Die Antwoord: The Only Interesting Thing Happening in Music
Punk is no longer edgy. Hip-hop and heavy metal have been relegated to a retirement home for once underground art forms. Three decades have passed since music on the fringe began rustling the feathers of parents everywhere. In fact, plenty of former punkers are now parents themselves. But post-everything parents circa 2012 have a new cause for alarm: Die Antwoord.
Last weekend, the bleach-blonde South African duo bounded onto the stage of Shrine Auditorium, just a bong’s throw away from USC’s fraternity row. This was the first North American installment of Sónar Fest, which brings one of Europe’s edgiest and most progressive electronic music festivals across the Atlantic. The lineup is eclectic, veering from American house DJ Seth Troxler to Toronto’s Azari & III, who vogued their way through a catwalk-stomping, gender-bending fashion show.
Die Antwoord claim to be siblings. He’s Ninja: a tall, gangly, albino-esque, baby bird whose body is scrawled with tattoos so haphazardly inked they look like NASCAR sponsorships drawn by Russian prisoners. He raps with a flow that’s drenched in the cadences of Afrikaner, a Dutch-meets-English linguistic mashup that delivers growling “R’s” punctuated by undulating starts and stops.
She’s Yo Landi. Nearly half Ninja’s height, her razor-cut bangs and stark white hair almost match her washed-out skin tone, giving her the paradoxical look of an elderly adolescent. As she raps and sings, her voice slices with a high pitched staccato. Minnie Mouse on ecstasy would sound less otherworldly. She struts on stage, dropping layers of clothes like auxiliary rockets falling from a space shuttle. Her metamorphosis begins with an oversized sweat suit and ends with kiss-smooched boxers and a bra. “I’m a rrrreeeech beeeech” she sneers on the club banger “Rich Bitch,” sliding across the stage with a cross-country skiing shuffle. The crowd howls back as Ninja thrusts his pelvis. He’s wearing Dark Side of the Moon boxers. A fan with a jigsaw puzzle tattooed on his face punches his fist in the air next to hoodie-wearing USC co-eds who seem like they woke up just in time to catch the show.
Die Antwoord don’t get radio play (radio is so 20th century), but they have hits to accompany their unceasing production of viral video gold. The audience jumps along to piston-pumping beat of “Baby’s On Fire.” A group of 20-somethings, decked out in their best Yo Landi costumes, howls along as she writhes through to the slinky chorus to “I Fink You Freaky.”
They became blog-famous when Boing Boing’er-in-chief Xeni Jardin highlighted their inimitable look and big-beat Euro-trash rap sound. Their videos have featured (in no particular order): Keith Herring style graffiti, stunt bike tricks, enthusiastic little people, Pokemon suits, semi-automatic pistols, motorized wheel chairs, Lady Gaga being eaten by lions (after giving birth to a bug).
Their videos have also drawn accusations of racism and classism, as they seem to be making fun of South African slums. Are they “white trash” Africans or poverty tourists posturing for maximum shock value, like the critically reviled but commercially successful rap world jokers, Insane Clown Posse? At the Shrine, the crowd doesn’t seem to care. Here, Die Antwoord’s beats and party-stoking onslaught reign. Hail to the freaks.