Music

Fucking in the Streets

The Endearing Joke of Die Antwoord

Fucking in the Streets

Clayton Cubitt

It's not really a big deal to "get" South African "zef" hiphop act Die Antwoord at this point.

It's not impenetrable. It's a joke. And a performance. And an art project. And its actors—a media-savvy art-school couple with a penchant for performance-art gags—are insanely committed to pulling it off, to the point of staying in character in public at all times, to the point of frontman Watkin Tudor Jones (aka Ninja) flashing a full back tattoo of new Interscope album title $O$ (with the "O" as a yin and yang symbol for extra lowbrow yuks). There are shades of Vanilla Ice here (white rapping, reverence for ninjas) or Eminem (white trash, or zef, pride), but it's a Vanilla whose ridiculousness is intentional, an Eminem whose white-trash trappings are put on. If anything, what Die Antwoord's rise most resembles is that of Andrew W.K.: an overnight sensation arriving as fully formed human cartoon characters with their own insular worlds (zef, partying) and attendant anthems. (One wonders if Die Antwoord might someday attempt a performance-art identity breakdown as weird and baffling as AWK's, possibly one involving yin and yang tattoo removal.)

At their gig opening for Deadmau5 at the Paramount last week, I was ready to hate these guys (and so, it seemed, was a lot of Deadmau5's crowd, a teenage raver hell of testosterone-y muscle-T bros and flesh-baring girls, many suffering from the kind of superhuman pastiness that only the combination of adolescence and club drugs can provide). Then something funny happened. Die Antwoord played "Enter the Ninja," their viral video hit, as their second song, and as Ninja rapped his ridiculous triumphalist verses (his double-time a little less convincing than, say, Yelawolf's) and the diminutive Yo-Landi Vi$$er sang its silly "butterfly" chorus and the two of them did little synchronized signing with their arms, it became wholly endearing. And I suddenly remembered that I fucking LOVE a good trickster in art and music! Here were these guys going hard on this gag, and the scam was totally working, all the way to the three-album deal (really? Three?) with Interscope. He wanted to be a ninja; now he is Ninja. Heartwarming, really.

The rest of the set mostly alternated between dubsteppy hiphop halftime and jock jam techno beats. Tellingly, the crowd went apeshit for the latter, boiling into a pogoing, fist-pumping monster at Ninja's hypeman command, but grew inattentive for the former, clapping in 4/4 time over a dubstep beat that obviously wanted to wobble and swing, as if trying to impose their preferred rhythmic grid over what the music was actually doing. When the music dropped out for Ninja to do a brief a cappella, the crowd seemed to lose interest almost entirely, chatter rising against the MC's rapping.

The set ended with Vi$$er alone onstage, delivering a zef salute and a largely inscrutable "fuck you" rant. She skipped off the stage singing "na na na na na" in her pipsqueak voice before delivering the last words, "Whatever, man." I'm never going to listen to Die Antwoord's music for pleasure or anything—choosy postcolonial- joke-rap fans choose Das Racist—but after this show, I kind of like these jokers. recommended

 

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