The members of Die Antwoord have been making music for a few years now, but my first experience with the act was earlier this year, as a fan of David Letterman. After DA performed on Letterman, he got a lot of mileage out the phrase I fink you freeky
, a line from one of Die Antwoord’s songs off of this year’s release, Ten$ion
“I fink you freeky and I like you a lot.”
Die Antwoord, led by vocalists Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er, has brought South African 'Zef’ culture to the world. Zef, as I understand it, is sort of like a self-identification similar to what being a 'chav’ is in England, but with the difference that it is considered a positive indicator rather than an insult. Think track suits, souped-up cars and lots of gold, a la Lady Sovereign. Someone who’s happy to be trashy, and to show it. The band has been the center of a lot of buzz this year, mostly for its videos, which are stuffed to the brim with bizarre and grotesque imagery.
The live show at Liberty Hall last night was a spectacle, and the sound was commanding. The outfits were deliciously loud (and/or very small), the video screen was powerful, the energy was high, and the band’s fans came ready to show their devotion. Those fans were also a lot of fun to watch — lots of them in rave wear, including a few full-body fur costumes, an impressive feat considering the temperature inside of Liberty Hall.
However, I am of two minds after seeing the performance — the other being that the music itself is more often than not pretty awful. The phrase “aggressively bad” is not a stretch. Essentially the members of Die Antwoord rap and sing over Euro-style house music and simple, old-school rap beats. The lyrics, almost all of them, could have been written by a child (albeit a demented one): I am a rich bitch/A motherfucking rich bitch/I wasn’t always a rich bitch/I used to be a poor girl/in a bad situation
. Or: I’m a ninja yo/My life is like a video game /I maintain when I’m in the zone/One player one life on the mic
. And... so on. Ninja and Yo-Landi’s flows aren’t as bad as the lyrical content, but there’s nothing particularly creative there, either.
This is an act that’s clearly fond of wild and surreal imagery, and selections from their videos played on a big screen behind them throughout the night. Also, a large inflatable stay-puft-looking creature with a giant erection shared the stage for the last few songs.
I like art that makes you think, or art that challenges you. That’s what Die Antwoord claims to do. My problem is, while I found the show visually compelling, I just don’t see how any of the barrage of elements that Die Antwoord throws at you connects in any way. The outfits, the lyrics, the videos, the boners — they all seem independent, all thrown in your face with the intention of shocking you for shock’s sake. And there is nothing shocking about that.
Not that the crowd cared — they were there to dance, and despite the brevity of the show (just over one hour), most appeared pretty thrilled with the performance. If that’s the whole point, mission accomplished.