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Culture, Music
Vanilla Ice

The Heart of Zefness

by Dave Durbach, images by Lauren Mulligan / 18.12.2010

“Go Ninja, go Ninja go!” On stage is a white guy in shorts famous for his box-top cut and razor sharp lines. We’re deep in the East Rand, under a neon circus tent. The crowd is ecstatic – and he’s working them into a frenzy. It could be another Antwoord gig . . . but it isn’t. It’s the theme song to the Ninja Turtles movie. It’s not Watkin Tudor Jones, it’s Robert van Winkle. It’s Vanilla fucking Ice. “I can’t believe y’all still remember that shit!” he shouts. Me neither.

Ice launches into his take on that cornball classic “Play that Funky Music”. “I can’t believe y’all still remember that shit!” he says again, this time to himself. He’s joined on stage by a drummer called Clint Eastwood and DJ Dirty Chopstix. Before long he’s working up a sweat with his new single “Born on Halloween.” 20 years after his first and only hit and fresh from the success of his new reality show, Ice is Back – but with the same old intention. What could be the secret to his longevity? “I’m gonna take a moment to have me a beer,” he tells the crowd. “I’m gonna have me one of those Castle Lite Beers . . . y’all seen the commercial?” Soul’d out, as always.

Soon enough the moment everyone has been waiting for arrives. Queen’s “Under Pressure” bass riff. Cue silver confetti falling from heaven. Ice invites willing ladies on stage. This being Boksburg though, he can’t be too fussy. They flock to the spotlight, overweight, underage or just plain ugly. The guy next to me is on his phone for the whole song, telling his pal he’s at the concert listening to “Ice Ice Baby”. When it ends, the crowd retracts. “Can you believe I wrote that song at the age of 16?” Ice boasts. “It went on to sell 48 million copies. What the hell… and now I’m in South Africa!”

“But it’s not all about the oldskool . . .” he urges, launching into another song from his new album WTF. “Turn it up” is Eminem trapped in a Wildside teen rave. Did you just claim it was nmber 1 in the UK, Vanilla? Nooit. He ends his set with another of his “modern classics” – “Hot Sex”, urging “all the horny people in the house make some noise!”
No, no Boksburg! Keep it to yourselves.

Not your usual hipster circle-jerk, it takes time to acclimatise to the East Rand’s complete lack of pretension. Black and white, young and old – all terminally uncool but determined to make the most of it. One boytjie is dressed like Flava Flav, dancing on stage in his Woolies vest and orange pant. The clock around his neck smacks him in the face as he jumps off the stage.

Turbo B - Snap

Here is a land which time forgot. The irony of getting these ridiculous 90s pop acts here is lost on them. Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer – even Turbo B from Snap, who opened the show – have always been cool here. Immune to global trends, perhaps, things here don’t come and go. Music simply exists – either it’s lekker or it’s kak. This is 94.7 Highveld Stereo territory. In a suburban mall-casino with a circus theme, with peroxided faux-hawks, camo cargo pants, spandex tank tops, jerseys tied around waists and high heels boots at every turn (…and that was just the guys!), it’s just about as zef as it gets.

The only thing showing we’re not stuck at a gig 20 years ago is that every second person watches the performance through their Blackberry or digital camera. Others keep it real (real kak) by waving a glow stick in the air or wearing fluorescent devils horns.

Between sets a DJ is smaaking the vibe. He hits play on his Bump treffers CD, unleashing a flurry of torrid tunes, much to the delight of the audience. They haven’t listened to this stuff in days… “Everybody Dance Now”, “You got to show me Love”, “I like to move it move it,” “Back to the middle and round again”, “Sing Hallelujah”, “This is the Rhythm of the Night”. I was around in the 90s, and even then I had taste. This music was kak then, so why would I enjoy it now? Wouldn’t that make me a hypocrite? Give me New Jack Swing, give me grunge, any day – but to cherish the euro-house from this era, especially free of irony – just doesn’t make sense.

Of course most people at Carnival City would have disagreed. The DJ keeps pomping out the jams until the clock hits Hammertime. Dressed in a baggy tuxedo and Nike sneakers (“Where your pants?” shouts one chop nearby), MC Hammer at least has enough of a repertoire for people to be familiar with his whole set. He warms up with “Turn this Mother Out” before bringing a guest singer on stage to help out on covers of the Chi-Lites’ soppy soul standard “Have you seen her?” and Luther Vandross’s “Keep On” – according to Hammer that was Tupac’s favourite song of his. Then he launches into his four most famous hits, back to back – the Addams family theme, “Pray”, “2 Legit 2 Quit” and “U can’t touch this”. It’s an energetic, choreographed performance – not bad for an old man – with backing dancers straight out of In Living Color.

MC Hammer

For a grand finale he calls Ice and the audience back on stage. With minimal security around, the stage descends into a free-for-all of Boksburg booty-shaking, running men, robots and sprinklers – and the ubiquitous Blackberry photo posing.

Like I said, I was there the first time. I memorized the words to “Ice Ice Baby”, watched Hammer’s talking shoes on KTV. But by the age of 10, I had learnt better. Those were not the good old days – least of all musically. While it’s great we can provide some income to three washed-out rappers before they retire, are we really such suckers for nostalgia? Why are the only “stars” coming here all decades past their sell-by dates? Roxette, Duran Duran, Public Enemy, the Beach Boys, U2, Rammstein, Ice and Hammer – better than nothing, but is that really all we’re good for?

Some memories are best left in the past.

Famous last words: “Anything approaching the change that came over his features I have never seen before, and hope never to see again. Oh, I wasn’t touched. I was fascinated… I saw on that ivory face the expression of sombre pride… of an intense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision – he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath: ‘The horror! The horror!’” – Joseph Conrad Heart of Darkness.

*All images Lauren Mulligan.

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  1. Piet Pompies says:

    I’ve been reading Mahala for a while now and I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the writers are negative pretentious assholes that don’t know how to live and let live. Most of you are graduates but your talents are wasted because you think you are better than the subjects you cover. Kak.

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  2. Tomas says:

    We get it – any dorp and city outside of Cape Town is offensive and unfashionable, and populated by uncultured, barbaric morons who were neglected by evolution’s stroke. Music ain’t cool if it ain’t performed in skinny jeans and makes use of at least one kind of super new age sound, like synth. You guys (Mahala) are also very well-read and educated and authorities on all things taboo, like drugs and anal sex. Your panama hats and expertly groomed facial hair is a sure sign of this.

    There’s a whole world out there that exists outside your snobbish cliques, and everyday is one more step taken into seclusion. Keep this up and you guys run the risk of losing your relavence. Times change, and so do fads – and what will you say then . . . “Yeah, we used to be the voice of some long-extinct social class, hipsters”.

    This said, I’ll keep on reading Mahala, because you guys are lucky enough to have some of the most talented, and creative young writers out there. And for the time being, yes, Mahala does give a voice to a portion of otherwise voiceless youth. But this piece and pieces like it (a singular dull facet of Mahala’s) is spineless drivvel. Why the fuck go to a show that you obviously have no fucking interest in. What a waste. People actually like this kak.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    All your writers are fat

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  4. Andy says:

    Jeez so much love from the xmas holiday saturday masses. I thought this was cool. Obviously Dave never shmaaked Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer and Snap as much as I did, but then again he was only 10. That shit moved me.

    He does ask a question why South Africa is such a magnet for “has beens” without really attracting the cutting edge shit.

    Also Boksburg gets a bit of a roasting… but have you ever been to Carnival City? Egads man! And by the way Dave lives in JHB. No pretentious Long Street hipster wannabe vibes here

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  5. barbarbarbara ann says:

    the quote is a lil abrupt, do you think heart of darkness is still so relevant to be used here?
    (im just asking)

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  6. Sibongile says:

    Haha Tomas is a bitch 🙂 Did you even go to the show? It’s a good review, you’re expectations of mahala and fucking up your views on this article. silly silly.

    But keep reading, you might learn what all those big words you are using actually mean:)

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  7. Dave says:

    @barbar-ann, my original headline for this was ‘heart of zefness’ but andy changed this for some reason. sabotaging the end quote… thanks boss!

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  8. Andy says:

    yeah in hindsight that headline change was ill-advised

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  9. Anonymous says:

    “All your writers are fat”, hahahaha, best comment ever, ahaha, especially since you guys started a “things we love” vibe and so far it’s all been food. hahahahaha.

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  10. happy brown says:

    Aaah damn it, got to end of this article and it wasn’t about die antwoord. I thought this was their official news site.

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  11. A to Zef says:

    @ Piet Pompies and Tomas – true, Mahala has been guilty of being a tad negative lately, but I don’t think this piece should be made the victim of that trend. Personally I thought this was a great article, relevant and humorous. I almost peed in my pants when I read this line –

    “the stage descends into a free-for-all of Boksburg booty-shaking, running men, robots and sprinklers”

    – what a mental image -something straight from One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

    @ Andy – ja that headline change was a kak move, Heart of Zefness is much better and quite essential for the ending not to untangle. Re SA being a magnet for “has beens” – I have also noticed this lately, but really, when was SA ever a destination for the hip of the music industry? Thank god for the likes of Vusi and Mr Clegg.

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  12. Max says:

    Dave – good one dude!
    Tomas – you clever man you!
    Joseph Conrad – for the win!

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  13. Andy says:

    I’m a change it back… and apologise

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  14. Dan says:

    Dave – dug the review, more of this please…

    As for the comments about SA being a ‘Has been’ magnet I too have noticed this trend – its almost like SA is where artists and bands come to die. Having said this I think the reason for this has more to do with the promotors than anything else. I have heard (and this may not be true) that the big promotors like Big Concerts for example will only bring down an artist if they have an official distribution deal in SA, its almost how they judge how well the artist will do. So someone like Neil Diamond for example you will definitely come down since the ‘sales’ of his music are high enough to warrant the effort on the promotors part. In other words unless the artist you want so desperately to make it to our shores does not sell enough CDs there is a lower change you are going to see them…

    Andy – cant you send one of your fine writers to find out more about this?

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  15. Shaun says:

    Not sure I agree with the “has-been” comment. Kings of Leon, 30 Seconds to Mars (I hate them but they are current), Faithless and a slew of dance acts are visiting South Africa in the next few months. In the past 18 months acts such as the Killers, Daughtry (also not my favourite but they are current), Billy Talent and others have performed here so I think the “has-been” comment is based on perception rather than fact.

    And even if some old-timers are performing here – so what? Good on them for having longevity in the industry. We missed so many of these acts during the Apartheid era so I see nothing wrong finally having a chance to see these live acts.

    A concert should be seen as an experience – I have been blown away by bands I had never listened to (The Cult and James) and disappointed by bands I thought were awesome (Smashing Pumpkins.) The idea is to enjoy the vibe, the energy and the show on stage. But that’s just me – maybe I would share the views of the writer if I too was a pretentious cunt.

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  16. A to Zef says:

    Jesus Andy get your shit together and change the title! You think you’re on holiday or something?

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  17. Andy says:

    crap… I’m trying here man

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  18. sdfh says:

    eat a dick shaun

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  19. @sdfh says:

    Well thought out and intelligent argument you submitted. It’s good to know the future of online debate is in good hands.

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  20. Ziggy says:

    What a cool concert, sad I missed it. Im sure everyone was having a blast while poor old writer boy over here was feeling sorry for himself and quietly drinking at the bar, wishing he had some courage to talk to the girls.

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  21. sd3000 says:

    Wat ‘n pot kak. You guys (mahala) are so full of shit spending way to much trying to figure out what’s in and what’s not instead of looking at why genres like eurodance moved masses of people to the extent that 20 years later people are still grooving to these tunes. So fucking what if it’s in Boksburg? The fact that it resonates is much more real than the fucking musical masturbation hipster kak editors/ beach house/ yeasayer or whatever the fuck else you listen to and ponder over.

    I’ve already got my Roxette/ Shaggy/ Dr Alban/ Shabba/ Celine Dion/ Meatloaf/ Bon Jovi/ Smokey tickets.

    Check the no fucking hint of irony in my face.

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  22. simon says:

    what an excellent article – this is the SA I know so well see my twitter comment @simonzim
    unpretentious lekker man – the o’s are winging about the article but the writer gives the peeps their due – these days if you can be unpretentious and have a lot of fun then you’ve made it – one love – and the observation about the guys clock hitting him in the face – un fu…ing believabel writting – its hard to find writting like this in SA
    welcome to 2011 mahala

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  23. larry le moer says:

    BUT on the note of the relevance of the has-beens and the reason they’re all lining up to come piss in our pockets, this is not a uniquely south african trend, dear readers. It is a GLOBAL phenom, it’s just that here, it is more pronounced amongst the local mind-set.
    If it appears that ageing bands are all making sudden come-backs, consider that a lot of them have never really gone away – in their own minds; they continue to tour relentlessly in other parts of the world, packing out town halls, drinking holes, strip bars and the odd soccer stadium in back-water towns wherever people still have a memory past reality television.

    Local promoters are just now being included in the mail outs from these acts’ managements as the first world can now locate ‘South Africa’ on the map (thanks largely to Google Earth, that world cup thing and GPS technology).

    We are/were also not that hard-hit by all that recession speak so the average larry can still afford a ticket to go watch a heritage band (well, at least larry’s parents can.)

    Would you rather see a kak “hip” new band, that is only big (here and overseas) cos of massive marketing spend/ hype/5fm and who is only in it for the dollar, or one that has actually had 2 decades in which to hone their craft and are still doing it for the love of performance and music?

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