Die Antwoord deliver alien life to Vancouver
Robert Collins, ctvbc.ca
Published Monday, February 20, 2012 8:11AM PST
A year is a long time in pop music. Twelve months ago, Die Antwoord were starring on countless magazine covers and being talked about as the dawn of a new rap revolution. Youtube sensations and ambassadors of a culture called Zef that may or may not actually exist. Artists or satirists? The only thing certain about the band (if it really was a band) is that no one had heard anything remotely like South African gangsta rap/rave before.
In 2012, things changed. Die Antwoord parted ways with their record company and what was once perceived as radical now just looks weird.
That was how the script was supposed to read.
But judging by last night's events at Vancouver's Commodore Ballroom, there's nothing novel about these white South African rappers with dubious haircuts. If anything, the world can look forward to their distinctly foreign brand of party rock for many years to come.
It's easy to see why Die Antwoord (which translates as ‘The Answer' in Afrikaans) have caught the imagination of music fans who like their performers a little, let's say, quirky. The band consists of a DJ, Hi-Tek, who, over the course of last night's show, never once removed his monster mask; Yo-Landi Visser, a pixie-faced, mullet-headed singer/hype girl of diminutive stature and foul mouth; and Ninja, a flat-topped rapper/performance artist whose real name is apparently Watkin Tudor Jones. They come from Johannesburg and purport to represent white working class ‘Zef' culture in South Africa. Based on last night's evidence, this is a very strange culture indeed.
Musically, Die Antwoord have two basic modes. The first is grinding hip hop, with opening track ‘Fok Julle Naaiers' being a prime example. The main difference between this kind of hip hop and the traditional American version is the amount of cursing in Afrikaans. The second, and far more interesting, mode, is when they delve into the legacy of techno and electro by rapping along to rave sounds of the recent past, like ‘Baby's On Fire', ‘Wat Kyk Jy' and a bouncing rendition of ‘I Fink U Freeky' that tested the structural integrity of the Commodore's famously springy floor.
Throughout the entire hour-long performance, the energy and pure volume was mesmerising. But what makes Die Antwoord really interesting is that unlike fellow rave-rappers LMFAO, it's not all about the party.
"Two penises rob a bank," interjected Ninja after performing four songs. It was the first line of a joke that was as bizarre as it was crude. The oddness was typical. Any time it seemed like Die Antwoord were about to explain what they're really about, the goalposts moved again.
Sonically, it's high-energy party jams all the way. Image-wise, it's Afrikaans avant garde; Ninja's clumsy dancing, prison tattoos and white trash rat-tail paired with the oddest moustache of the 21st century. Aesthetically, it's challenging – the band performed many songs to a video backdrop of racially charged, often violent, and occasionally pornographic images. There was never an explanation. The answers, (die antwoorde, to continue the theme) never emerged.
There will be talk in certain online circles that Die Antwoord's time in the sun has come and gone. Vancouver knows otherwise. Because what this sold-out and rapturously received concert demonstrated is that there is a hunger for rap music that sounds and says something different. The Zef culture of Johannesburg may be completely alien to British Columbia. The one thing that is clear is it is definitely not American. And neither are we.
Maybe that's why Vancouver embraces Die Antwoord so warmly? Or maybe we just like to party with weirdoes.