Die Antwoord, The Cannery, Nashville
November 3, 2010
Mysterious South African Interweb phenom Die Antwoord descended upon Nashville’s Cannery Ballroom late this past Wednesday evening like the funky space hip-hop rave-rapper aliens that they are –a whacked-out talented trio overly comfortable and sickly confident in their lyrical spit and fucked-up raw, hard-edged Zef image. They brought with them to the Music City a biting wet drizzle and flashpoint coldness that set the weird mood perfectly. I waited impatiently in the red-brick corner darkness of the downtown industrial venue sipping red bull and slowly grinding my teeth.
Referring to themselves as “a mysterious force from the dark, dangerous depths of Africa,” their unique sound is difficult for the musical layman to accurately describe. It’s been portrayed as a sort of hyper-charged street vulgar fused with English, Afrikaans, and other regionally inflicted tribal languages. An artistic rap gang composed of lead man Ninja, co-conspirator Yo-landi Phi$$er, and the muted DJ Hi-Tek, they employ a kind of music they refer to as an “indigenous Cape Town beat” that seems to somehow successfully fuse early Nineties coke-addled club energy, current dark-rolling rave and house beats with a hardcore white-trash ghetto-rap attitude.
For internet, Facebook and Twitter-driven 20-something year old hipsters, Die Antwoord blew up early last winter. The mysterious controllers behind the group decided to utilize cyberspace’s numerous wide-reaching free social media outlets and edgy, explicit digital marketing as their initial springboard into the collective Ipod of the American & Euro masses. As part of their planned cyber-born launch, their debut album $O$ was made available as a free download on their official website last February. As a testament to how quickly the Die Antwoord movement caught on, one of their videos alone on Youtube (Zef Side) received nearly ten million views just within the first couple of months from its initial viral upload.
Not within the observed demographic, I caught the fever about a month ago (in print of all places) and for the past few weeks, like millions of others have done, are doing right now, and will be doing in the very near future, I fanatically researched everything I could about the group online. Youtubed & Wikipedia’d, only more questions arose. Who are these talented cretins?! I Google’d and searched further. Why can’t I stop watching their videos? I burned their CD and became a fan on Facebook. Is Ninja for real and why am I so attracted to Yolandi!? I started learning curse words in Africaans. Who is the real DJ Hi-Tek? I dug deeper, critically examining their past music and art projects and various other media launches. Is any of this real? I came to the November 3rd show seeking The Answer –which, ironically (or perhaps not), is Die Antwoord in Dutch Afrikaans.
I waited patiently through two opening sets by JEFF & the Brotherhood, a high-energy angry white kid duo-thing that played the hell out of an electric guitar and beat the shit of a used drum set, and then RYE-RYE, an attractive rapping Baltimore girl, her pitchman DJ and a semi-synchronized dance crew. Both bands’ music was entertaining enough and worthy (I guess) of opening for Die Antwoord, but I didn’t care; I’m not the club-going type, nor the kind of guy who travels to see music –not normally. I only made the trip across the time zone and a bunch of mediocre mountain ranges to investigate further the internet phenomenon that is Die Antwoord. Everything, everyone else in between was an inconvenient interlude.
And finally it was time for the long awaited reveal. The show opened with dark, menacing images of Leon Botha (aka DJ Solarise), one of Die Antwoord’s longtime South African backers and genuine believers, as well as one of the world’s longest living survivors of Progeria, projected onto a large screen above the stage. Creepy techno pulsed in from hidden house speakers and about 250 skinny-jeaned, in-the-know web creepers quickly came alive and pushed themselves up against the stage’s bowed railing. Then the muted DJ Hi-Tek, donning the mask of a grotesque apish figure born of out some Bokanovsky Process gone horribly wrong, slowly, yet purposefully walked out from the backstage shadows and took his place behind the set mixing board. His monstrosity of a rubber face lit green and black above his death music machine and he started hitting buttons and spinning invisible things. But it wasn’t until Yo-landi Phi$$er ran out onto the stage in her oversized playtime jumpsuit and masked hoodie that the collective energy of the Ballroom inhabitants imploded… and once Ninja appeared, strutting out onto the stage donning a full-on dark side, horned-one worshipping garb, the crowd completely exploded. The energy was absolute and sickening as I methodically pressed into the fan horde to try and get a closer view of the talented freaks.
While Ninja scares you with his deadlock, bug-eyed stares, ruff scrabbled urban-scrawled body tattoos and guttural Cape Town hoodlum threats, the nymphic & beautifully sick, helium-voiced Yo-landi Vi$$er heats you up with constant sexual teasing and snapshot flashes of her hot skinned, gold spandex’d business.
Their sound is quick, high-energy raw club rap that’s in-your-face, riddled with hard-edged Afrikaans obscenities. Above all, it’s highly Zef-motivated. Zef, according to Ninja, is “like the underbelly of Afrikaans; an embarrassing thing they want to hide away. The Zef swearing, for me, is so fucking extreme that it’s like cartoon language –this weird, like, freak mode fungus style. Because it’s not just language, it’s a whole culture.” It’s an overall feeling mixed with extreme coolness, overt ghetto-gangster fear-violence and overt, unprotected, uninhibited sexuality. Phi$$er’s definition of Zef is just as vague and difficult to grasp: “It’s associated with people who soup their cars up and rock gold and shit. Zef is, you’re poor but you’re fancy. You’re poor but you’re sexy, you’ve got style… it’s a South African underdog kind of style.” It’s been described as a unique urban style which is both modern and trashy, utilizing out-of-date, discarded cultural and style elements. Whatever it is, and however it fuels or channels the group’s creativity and drive, it (Zef) works and is ever-present in the Die Antwoord live experience.
Ninja’s lyrics are dangerous hybrids of both gangster and dramatic comedy. His high-energy is seemingly translated through his sinuous limbed gangling and knee-jerking physicality. A self-proclaimed freak of nature, he’s a badass mix between Vanilla Ice and the real-deal nuclear whacko living down the street in the unlicensed trailer. His body is tatted with hand written lyrics, primitive gang signs and crudely inked Richie Rich and giant-erection sporting Casper cartoons.
I cornered Len, DA’s South African chief stage manager, outside as he tried to steal a private, quiet moment during JEFF & the Brotherhood’s ridiculously loud set. He was drinking a Heineken, staring off across the series of black & white train tracks spread across the drizzling industrial Nashville night. I had my boys form a wall, allowing Len and myself the proper privacy and space to conduct the interview. He told me that this latest two month sweep across the US, a sort of re-release/premiere of the group’s $O$ album, has been “nothing but fuckin’ good times… surrounded by good people. We had ourselves a great party at every stop along the way.”
The show ended as abruptly as it started –with Ninja, Yo-Landi, and DJ Hi-Tek departing the stage one at a time, each having played an integral role in the audience’s blown-out experience. They played all of their tracks off their album, capping off the night with a special battle rap set against Enya’s early 90’s Sail Away hit. The Cannery was Die Antwoord’s final show in the states before jetting across the Atlantic to play Berlin’s infamous Ostenbahnhef, as well as performing at a series of other Euro club-stops along the way, ultimately ending the tour with a summer music festival back home in South Africa. If their mission on this stateside tour was to introduce and/or re-introduce themselves to the American public, then, as Len expressed under the dripping cold eave, caught in the fog of a hundred different cigarette smoke plumes, “it was a huge fuckin’ success.”
With most of the musical hooks written for a second, upcoming album (tentatively titled Tension), and backed by recently signed Interscope Records, Die Antwoord is going to be around awhile. In what form or at what level of fame depends entirely upon them and the next direction they opt to take. Regardless, Ninja promises that Die Antwoord will produce five albums total before they vanish back into the South African mist.
I’M COMING FROM THE DARK SIDE OF THE FUCKIN MOON!
I’M A GOD OR A DEVIL! HARDER THAN METAL!
JA, I’M A REBEL! FUCK YOU IF YOU NOT ON MY LEVEL
LOT OF NOSEY NAAIERS DIGGING IN MY PAST
LIKE AN IRRITATING LITTLE FINGER IN MY ARSE
-In Your Face
HAPPY! HAPPY! JOY! JOY!
CRUSH! KILL! DESTROY! GOOI!
CAR-CRASH RAP STYLE!
AH MAN THAT’S WILD!
EVIL BOY RAP TIME!
PEOPLE GOOI ZAP SIGNS!
FULL FUCKIN FLEX! FRE$!
BEEN CUT SO DEEP FEEL NO PAIN IT’S NOT SORE
DON’T ASK FOR KAK OR YOU’LL GET WHAT YOU ASK FOR
I’M LIKE A WILD ANIMAL IN THE CORNER
WAITING FOR THE BREAK OF DAWN
TRYING TO GET THROUGH THE NIGHT
JUST A MAN WITH A WILL TO SURVIVE
MY BLADES SWING FREE DECAPITATE A HATER
WITH AMAZING EASE
-Enter the Ninja
Badass Ninja Quote:
“Cus, the only real things in life is the unexpected things. Everything else is just an illusion.”
Badass Yo-Landi Phi$$er Quote:
“Joe mae se poes in a fispaste jar!”
Must See DIE ANTWOORD Online Videos/Sites: