Xuxa Santamaria, “Chancletas D’Oro”

Xuxa Santamaria’s newest offering is a trip through time and tall tales, entertaining as it confronts the contours of our culture.

If you’ve been expecting austere, monotonous noise-as-backdrop from the storied experimental Ratskin imprint, you’re shit out of luck. If, on the other hand, you’re an open-minded animal who moves through a world of sensation and symbols, the liturgical techno-pop of Xuxa Santamaria’s Chancletas D’Oro is a treat.

Xuxa (pronounced “Choo-cha”) is the thumping, ethereal Oakland-based dance/performance duo of Sofia Cordova and Matt Kirkland. Their second LP and first for Ratskin Records, Chancletas D’Oro pulses with the booty-busting grooves of electro-disco deep cuts, layered with erudite, mystical, and postmodern themes.

The album began its composition with “Puro Animal,” a re-imagining of Dracula from the perspective of the victimised Lucy, denied of narrative agency in the traditional Victorian telling. The modern twist makes the characters, per the label, “willing participants in their own corruption or liberation.” I mean, fuck, that’s heavy. It’s not obviously subversive, either, but are you allowed to enjoy it? The funky synths and smartly syncopated claps make it quite hard to resist doing so.

A visibly pregnant Cordova writhes on the floor with a dance troupe, cooing like Enya over glitchy acid beats in the video for “River Neva”—an operatic homage to the Women’s Day March that kicked off the 1917 Russian Revolution. Once again, it’s an embrace of the feminine perspectives long buried in a traditionally masculine story. Elsewhere, she’s far more visceral, and at times even more restrained. Each song, whether it’s the hushed “King Marsile,” the airy, half-paced crawl of “Heavens Gate,” or the centrepiece four-on-the-floor banger “Color of the Dark” is a case study of the duo’s versatility and thematic ambition.

Many lyrical themes reflect Cordova’s work as a conceptual artist who focuses on incubating physical and mental spaces to explore diasporic (meaning post-1492) cultures and ways of meaning. The song “White Pine” has a particularly clever twist, as we are told, based on an inversion of its source material: “the text of an early 20th century poem about tribal life in the Pacific Northwest, written by a white trapper, as a means to simultaneously twist and redirect the white gaze in on itself while still celebrating the knowledge of land and sea possessed by this continent’s first peoples.”

Take it from a former literature student raised by two professors of 20th Century Latin American Literary History: post/anti-colonial hermeneutics isn’t supposed to be fun. This is sobering, serious stuff. You don’t dance to ethnographies of indigenous kinships and deconstructions of mestizo value systems. But sometimes you just say, well fuck that. Here we are.

This record is part of an ongoing progression within the Ratskin oeuvre to move beyond mere “noise,” the soundless anti-form, to lift up voices that very much have something urgent to say about the world out there. And that world moves, shakes, sings. Sometimes, it destroys.

Lest you think it’s just one duo of ass-cheeks shaking to the beat of these subversive drums, the record closes out with an homage to Puerto Rican labour activist Luisa Capetillo, (trans.) “who wears the pants?” featuring that other duo of Oakland feminist electro-culonxs, Las Sucias.

I don’t endorse the common trope of dancing qua dancing as a revolutionary act. Sometimes I think dancing is kind of dumb, honestly. (But don’t listen to me, since my hips crack just when I stand up too quickly.) Rather, having fun during times of austerity can be a material, progressive redistribution of resources. Cultural capital, as human capital, can be taken back. Ultimately, it was always ours to begin with.

So go ahead, have some fun. Make some mischief, get in trouble.