I’ve made clear my opinion about the Internet before, but I’ll once again summarize: it is equal parts the best and worst thing that has ever happened to humanity.
As someone who enjoys writing in a time when quality and accuracy is trumped by punctuality and quantity, I’m reminded of this every single day.
I mean, really. Be honest with yourself. You know it doesn’t take much searching to find the most hateful, vile, racist and xenophobic filth on the same site that can provide you an infinite amount of engaging, intelligent entertainment. I’m referring to YouTube, but the sentiment could stand for any number of destinations, including Tumblr, Reddit and 4chan.
It’s an intense and emotional paradox: the Internet is the source for some of the most positive fulfillment and enlightenment a person can experience, allowing users to find new careers and develop as people (whatever that means to them), while simultaneously acting as the soapbox and forum for the most evil, disgusting, abject refuse of the earth.
I bring this up because of the type of response that a band like Die Antwoord gets on the Internet – but only because the web acted as the primary vehicle for which listeners and naysayers alike found the band.
And since I goofed and didn’t include their debut album $O$ on this year’s list (thus solidifying today’s album Ten$ion as the only time I’ll get to write about them this year – whoops), a proper introduction is necessary: Die Antwoord is a South African alternative hip hop/rave group. No, this is not a joke.
The phrase “Die Antwoord” is Afrikaans (one of the native languages spoken in South Africa) for “the answer.” You may be asking: if ‘die antwoord’ is ‘the answer,’ then what is the question being asked?
And the truth is, that is the question: “What is the answer?”
So what is the answer? According to the band: “Everything.”
It’s this same type of befuddling mindfuck that makes me draw the comparison to Andrew WK. I’ll explain:
The group is made up of Ninja (also known as Watkin Tudor Jones, or ‘Watty’), Yolandi Visser, sometimes stylized as Yo-Landi Vi$$er (also known as Anri Du Toit). The two are not romantically involved but do have a child, whose name is – and I’m not kidding about this – Sixteen.
Providing their sound is DJ Hi-Tek, who is a distant and silent third wheel.
In trying to describe the band’s signature sound, I don’t even really know where to begin. Experimental rap? Alternative hip-hop? Afrikaans bombast? Listen for yourself. It’s different and unusual, but ultimately way out there.
The most glaring similarity between Die Antwoord and Andrew WK is the employment of a single word or phrase as a vehicle for their message of universalism and individuality. For Andrew WK, that word is party.
If you’ve followed the Cult of AWK, including peppering his audience with “party tips” several times a day via Twitter and Facebook, “party” doesn’t necessitate getting high or drunk or having casual sex. Party is just the word used as a catch-all for doing what you want to do. If partying to you means staying home watching Netflix or reading a book on Friday night, that’s party to you.
(Side note: Whether or not you buy into this type of character as destructive is not the argument I’m making here. I won’t make a judgment call on that issue one way or another.)
For Die Antwoord, their version of “party” is the word “zef,” which is an Afrikaans word which roughly translates into English as “common.”
In describing “zef,” Visser put it this way: “You’re poor but you’re fancy. You’re poor but you’re sexy, you’ve got style.”
But zef isn’t just used to describe aesthetics; on the contrary, it extends further to lifestyle. As it is with the “party” mantra of Andrew WK, being “zef to death” (what I assume to be a play on the English phrase “fresh to death”) is about living the life that you want to live, whatever that may mean to you.
And for a band that’s only been around since 2007, this type of counter-culture movement has exploded in South Africa, and as of 2009 and 2010, has extended to the international scene as well.
According to this article, the band’s celebrity fans include fellow South African Neill Blomkamp (District 9), David Lynch (best known for his Vine videos) and David Fincher (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Se7en, Madonna’s video for “Express Yourself”).
Their first ever international show was in front of 40,000 people at California’s Coachella Festival in 2010. None of the group’s massive success could have been made possible without the Internet, yes – but don’t let that statement take away from their creativity.
Their popularity wasn’t organic in the traditional way: hardworking band makes heartfelt, genuine tunes, bending and blurring the lines in an oft-tired genre; Pitchfork recognizes them and voila! success.
Not the case here. Instead, much to their advantage, the group used a close friend and confidante, but more importantly – an artist suffering from progeria: Leon Botha.
Progeria is an extremely rare disease that causes rapid aging. Botha, who to me acted as Die Antwoord’s progeria-addled spirit animal, lived to be 26 years old, one of the oldest living survivors of the disease ever.
The video in which he appears captured the essence of the group: bizarre, experimental… perhaps even genius. And since I haven’t really done the group’s sound justice, have a listen to “Enter the Ninja” from $O$, Die Antwoord’s debut album, and the first glance I ever got into the world of Die Antwoord:
Right, so maybe after listening to that, I should say that the band’s listener base that can best be described as what would happen if Insane Clown Posse and Skrillex fans had an orgy and the result sex blobs resulted in club wear-clad emo babies with tails for the ladies, and for men, I guess just pedophiles.
Ninja gives off the “white trash” vibe, but that’s just it. It’s not white trash. Zef is whatever you want it to be. That’s the point. So while my perception of their fan base might be the hypothetical offspring of the Juggalo and EDM armies, who am I to judge?
As it pertains to Ten$ion, the group’s second album, some of the raps are often difficult to understand because of Ninja and Visser’s accents, as well as the three languages they speak: English with thick accents, Afrikaans and Xhosa, an African ‘click’ language.
Thematically, their lyrics are something of a vapid trainwreck. I guess that’s a pretty accurate description of this group on the whole. It’s mostly self-hype, braggadocio and reinforcement, getting stupid high, and club sex. Yup.
But! Ten$ion does include, wait for it… AN INTERLUDE I DON’T HATE! See: “Zefside Zol” – mostly because it contains actual music. It renewed my faith in interludes. Just kidding: “Uncle Jimmy” occurs just two tracks later, and all hope is lost.
Look, in so many words, it’s easy to hate a band like Die Antwoord. Too easy, even. But once in a while, they’re a fun, sorta tasteless group to spin with a diverse background and an interesting story. Take it or leave it, but you can’t fault them for destroying convention.
From Die Antwoord’s Ten$ion, this is “Baby’s On Fire” –
Standout tracks: “I Fink U Freeky” and “Fatty Boom Boom”
Weakest track: “Uncle Jimmy”
RIYL: Experimental rap, alternative hip-hop… techno-infused rap? Don’t you dare say Afro-Beat to me.