Monday, June 24, 2013

'Die Antwoord' at the Brixton Academy, 24th June 2013

The first thing you have to realise about Die Antwoord is that they're simultaneously the realest thing ever and utterly, totally artificial.  The second thing you have to realise is that that distinction means absolutely nothing.  Die Antwoord (Afrikaans for "The Answer") are a rap/rave group from South Africa.  The primary members are; Ninja, a tattooed, wirily muscled aggressive rap gangster/superhero; Yo-landi Vi$$er, a screeching, foul mouthed machine-gun spitting, jailbait trash-princess; and DJ Hi-Tek, master of beats, prone to wearing freakish masks and angrily yelling about sodomy.

They exist under the philosophy and lifestyle of "Zef". Zef is the freaky, ultra-trashy, violent youth culture of working class South Africa.  It's blunts, bling, bitches, gang signs and modded cars with light-up rims - an orgy of pure materialism hellbent on objectifying everyone in path.  Zef style is a carcrash of discarded, out of date cultural detritus; a place where the idea of restraint, taste and politeness is alien.  It's exactly how capitalism dictates  supposed to behave as consumers, extended so far that it becomes farce. You've got to take all you can, as fast as you can and let everyone know exactly what you've got.  As Yo-landi says:

"You're poor but you're fancy. You're poor but you're sexy, you've got style."
But confusing all this is that Die Antwoord aren't actually poor, working class South Africans. They're artists and Die Antwoord is the culmination of previous projects with names like 'MaxNormal.TV' and 'The Constructus Corporation'.  They describe the band as an "exaggerated experience" created to try and tear people away from their dull, grey existences or, as Ninja says:
"People are unconscious and you have to use your art as a shock machine to wake them up."
That they're exist as fiction and reality at the same time means they exist in an interestingly liminal state, occupying similar ground to Gorillaz though with a much more direct artistic manifesto.  Whether they are "real" or not (or even what "real" is in terms of the world of popular music) becomes essentially irrelevant.  In their excellent videos, their music, their art and here in their live show the sheer gravity of their personae irresistibly suck you in.

A good way to start a concert.
And BOY what a live show.  First up on screen is the huge projected head of Leon Botha.  He was a South African artist and DJ.  Botha was the oldest survivor of progeria when he died, and the sight of him, looped out over the audience in a blinking, softly moving loop gives us our first taste of exactly what we're in for.  Then DJ Hi-Tek takes to the stage and launches straight into:  "DJ Hi-Tek will fuck you in the ass / Fuck you in the ass, you punk ass white boy / I'll fuck you till you love me, faggot."

As a statement of intent for the show to come it's quite something.  This is one of the reasons I love Die Antwoord; I can never quite pin down how I feel about stuff like this.  Part of me is screaming out that someone standing on stage shouting the word "faggot", with hundreds of people singing along with that isn't a good thing.  But then DJ Hi-Tek is gay himself, and generally in hip-hop you don't see rapaciously aggressive gay men ranting about how they want to sexually degrade the audience.

Ninja at Brixton Academy, photo by Siamak Amini
After the the show proper kicks off.  Their music extends their principles of Zef right through its core. These songs are high energy rave music, using the kinds of samples, drums and synth hits that you'd hear on some particularly fucked up dance compilation from 1994.  This is married to some absolute brutal, fast-paced rapping., though Ninja and Yo-landi may be artists they're also outstanding rappers.  They both spit out machinegun quick lyrics in a mixture of English, Afrikaans and Xhosa, the multilingual nature of the lyrics giving them a transformative quality: after a stretch in English they'll switch to Afrikaan slang and you go along for the ride, deciphering it on the fly. 

If you know the song you can keep up, but there's just enough that's indecipherable to make them familiar and alien at the same time.  But, impressively, even though they're throwing out complicated South African street slang at rat-a-tat velocity, the crowd still manages to sing along.  There's the occasional song with a big chorus that everyone gets into, like 'Baby's On Fire' and 'I Fink U Freeky', but it's deeply impressive seeing a crowd singing along with passion to something as fast-paced and bonkers sounding as 'Fatty Boom Boom'.

Photo by Siamak Amini
Visually they're as dynamite as they sound.  In a typical song you have Ninja strutting around topless, showing off his wirily muscled body covered in tattoos that manage to be both perfect and terrible at the same time, Yo-landi bounds across the top of the stage, screeching rhymes like a demented rap chipmunk and behooded, anonymous dancers move sinisterly along the sides of the stage.  Up on the video screen there's cut-up clips from their videos, mashed together with still frames of fan art of the band, or incredibly bizarre underground vaginal animation sequences.  Later in the show a giant Casper the Friendly Ghost 'Evil Boy' inflates, smiling as he clutches his grossly distended, gently swaying cock.

About mid-way through the gig I pushed my way to near the front and began bouncing around in the huge sweaty moshpit that'd formed around the stage.  All of this intense music was blowing out my eardrums, I was getting shoved by slimy, sticky, smelly dancers, strobes flashing over and over again in my eyes as I jumped up and down screaming out the words to the chorus and whooping uncontrollably.  Towards the end of their set they move into one of their more straightforward rave songs, 'Never Le Nkemise 2', which builds to a gob-smackingly fun big bass drop.  The crowd goes bananas, as do Ninja, Yo-landi and the dancers on stage.

I hurl myself into the air, and then into other people, and then into the air again and then I yell a bit for no reason.  Any thought of complex semiotics behind the Die Antwoord project fade away, replaced by a simple urge to fucking dance.  This is the elusive mental rush of adrenaline and endorphins I go to these things for, a perfect union of visuals, music and atmosphere that hits you like a spike of amphetamines to the brain.  Perhaps they say it best themselves in 'Fatty Boom Boom':

"We drop the type of beats that make you shut the fuck up and dance,
We drop the type of beats so good you're fucking stuck in a trance,
In the overseas they like to say you're stuck in a trance,
We drop the type of beats that make you fucking cum in your pants."

God damn this was fun.  I love Die Antwoord simply because they're interesting.  They put videos out that look like nothing else.  The artistic philosophy behind what they do is intelligent and complex.  And perhaps most importantly they rap like demons and have the sickest beats around.  Die Antwoord are perhaps a fleeting glory, something that'll burn out all too soon or have their style co-opted and neutered by the mainstream.  But right now they're blazing like a supernova.

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