

SANTI: I think true artists all feel like that. I remem­ber doing an inter­view with Debbie Harry once, and she was talk­ing about how all artists are inspired by so many dif­fer­ent things and if you’re tal­ented then there’s no way it can come through you and end up sound­ing exactly like some­thing else. A bit of you comes out in the wash. Doing that is second nature to an artist. But these days when things are moving so fast, it can mean that there isn’t time for these ideas to bounce around within that person’s own cre­ativ­ity, it becomes a trendy copy­cat thing. That’s the stuff that won’t last, what you were talk­ing about ear­lier. Art lasts for hun­dreds of years. Poor van Gogh, nobody appre­ci­ated him until after he died.

JEAN-CHARLES: I remem­ber Malcolm McLaren, who I first met in 1972 and we stayed friends until he died. I was always amazed that he never wanted to go to Facebook or insta­gram or all those things, because we have this cul­ture where we feel we need to be resist­ing things. But I told him that the cul­ture has changed, that it’s not about direct resis­tance any more. We have to be like a virus now, to infil­trate.

SANTI: Yeah, you’re really good at social media.

JEAN-CHARLES: A virus is the only way to bring your iden­tity into the world today. Mclaren told me, Now this cen­tury is about authen­tic­ity versus karaoke”. We’re sat­u­rated by copies of things, but occa­sion­ally you come across some­thing sin­cere.

SANTI: What you said about the virus is so inter­est­ing, and I’ve never heard it expressed that way. It’s true. It’s some­thing I strug­gle with, having come up in the era before social media. I strug­gle with the fact that it’s hard to rec­on­cile a sense of authen­tic­ity with the aware­ness that you need to oper­ate like a virus. So much of that virus ele­ment is mar­ket­ing, whereas so much of authen­tic­ity isn’t. To find that bal­ance is spe­cial. Some people find it really easy, some people strug­gle. For me, it’s hard to figure out how to bal­ance that. Because the real, authen­tic me is busy and doesn’t want to use social media! [laughs] The authen­tic me is really, really tired.

JEAN-CHARLES: But you know, I’ve been using angels for years, maybe twenty years now. I designed that
in the streets, all over the cities I go. To give a kind of pos­i­tive vibe to this strange, dystopian world. Now I’m going to do those angels as a sticker on the inter­net. So some angels are free to fly all over the world! Maybe it’s totally utopian. Wow we have to be pos­i­tive activists as well as artists.

SANTI: That’s true. 

JEAN-CHARLES: When I hear your song, l.e.s. artistes, it’s got a sweet sound. But it’s actu­ally a kind of war song, it’s gal­vanis­ing, like Fela Kuti. I haven’t seen him in a con­cert for a very long time.

SANTI: I went to see Fela Kuti when I was seven years old!

JEAN-CHARLES: Oh my God! those amaz­ing songs, some of them up to forty min­utes long!

SANTI: I know. To think people used to have the atten­tion span for that. What you said about viruses is stick­ing with me so much. I’ve been really so over social media recently, and I’ve been read­ing the news instead, which I’ve always strug­gled with because I find it so depress­ing. I recently read and watched the vice thing about killing cancer, about how they’re recod­ing viruses to basi­cally attack and kill cancer, which is absolutely fas­ci­nat­ing. Have you heard about that?

JEAN-CHARLES: No, never. That’s amaz­ing.

SANTI: It’s incred­i­ble. They were fig­ur­ing out how to recode the HIV virus, and they put it in this little girl and it erad­i­cated the cancer in her body — before that she was in a ter­mi­nal con­di­tion. They’re doing it with all dif­fer­ent viruses for the dif­fer­ent types of cancer, and it’s work­ing. And strangely enough I kind of took some­thing from this amaz­ing work they were doing, that I could apply to my own work. As an artist, you have to figure out how to recode’ your own viruses.

JEAN-CHARLES: Oui! Bien sûr. I like to think of my tribe not in any aes­thetic sense, but as being a tribe of kind­ness. A new kind of tribe. In the 90s and the 2000s, this sense of trib­al­ism was elit­ist, it was these little groups. But kind­ness and gen­tle­ness have almost been pun­ished as part of that.

SANTI: They’re not valued within that system at all.

JEAN-CHARLES: I am happy! I smile! I think like that. I’ve been a per­ma­nent fighter for that. Keith Haring was always like that. Until his last breath he was always draw­ing, and giving them away. I’ve never seen any­body so gen­er­ous. He would be so con­tem­po­rary these days. I think that’s what makes the dif­fer­ence between real artists, they have this instinct to always share. Yesterday I was with cap­tain Paul Watson, he’s the guy who fights against over-fish­ing all over the world, and has been arrested twenty times. He’s a kind of pirate, but against indus­try. He was speak­ing about this. That we need artists, because they are the only ones who can speak about this things out­side of facts and fig­ures, like sci­en­tists. I think this is the new chal­lenge.

SANTI: Just like with the European Union, there’s this trend around the world where money is trump­ing human­ity.

JEAN-CHARLES: Money and this moving world. Today we have this nice call, but we’re in the middle of this Brexit sit­u­a­tion, which is a rev­o­lu­tion for Europe. But in the midst of all this uncer­tainty, you have to keep being cre­ative. To be able to keep doing that is won­der­ful.

SANTI: I feel like the chal­lenge for artists is to main­tain that joy and pos­i­tiv­ity, even when it’s so chal­leng­ing, when there’s this bar­rage of neg­a­tiv­ity and you’re wit­ness­ing this fail­ure.

JEAN-CHARLES: We’re run­ning out of time already for this con­ver­sa­tion. What are you wear­ing right now?

SANTI: Sweats. Right now I’m wear some super old Gaultier pants and a t-shirt.

JEAN-CHARLES: A vin­tage piece! Mmm. Out of the young design­ers, who do you like? Do you know Jacquemus?

SANTI: I don’t.

JEAN-CHARLES: I want you to look at Jacquemus. He’s very fresh.

SANTI: How do you spell it?

JEAN-CHARLES: J-a-c-Q-u-e-M-u-s. He’s cool, he’s authen­tic, he’s bring­ing humour back to fash­ion. He doesn’t copy anyone.

SANTI: I love humour and fash­ion. That’s one of the best things about you and your work. I love fun fash­ion. When I first dis­cov­ered you, I was just amazed. I would turn page after page, I couldn’t believe that I’d never seen it before. I was a baby when you started.

JEAN-CHARLES: You were not born! You know Santi, I’ve been design­ing for Iceberg again. I stopped fif­teen years again, but they called me again, and U’m doing two col­lec­tions for them.

SANTI: Amazing, when is the first one coming out?

JEAN-CHARLES: October.

SANTI: I can’t wait to see that.

JEAN-CHARLES: It’s very strange to go back to the place you started. I first worked there in 1974. Imagine.

SANTI: I didn’t realise you were there so early. I remem­ber Iceberg being really big in hip-hop.

JEAN-CHARLES: It was funny that, because I’m so not hip-hop myself, I was very… Kraftwerk. Very elec­tro.

SANTI: I like both. A bit of hip-hop, a bit of Kraftwerk.

JEAN-CHARLES: I know! and I dis­cov­ered hip-hop because all of these hip-hop artists started to wear my Iceberg sweaters.

SANTI: It was the ulti­mate thing you could have. It was up there with a Coogi sweater.

JEAN-CHARLES: I love Coogi. Even their tech­ni­color coats. What is very strange is that I dis­cov­ered last year that my clothes are really pop­u­lar in Africa. I never knew that, I heard that because people from Kinshasa in the Congo, but also Rwanda and Cote d’Ivoire, made songs about me.

SANTI: No way.

JEAN-CHARLES: There is some song, and I feel silly saying this, but it’s because they think Yohji Yamamoto and I, that we are Gods or some­thing. There is a reli­gion of fash­ion called La Sape. Recently I heard these songs, they are amaz­ing! and the con­tem­po­rary art museum in Paris called me six months ago, and said they are doing an exhi­bi­tion about all expres­sions of art from all over the world, and these guys from Kinshasa want to come to Paris and meet you. So they invited six­teen of these Sapeurs from Kinshasa and we did a per­for­mance where they wore my old archives.

SANTI: Amazing! Are there pic­tures of that online? And send me the song too.

JEAN-CHARLES: I’ll send it to you over email. But yes, Jacquemus is good and J.W. Anderson is good too.

SANTI: I’m gonna check them all out! I feel a little out of the loop.

JEAN-CHARLES: There are so many good young design­ers coming up. I feel very