9 Feb 2012: The Trocadero Theatre Philadelphia
As I walked over to the bar at the Trocadero I heard a man say, “Fuck I’ve seen it all!”. He looked like me, 31 and out of place. He was of course referring to the crowd at the Die Antwoord show because they looked like extras that just walked off the set of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. They were there to show support for South Africa’s foremost rap group. They wanted to flash the middle finger like they were at a Tyler the Creator show while dancing wildly to the rap/rave soundtrack for the end of the world. They wanted to get ZEF! (more on that later).
Die Antwoord made a splash on the interwebs in early 2010 when a quasi-documentary and music video were posted on You Tube. The members: Ninja, Yo-Landi Vi$$er and DJ Hi-Tek stood tall in their modest Cape Town neighborhood and talked with gusto about taking over the game. They promoted the “Zef” counter culture, which is akin to “working class” or “blue-collar” in the US. They were proud and confident. They are, just simply, a sight to see. Video is the perfect medium to experience Die Antwoord. After the first viewing you might find yourself asking, “Is this a joke?”
Die Antwoord present themselves as poor people from South Africa who seem to foolishly believe in their talents. Their themes are the usual: money, sex and weed. But it’s their presentation that is so off-putting. They appear as though they have ONLY absorbed American pop culture through Grand Theft Auto and the first Eminem album. You almost want to hold them and say, “Aww…you guys are cute, but you fucked it all up”. But the more I delved into the world of Die Antwoord, I had an epiphany: We fucked up!
The gaunt and tattooed MC Ninja is the frontrunner. He has gold teeth and an accent that most Americans would associate with a “cockney bloke”. He is pushing 40, but raps like a machine gun. Ninja (born Watkin Jones) has been part of the South African rap scene for years, but under several different personas. Die Antwoord is just his latest art/rap project. He’s a satirist with talent for his targets. Imagine a South African version of Ali-G and you have Ninja.
His sidekick Yo-Landi Vi$$er sounds like a renegade chipmunk, but she couldn’t be sexier. She is barely five feet tall but carries herself like Rick Ross. She’s a sexpot that spits with a knack for making the boys holler. She is Lil’ Kim and MC Lyte. Ninja is Luke and Scarface. Yo-Landi and Ninja are everyone. They are a parody of the often-ludicrous method of hyper realizing popular culture—a culture we created and presented through music videos and clothing lines. They are a parody of us, but it’s so much fun to watch.
Die Antwoord’s fans were strong. They grooved through the opening DJ’s set, a ravey mix by Nasty Sinatra, but grew restless as soon as the beats stopped. The crowd was reminiscent of (GULP) something you would see at an Insane Clown Posse show. The die-hards were unmistakable. Fan-made hoodies were all the rage. I spotted around seven white hoodies with the words “Fok Off!” scribbled on the back with a Sharpie. “Fok Off!” is homage to the abrasive nature of Die Antwoord, but like the band these fans weren’t threatening. The last show I was really pumped to see was St. Vincent, and now I’m getting amped up at a Die Antwoord show? What is happening???
Die Antwoord’s DJ Hi-Tek was the first to hit the Trocadero stage in his orange, prison style hooded jump suit. The crowd immediately started moshing and that’s when I spotted my first crowd surfer. Not a note had been heard and people were already risking concussions. I consciously moved to the back of the musty old theater to avoid being struck by a sneaker with “Fok Off” scribbled across the heel. I stood by the blues and grays (the 30+ club) and was transfixed the moment Ninja and Yo-Landi sauntered in from stage left. Wearing the aforementioned hooded jumpsuits, they hung their heads low like boxers getting ready for a title bout.
The sold out crowd light up physically and mentally as Ninja and DJ Hi-Tek blasted through their first song. Ninja and the crowd exchanged middle fingers and the madness ensued. Opening with “Hey Sexy” off their recently released album Ten$ion”, Die Antwoord set the tone early.
If you took a looked at the crowd, but removed the performers, it would be confusing. You would have no idea what kind of show it was. One section was moshing furiously, making the blue and grays very nervous, while glow stick kids performed tricks on the corner. Pressed up to the stage were teenage chicks dressed like meth-addled Madonnas (“Like a Virgin” era). Another section stood dressed in animal outfits that were made for a Flaming Lips show. The scared old people… well I already told you, we hid in the back. Did this melting pot of fans see what I saw? Did they see Die Antwoord winking at us? Most of all… did they even care?
By the second song Ninja and Hi-Tek had tossed their shirts off and I saw a woman next to me hiding under her boyfriend’s beard. I didn’t think the shirtless men were that bad until I realized she might have been shocked by the images of children with Progeria that flashed on a big screen behind the band. More evidence that Die Antwoord are performance artists. Their music videos are laden with similar unsettling imagery. They have been inspired by the visual panache found in music videos from Aphex Twin and Nine Inch Nails. Once again, Die Antwoord is everyone.
Yo-Landi was wearing all black contact lenses that made her look ever more alien. She went through several costume changes, one skimpier than the next. Yo-Landi’s sexuality is just as striking as Ninja’s delivery. She is a spitfire and incited a near riot every time she shook her ass for the crowd, which was often. Her appearance and beauty demand attention. She dances like she watched every rap video from 1992 until now. She and Ninja are the perfect team.
During a quick break DJ Hi-Tek started playing the refrain from Enya’s “Sail Away” on a loop. In a stroke of what seemed to be improvised comic genius Ninja began shouting, “Sail away mutta fuckas!”. So here I stood, watching a shirtless man encouraging a crowd to sing along with him as he rapped over Enya. I had no problem with this. I didn’t sing along but I was having a rollicking good time at this vaudevillian rap show.
Die Antwoord closed out the show with their two most popular songs. The latest single from Ten$ion, “I Fink U Freeky” and the single from the first album that put them on the map, “Enter the Ninja”. “I Fink U Freeky” is a 2 Live Crew inspired dance track that had even the blue and grays shuffling their feet. A dangerously skinny man dressed in only a Speedo hopped in the stage to dance along with the raucous crowd. He was obviously part of the act, and this was made evident by the wedgies he kept giving to himself. Ninja stood hunched over, staring at this man’s ass while giving it the middle finger.
“Enter the Ninja” was the perfect way to end the evening. After about a 50-minute show Die Antwoord let us know where they came from. They came from the tongue and cheek side of popular culture. Embracing the world of rap culture from a distance. It’s a world they love, but never let control them. They take every aspect from the culture to create their art. Which poses the question when dealing with Die Antwoord: Do you care more about art or authenticity? By the end of the show I didn’t feel like I just watched three people use American culture for a gimmicky act. I found deconstructionists who aren’t trying to trick anyone. They are visual artists leaching of rap/rave culture. I can’t wait to see what they do next, and if you don’t agree… FOK OFF!!