all words: Andy Johnson
all photos: Katherine Gaines
“What’s taking so long? Does this band actually exist?”
The girls standing next to me, brown eyes splashed in glitter, shorn t-shirt safety-pinned below their scrawny arms, hair affixed with phosphorescent sundries, were upset that Die Antwoord (pronounced Dee-fooken-Antwerd) were running late.
Their hollow eyes and twitchy mannerisms gave the obvious impressions that these girls were far more amped than I was for this show. They would rather spend their minutes redistributing sweat and grime than making small-talk. I couldn’t blame them. As charming as my banter can be, when you’re spun, you want to move, not speak.
I found their whining more interesting than exhausting. “Does this band actually exist?” For most groups this would be an absurd question, and not in a back-handed Lana Del Ray sort-of-way. But in their case, this was a legitimate question. I’ve seen their grotesque music videos. I’ve read their nutty interviews. I know they tour and perform live, but the concept of Die Antwoord existing just seems so alien to actually be real.
To say that Die Antwoord are abnormal is an understatement. The supposed story of the group, whose name translates to “The Answer” in Afrikaans, is that three childhood friends grew up in the slums of Cape Town. DJ Hi-Tek got his hands on a “PC computer” and began making “next level beats” for his pals, tattooed emcee Ninja and hype-pixie Yo-Landi Vi$$er. The three created a mash of vulgar hip-hop and filthy rave, a mongrel genre designed to appeal to the Zef culture.
What is Zef? It’s their eccentric lifestyle, an unholy amalgam of UK Chav, Southern redneck, and hood rich. Vi$$er describes Zef as “It’s associated with people who soup their cars up and rock gold and shit. Zef is, you’re poor but you’re fancy. You’re poor but you’re sexy, you’ve got style.” Considering “zef” roughly translates to “common”, it makes sense that Die Antwoord would fuse to the most populist styles of the past quarter century – hip-hop and electronic dance music – and add their own cocky, South African spin to it to make appeal to those who want something “different” than the usual flavors of gangsta rap and europop.
The truth is Die Antwoord is an act. An apt comparison is professional wrestling. In the same way that the Undertaker is not undead, Ninja is not a lyrically-Zef mercenary of feudal Japan. The group actually consists of performance artist Waddy Tudor Jones, Anri du Toit, and producer Justin de Nobrega. This is not to say that Jones is an art-school dropout who just picked up rapping for shits-n-giggles. He’s been a staple in the South African hip-hop scene for over a decade, rapping in groups MaxNormal.TV and the Constructus Corporation.
Over time, Jones developed a penchant developing multiple stage personas and graphic design. After trial-and-error (these groups were mildly successful abroad, but no take in America), he created the identity of the hyper-violent rapper Ninja to front a rap-rave group, appropriating Zef culture for their own artistic (and financial?) goals. Although fiction may have created reality (and those haircuts are most definitely real), I doubt the group is “zef” once the spotlight is off. Proof: Jones and du Toit have a child. They never speak to the media out of character. DJ Hi-Tek uses a Mac.
As weird things are wont to do, their eccentric video for “Enter The Ninja” hit various web aggregators, racking up millions of views. In today’s hyper-capitalistic society, anything “unique” and “interesting” must be quickly commercialized. Sure enough, the record labels came a-knockin’.
The group eventually signed with Interscope because it was the home of Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminiem, and Marilyn Manson, another image-bending misfit. However, after re-releasing $0$, the group and the label parted ways (with the help of “hardcore lawyers that are like more powerful than lawyers, like devil slayer lawyers, like fucking Michael Jackson’s lawyers”) upon realizing that it’s tough to market impenetrable South African rap to teenage girls.
Now that you understand their biography, let’s revisit the question: Does this band actually exist? Yes, Die Antwoord is real. Very real. And they’re spectacular.
After the lengthy delay, the late Leon Botha, a prominent South African artist and an affiliate of the group who died last summer ago after a long bout with progeria, appeared on the video screen. A brute in an orange hooded jumpsuit and a monster mask then ascended to his turntables. This surely must be the mysterious Hi-Tek, who cedes the spotlight to the other members. I thought “Enter The Ninja” would be the first song of the night, considering its popularity, as well the its obvious literalness.
I was wrong. Hi-Tek chose to hype up the crowd with an extended mix of “Di Hi-Tek Rulez” of their newest album Ten$ion. This was a jolt, considering the lyrics:
“DJ HI-TEK WILL FUCK YOU IN THE ASS! DJ HI-TEK WILL FUCK YOU IN THE ASS! DJ HI-TEK WILL FUCK YOU IN THE ASS! FUCK YOU IN THE ASS! FUCK YOU IN THE ASS! YOU PUNK ASS WHITE BOY!”
If a show begins with the DJ threatening sodomy, you’re probably in for a wild night.
Ninja and Vi$$er entered next, also donned in the same jumpsuits, hoods up. The duo hopped into “Fok Julle Naaiers”, which translates to “Fuck You All.” If you thought it was tough to understand what they were saying with their “crazy thick South African accents” when listening at home, imagine trying to figure it out as the audience is going gorillas.
The two men tossed off their hoodies, while Vi$$er was reduced to her XL t-shirt and skimpy black bra. Ninja’s tattoos – a picture of a knife and Richie Rich on his chest, TEN$ION across his waist, a yin-yang and four swords on his back – were easily visible, both from his aggressive performance (high-fiving members of the crowd, constantly running around on stage) and their repeated close-ups on the video screen. When his tattoos weren’t on the screen, the visuals rotated between odd artwork (I can assume it was Leon Botha’s), bizarre imagery, and tiny, mischievous figures with massive erections.
To quote NBA superstar Kevin Garnett, after Ninja asked Hi-Tek to drop the titanic beat from “Fatty Boom Boom”, the 9:30 Club turned into a BAR FIGHT. Elbows were thrown. Arms were flailed. Feet were stomped and asses were grabbed. I may have seized during Vi$$er’s verse. I’m not sure. I tried to scribble notes into my moleskin only to have my arm smacked down and have some scruffy guy in a rattail (no doubt mimicking Ninja) shout “NO TIME FOR THAT!”
For the next hour, the trio put on an exciting show, touching upon all of their hits while rotating through costume changes as necessary. During “Beat Boy,” Ninja came out in Dark Side of the Moon boxers a’la the viral video, and swung his penis around in windmill like fashion (Pete Townshend, eat your heart out).
Vi$$er later donned the Zef-meets-Sopranos faux gold track suit for “Rich Bitch”, showing she’s as nimble a rapper as her partner, with lyrical skills that rival American rappers like Nicki Minaj or Azealia Banks (and obliterates SNL-via-YouTube scum like Karmin, whose whitewashed, “safe” covers of black music are the aural equivalent of turning down no-holes barred coitus for a handjob during The Artist).
But with all due respect to Hi-Tek’s vigorous beats and Vi$$er’s impressive flow, the star of the troupe is Ninja. He freestyled (“You must have heard / Ninja’s taking over / like Mark Zuckerburg”), he dived into the audience (in a bit of hilarious instant karma, he kicked the rattail jerk in the head), he did all he could to keep the energy level high throughout the performance. And what an energy there was! There was nonstop pandemonium until the trio closed its main set with the pulsating “I Fink U Freeky”, their current single that thoroughly freaked out David Letterman last week.
But they weren’t finished. They returned for the encore to finally bust out “Enter The Ninja”, the song that transitioned them from internet famous to actual famous. As Vi$$er’s pipsqueak voice uttered, “Ay-ay-ay, I am your butterfly / I need your protection, I need your protection” the girls near me pantomimed her exaggerated motions from the viral video, as Ninja continued to spit rhymes, eventually leaping into the audience for the second time, getting a huge pop from the line, “Fuck all of you who said I wouldn’t make it.”
They wouldn’t leave it like that. The show couldn’t end like that. Cheering? Applause? Nah, the show ended like it started, with DJ Hi-Tek dropping a particularly dirty rendition of “Never Le Nkemise 2”, the final song off Ten$ion, which is literally nothing but an extended dubstep outro. I feel bad for the janitorial staff of the 9:30 Club, because this was the moment that the 1100+ strong sold-out audience collectively lost their shit, writhing to Hi-Tek’s gargantuan wobbles that would make even three-time Grammy Award winner Skrillex jealous.
As I was walking out the club, I ran into the two girls from earlier. Their glitter was melted into their freckles, their hair a damp mess, their stylish, pre-torn shirts now appearing comical in the harsh post-concert light. I asked them what they thought of the show. I asked them if they now thought Die Antwoord “was real.” They took a second to compose themselves. They looked spent.
“Who gives a shit? I was fuuuuucked up!”
What a zef answer.