Thursday, October 18, 2012

Die Antwoord got freeky at Liberty Hall last night

Posted By on Thu, Oct 18, 2012 at 12:13 PM

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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.

“Paul?”

“Yes, Dave?”

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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