Who are Die Antwoord? Well. That’s something of a loaded question. Short answer? They’re a South African hip-hop group who are the most visible faces of the Zef counter-culture movement, and who represent said culture in a debatably self-aware and possibly even satirical nature. Zef, in short, is sort of the South African equivalent of “redneck” — perhaps a touch “hood rich” or even déclassé — and its practitioners frequently speak or at least reference Afrikaans. (Die Antwoord, as it happens, is Afrikaans for “The Answer.”) You might recall Die Antwoord’s video for “Enter the Ninja,” a visually stunning and mildly disturbing glimpse at Zef that “went viral,” as they* say, several months ago.
Who are Die Antwoord? The long answer — or should I say “die long antwoord”? — is so very much longer. Too long, in fact, for me to write or for any of you to read. I shall jump in, just slightly, after the jump. But for now, the essentials: Die Antwoord are playing Nov. 3 at Cannery Ballroom, and tickets will be $20 in advance and $22 the day of. They’ll be available right here at 10 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 15. Whatever their live show consists of, it’s certainly not something that I, as a curious seeker of all things musically and culturally fascinating, will want to miss. Now, we continue ...
Months ago, as the entire ’Net was finding itself enraptured with “Enter the Ninja,” I found myself only marginally aware of their existence. I knew there was a hip-hop group … a hip-hop group from a different country who sported mullets and had rats for pets. But I didn’t delve. Not for a while, anyhow. It wasn’t until I stumbled across a few blog posts — this one in particular — discussing and debating what Zef truly is, who Die Antwoord truly are, and what, if anything, this whole phenomenon’s impact would be, that I found myself intrigued enough to dig deeper.
Right off the bat, I found Die Antwoord members Watkin Tudor “Ninja” Jones and Yo-Landi Vi$$er — the latter of whom was offered and swiftly rejected the leading role in David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo — so incredibly fascinating to look at and to listen to in interviews to that I couldn’t even fully divorce my feelings about their aesthetic from what I thought of the music. Who are these people?! Are they for real?!? Truth is, Ninja is a genuinely talented rapper, Vi$$er can sing — or at least sounds like it thanks to production — and their beats, which some describe as “rap rave ringtone,” are relatively compelling and unique.
As Die Antwoord embrace and represent the strangely exotic and fascinating elements of working-class South African culture, it’s hard to say how genuine they truly are. Ninja’s tattoos — complete with all sorts of gang references — are real enough … those accents and haircuts, too. But is their group — and their music — a caricature of South African life? Anyway you slice it, it’s pretty clear that these folks know how to put themselves out there in a manner that is perplexing and intriguing to the rest of the world. Flash in the pan? Sign of the times? Well, you’ve got your Gagas on the mainstream tip and your Witch Houses on the underground tip proving that an easy way to be viable nowadays is to be aesthetically shocking. I have no idea whether these strange and interesting South Africans will usher a new aesthetic into the modern zeitgeist, but I can certainly say I want to see what the crazy bastards have in store for us on Nov. 3.
* “They” = dorks.