It is rare that an artist achieves mythic status as quickly as Die Antwoord has. Of course, the South African rave-rap pranksters did a great deal to help generate their own legend. They are an act in every sense of the word–but whereas Joaquin Phoenix only committed to some impressive facial hair, heavily tattooed frontman Ninja has dedicated his entire body to his elaborate joke. (Which is unfortunate, considering that partner-in-crime Yo-Landi Vi$$er’s aggressively mullet-like hairstyle is arguably more iconic, and also less permanent.)
The two claim to represent South Africa’s Zef culture, which Yo-Landi has described as, “kind of like you don’t give a f**k and you have your own flavor and you’re on your own mission…Zef is, you’re poor but you’re fancy. You’re poor but you’re sexy, you’ve got style.” It’s a difficult concept to pin down from an outsider’s point of view, but between their use of surrealist imagery and outrageously vulgar lyrics, Die Antwoord’s mission and style seems to based on finding out what they can get away with.
Thanks to their off-the-wall music videos, an endorsement from curator of cool BoingBoing.net, and a healthy dose of actual talent, Die Antwoord’s viral success culminated in a deal with Interscope, who just released their debut $O$. Their steadily growing fanbase is ostensibly in on the joke, but is possibly more dedicated than that of many conventional artists. At Nashville’s Cannery Ballroom, there was a visible contingent of audience members wearing homemade t-shirts printed with “FOKKEN ZEF” and other popular slogans. Pre-show conversations revolved around unraveling the Die Antwoord story, questioning whether or not the duo is really married with a child, and listing off other experimental bands they’ve been in.
In a pop environment where so many artists seem interchangeable, Die Antwoord provide something different for music geeks to dig into, even if it’s not completely genuine. Having taken the bait, the audience was quick to discard all dignity as Ninja and Yo-Landi led an Afrikaans chant that translates to “Your mother’s private parts in a fish paste jar.” Every song was a singalong, even those that were only on the original self-released version of $O$, such as “Wat Pomp,” which features the immortal taunt, “I’m not weird, you’re weird…I fit right in, like my c**k in your mother.”
Within a year, Die Antwoord have cultivated their image to the point where they performed in front of a slideshow of pictures of themselves. Considering how much effort they put into their presentation, they have a surprisingly DIY aesthetic. With a minimalist stage set-up, Ninja and Yo-Landi delivered their self-described “car crash rap style” with more panache than most artists who take themselves seriously, crowd-surfing and dashing across the stage with abandon. (Yo-Landi spat more than bilingual rhymes, joyfully flinging water into the crowd throughout the set.) The two donned the corresponding outfits from their music videos for various songs, including Ninja’s penis-extension microphone from “Evil Boy,” this time attached to Spongebob Squarepants boxers. Even more curiously, he also appeared to be wearing a homemade Pikachu costume at one point. Pokemon seems like an unusual intrusion to Die Antwoord’s zef-rave stylings, but there is not much that is usual about them.