Die Antwoord is one of two things: either a brilliant satirical performance art group exposing the world to the post-apartheid slum culture of South Africa, or a tragi-comic trio of white people trying to cash in on their racially confused delusions of grandeur and pure weirdness. There are plenty of vocal proponents for each stance, but regardless of what you think they might be, what they are is unarguably one of the most bizarre and visceral mashups of rap, tribal beats and rave culture happening anywhere in the world right now.
Die Antwoord busted into town on the night of Saturday August 4 and caused one of the biggest traffic jams at First Avenue’s main doors in recent memory. The band came from Lollapalooza in Chicago the previous night and it was with that kind of frantic energy that the sold-out crowd in Minneapolis came out to greet them. The group is comprised of DJ Hi-Tek, who is either one real person or one character played by a rotating cast of friends and musicians, but performs with a mask either way to provide backing for vocalists Ninja and Yolandi Vi$$er, hailing from South Africa. If Kanye West is a celebration of high brow meets low brow then Die Antwoord is an explosion of low brow meets lower brow. The group’s breakout video, “Enter The Ninja” hit the internet in 2010, went viral and is now up to 11.2 million views. The beats are uninspired, the English lyrics (they switch between English and Afrikaans) are mostly laughable and the track samples heavily from a song featured in the original Dance Dance Revolution arcade game. While the general sound of the band has matured a great deal in the last two years and the lyrics have improved a little bit they’ve stuck with the dirty, poor, crass, emaciated aesthetic created in the first video.
If there is any hint of intelligent design behind their efforts it’s the fact that the live show draws so heavily from their online presence and commits brilliantly to a completely distinct personal brand. A single projection screen behind DJ Hi-Tek’s modest booth and fairly conventional, albeit hyperactive, lighting were the only embellishments and although there were a couple of wardrobe changes, one of them meant Ninja just did the last half of the show in the Pink Floyd boxers he wears in the “Zef Side” video. They played for just under an hour, hitting all of their highest viewed videos on Youtube as well as three other tracks from their most recent album that the crowd received just as enthusiastically as their most well known tracks. If “enthusiastic” is the correct word to be used for a constantly moving wall of human sweat and ecstasy.
This act should not be as fascinating as it is. As much as it seems like a weird, brilliant act of alien genius, it’s also a disturbing circus of lower class culture inflated beyond the point of reason—beyond the point of Interscope records being willing to sign them recently despite the fact that their stock seems to be rising wherever they go. I almost bought into the argument that this is satire right up until “Enter the Ninja” was performed as the encore without a hint of self awareness. And while the presented dynamic is Ninja as frontman with Yolandi acting as his one woman hype-crew, it’s Yolandi herself that is by far the weirder, more fascinating figure of the two. Her squeaky voice and violently haphazard peroxide mullet make her the obvious focal point and she is featured more heavily in the videos, the projection during the show and is generally a more skilled MC than Ninja.
The ferocity with which Ninja and Yolandi serve up whatever it is they’re serving is so sincere, so authentic, that it overwhelms any possible sense of irony. And that’s where any intellectual dissection of whatever they are can just stop. These three performers completely devoured the stage, whipping the crowd into a frenzy from the first beat to the last. I’ve seen much larger acts fail to fill the stage let alone electrify every inch of the club they way they did. Regardless of any doubts or reservations I might have about the material these people are creating, I will, without a doubt, be at the next show they put on here, and will be recommending it to anyone who loves a loud, foul, intensely good time.
Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Funders Collaborative.