It’s an age-old thing. We love to categorise. To box-in. To shoehorn. It’s understandable: it allows us to make sense of things, bring order to an otherwise disorderly world, especially in music.
But every-so-often, an artist’s vision will bypass all of that. Brixton-based Santino Le Saint is one such artist where that’s the case – not just through music, but fashion too.
Following a month-long tour, which began in the UK before hopping over to Europe, Santino is in high spirits about imposing his sonic blend of rock, RnB, hip-hop, trap, indie (and everything in-between) on the world.
“As an independent artist, you never really know what the reception is going to be like,” he says, calling from LA. “But we did all the UK shows, that was really cool; London was insane because it was the first time I played with a whole band.”
“But when I turned up in Germany, that was crazy. We would go to the venue early, and half the people were already outside, asking me for pictures. Then they were singing all my lyrics louder than I was singing them inside.”
“The rest of the European cities were all like that. Hamburg was the craziest; random, I never thought that would be a thing. Amsterdam, ridiculous. Paris, I came out of the Uber and straight onto the stage through the crowd. It was a lot more fun than I expected. I learned how to fall in love with shows properly.”
What those fans have been following – and came out in droves to see – is a catalogue that straddles numerous forms, from his debut album Rage of Angels to his follow-up, Beautiful Disaster, released last year.
View this post on Instagram
Inherent in their title is a contradiction in terms. A seemingly Jekyll and Hyde-type artist with something darker lurking beneath the more serene exterior of his art. This is equally presented in Red Pill and Blue Pill, two separate EPs released in 2020. The first is a vulnerable expression of love, laden with plenty of Santino’s own guitar-playing (a key string to his artistic bow); the second, is a trap and hip hop-led collection of murkier, sexually explicit tunes.
“There’s a lot of juxtaposition,” Santino admits. “I think it always stemmed from me having a lot of different sounds I wanted to portray. They’re not sounds, even, really; sometimes I want to do rock stuff, sometimes I want to do RnB stuff. And marrying them together isn’t always the easiest, even though they are all married by how my voice sounds.”
Indeed, it could have been an easier path for Santino to simply embrace one genre, stick to one lane. It takes a bit of gumption – that much-used term ‘artistic integrity’ – to continue down a path of eclectic expression. In the desire for short-term success over artistic longevity, Santino admits he’s pondered sticking to one genre, “but I get bored, I can’t do it,” he says simply.
“The only way I find this thing interesting is by creating new stuff. I think because, at my core I write and I create and I like producing stuff, I just can’t make generic shit, it’s so boring, and just annoys me.
“So I’d rather try and do some experimental stuff; experimental in terms of trying stuff, adding sounds together and figuring out a way I can portray them, in a way that still makes sense. That’s all a part of the musical journey and storytelling that I love to do at its core.”
Nor is Santino just sticking to music. In a venture with whynow Music – a project we’re launching that offers exclusive, sustainable artist collections – Santino is releasing a brand-new clothing line: BYSAINT. The full launch date is Friday 29 July.
A graduate in Graphic Design, Santino has “always wanted to do a clothing brand”, with the importance of fashion for artists viewed by him as “another way how you communicate who you are, especially in music”.
“In general, it’s what we do. It’s what we say about ourselves. It’s like, the feel of the T-shirt, or the colour of some trousers or the type of shoes you’ve got on, say something about yourself. As an artist, it tells something about your story. So I think it’s really similar to like, what your album artwork is – it’s representing yourself and your feelings.”
And with the collection item’s muted, distressed fabrics combining with floral prints and patchwork, he hopes to transmit his same “love [for] beauty and chaos” through BYSAINT as he portrays with his music.
“What we’re trying to do with the BYSAINT brand, and whynow, is to have the elements of destruction on a really beautiful piece. That’s kind of the simplest description. And we want to be super DIY with it.
“So we’ve got patches that we’re pinning on, and that you can move, and all the tees are distressed and ripped around the collars and the hems – but they also have a really beautiful fit, and the finish is soft and fitted well. I think that’s how we can continue to capture that beauty and destruction.
“I love being able to wear clothes that represent me. I think I have a style that’s a mix between rock stuff and street stuff because that’s how I grew up. There’s a lot of stuff out there, but I want to make my own mark; I want to wear stuff I wish I had growing up as a kid, or items I’ve got in my head where I don’t know who else is making it, so I want to make it for myself.”
BYSAINT’s creation, of course, comes amidst an ever-growing crossover between the worlds of music and fashion, merging with each and every drop – from Rihanna’s billion-dollar Fendi to Ye’s well-documented Yeezy collaboration with Adidas.
Kendrick Lamar’s recent performance, adorning a crown of thorns on the runway for Louis Vuitton Men’s show in Paris, in tribute to Virgil Abloh, is but another example of this traversing between the two mediums.
These are all illustrious names, no doubt. And Santino certainly isn’t short on ambition in reaching such heights; specifically, for him “the goal or the journey to get to in the next five years is to fill the space of a new Prince: a guy with a guitar that is an icon and makes timeless songs that people can’t match.”
“It’s not some trend trap stuff. It’s not just another RnB thing, either. It’s not trying to be that. It’s being an absolute icon. Because if you don’t aim for that – that high shit – then what’s the point in shooting at all? That’s what I think.”
As one of whynow Music’s first exclusive offerings, BYSAINT typifies a far-removed prospect than the usual simple merchandise that sits, often uninspiringly, on stalls at the back of gigs. Of course such merchandise has been necessary for the running costs for many artists, even if, as reported by The Guardian earlier this year, many venues ask for a significant cut.
Yet, as Santino points out, “Merch is just a different game in a way. I feel like with merch – especially in separating it from what we’re doing now with BYSAINT – you just kind of want to give someone some memorabilia.
“You just want to be like, ‘this is the album and the tour T-shirt that you could only get on tour, or this is a picture of the album artwork,’ and it’s something to remember the project by.
“With BYSAINT, as a clothing brand, instead it’s like: ‘here’s the world, here’s something that represents a world that is BYSAINT.’”
Santino’s desire to be hands-on with every project chimes with the key principle of artist involvement with every whynow Music collection. “I just want to be involved in everything,” he says.
“I don’t want to be standoffish about anything with my stuff because I have a vision for exactly how I want my presence to be felt in the world through these things. And that can also help other people to understand the vision and we can all go together through this journey.”
Indeed, we love to categorise. But Santino has a vision of his own – one that BYSAINT both expresses and is a part of.