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Car Crash Music

by Andy Davis / 06.09.2010

Australian/South African rivalries have simmered for centuries. Whatever they do, we can do better. And vice versa. So it is with little surprise that the big island down under has produced an internet hip hop meme. Similarities abound between the Australian their revelation Bangs and our very own Die Antwoord. Primarily, there’s a whole legion of people who don’t know what to make of it. Is it a parody? Or is he just really bad? Fake or real? Sounds kind of familiar, right?

What we do know is that Bangs is a 19 year old Sudanese kid, born in North Khartoum, who moved to Egypt and then on to Australia with his family in 2003. On arrival in Melbourne in 2004, like so many, he started writing and recording hip hop. In around May 2009 he shot a music video against a green screen for a song called “Take You to the Movies” and released it on Youtube. It includes visuals of bling and expensive cars. It’s unsophisticated, cliched and very watchable. Things were quiet for a few months and then it started to erupt. It has now had well over 3.5 million hits (Die Antwoord’s “Enter the Ninja” has had 7 million).

Ever since then Australian media have been trying to figure out what to make of their Sudanese rap “sensation”. The attention snowballed; from culture and hip hop blogs to mainstream newspapers. Bangs has even featured in a new Honda Jazz commercial. Even American hip hop magazine XXL jumped in. Predictably he’s polarised the opinions of the Australian hip hop community and attracted a lot of hate.

But Bangs appeals on a number of different levels. The majority seems to react on “so bad that it’s actually good” level. In a post-cynical world, where everything is manufactured to a polished “global standard” it’s refreshing to see and get behind something that’s unpolished and uncomfortable. It’s like a great “fuck you” to the pillars of society. “We’ll elevate this to the level of ‘high art’ and there’s nothing you can do about it”. It’s contrary, rebellious, cringeworthy, post-postmodernism. It might also succinctly sum up our social moment. So bad it’s good. Did Die Antwoord inadvertently invent irony hop? Cynical hipsters are pre-programmed to lap this shit up.

Then there’s the sympathy vote. Those who find the slow, simplistic, accented rhymes of the Sudanese Australian kid kind of charming. The lyrical content is sweet. He’s nice to women, he wants to take you to the movies. He’s not crass and sexually explicit like so much contemporary hip hop. You can see that he’s a sweet, shy guy behind the cliched hip hop posturing. Add a war torn country and a sprinkling of famine, he looks and sounds different to the average cheesy Australian hip hop group and already has a legion of haters who frequently post the most disgusting racist vitriol on his Facebook page and you can quickly understand the sympathy vote.

Bangs at work

Then there’s fad momentum. A huge constituency of people who dig it because it’s popular. Love it or hate it, they just add to the momentum. Caught in the hipster undertow. They’re the bank. They’ll go to the gigs, buy the album, check it out. It doesn’t matter if they love it, hate it or remain indifferent. These are the foot soldiers of capitalism. Bangs can thank them later.

The major sticking point in the Bangs vs Die Antwoord comparison, is that Die Antwoord is a calculated hip hop personality, a protracted piece of performance art, whereas Bangs is just Bangs. A 19 year old kid who likes hip hop, speaks funny and recorded some rhymes over his own cheesy beats. It’s hard to know whether he’s in on the joke, although one suspects that he is by now, at least. One also suspects that he wasn’t in the beginning.

Whether Bangs and Die Antwoord have staying power remains to be seen. We reckon the smart money is on Die Antwoord, but maybe that’s just the old antipodean rivalry thing. What is very clear is that the internet has spawned a new paradigm for igniting rapid pop success. And the artists who are blowing up tend to be freaks and weirdos who challenge the dominant wisdom of what is cool and what is acceptable. And it’s pushing culture, society and capital harder and faster all the time. God bless the interweb.

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