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Die Antwoord, Stellenbosch

Salt of the Middle Class

by Karl Kemp / Images by Jan du Preez / 14.05.2012

I started feeling uneasy around the same time that Yolandi Vi$$er shouted “fuck the upper-class” at a crowd of white university students. Unfortunately the irony was largely ignored and it did nothing to contain the volcanic eruption of approving screams and shouts. I had to take pause and consider just how much I have in common with the trio on stage. Because they’re dirt-poor and common right? They say so in the songs. Whereas I’m a continuously advantaged brat who lives off my parents whilst drinking my way through a degree, so I can end up right back in the suburbs. The salt of the middle-class. Am I really justified in slipping on this guise and dancing like a mongoloid monkey? I’m pondering and uncontrollably bouncing at the same time to the drops and rhythms of DJ Hi-Tek. All around me, a thousand others might be feeling the same way, but they sure ain’t fucking showing it.

I probably could’ve written this review before I went to the show. It’s Die Antwoord (notoriously foul-mouthed and fake) in Stellenbosch (notoriously hedonistic and gullible). What else could the end-result be, other than a monstrous piss-up with an all-electro zef soundtrack to fuel the madness? The hype on campus leading up to the show was palpable; the amount of Facebook and bbm statuses containing the word “zef” sky-rocketed. Perhaps not the most appropriate of venues, the old Stellenbosch town hall, but certainly spacious enough to accommodate the thousand punters that bought one of those exclusive tickets. And with the promo girls, mullet-sporting jocks and pseudo-hippies so characteristic of Stellies all present, I could almost pretend that we were standing outside the Klein Lib theatre.

Ninja, Yolandi and Hi-Tek didn’t disappoint visually; how could they ever? Nor did they once forget to keep up appearances. The proper nouveau-riche, married-with-kids couple put on a show that only the truest of the true, lifelong Cape Flats resident might have called them out on, swearing and stomping their way through a set so heavy with bass my balls were in danger of rattling up into my stomach. But it felt like Yolandi would rather let the crowd scream “poes” for the umpteenth time than say it herself. We were all too willing to accept the microphone dangling in our faces. Screaming the classic young Afrikaner slogan at the top of your lungs really sets off a primal feeling in the gut. Ninja spits out whole verses faster than 50 Cent can mumble “shawty” and Yolandi dominates the stage with her gyrating, weirdly attractive frame, all backed by derivative yet excellently delivered big eurotrash house beats. And still, Die Antwoord feels watered-down.

The danger wasn’t there; the sense of intimacy that they once shared with their earliest fans. Knowing that an act is an act doesn’t necessarily detract from the experience but now it has become a show. The gap between the two might be exactly what granted the rap-rave crew passage to the overseas. Ninja is indisputably a brilliant rapper and an incredibly witty lyricist – once you look past the ocean of piel references. Yolandi herself isn’t half bad either, successfully selling her sex-appeal despite sporting the freakish hair-cut she’s made famous. A great Souf Effrican export then, second only to Mrs Balls chutney and maybe biltong. And the world continues to lap up Die Antwoord, unaware of just how many cultural references they’re missing. But where does that leave us South Africans? Is it our job to explain to them who these people really are? Or do we just silently nod our heads to the beat and laugh, on the inside, at the chasm of misunderstanding.

The sense of unease was eventually washed away on a tidal wave of peer pressure. A new kind of white guilt snuck up on me, like an oscillator. I felt guilty for enjoying the show. I felt fake; unclean. Like I was shoplifting a magazine from the Pick ‘n Pay, because rich kids don’t do that. They’re not really supposed to rap either. What subject material do they have? Then I heard myself shouting for more. “Give us more, more, encore, please!” But Ninja didn’t pitch; they closed the set with Doosdronk, Francios van Coke’s hoarse voice pumping through a backtrack. How fitting that the real hero of white middle-class music was only present as a recording.

Die Antwoord’s success remains a mystery to me. Having succumbed to their charms myself, I am hardly in a position to pass judgement. Perhaps us bored kids that are well-off would like to immerse ourselves in a culture so different to our own so that we can forget about the boredom and apathy for a while. Maybe Die Antwoord is just simply that fucking catchy and original. But the little voice in the back of my head crying “false! Fake!” never really went away during the entire gig. And I still can’t figure out if it was shouting at me, Die Antwoord, or all of us.

*All images © Jan du Preez

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RESPONSES (32)
  1. Megan says:

    I felt the same way. There was no sense of the original danger that they used to pose. I honestly felt scared of them the first time I saw them at Klein Lib two years ago. Frightened. I thought Ninja would jump of that stage at any moment and stick a knife in my throat. But not this time. They were weak, watered-down, almost an imitation of themselves. Here’s to the commercialisation of Die Atwoord….

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  2. CM says:

    I have an opinion about the voices in your head, and it has nothing to do with Die Antwoord.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    For what it’s worth,I think it was an honest piece writing.

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  4. Ryan says:

    Waddy is a frans!

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  5. Ol Greg says:

    For a site that does’nt seem too fond of Die Antwoord you guys sure do mention them alot.

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  6. Mischa says:

    Its entertainment it has nothing to do with the persona they created, you don’t have to be anything to enjoy something. Its no mystery to how they got so famous, these guys have been sweating balls while most of you were still making poopies in your diapies.

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  7. Megan says:

    I disagree, entertainment depends directly on the persona of whoever is doing the entertaining. What would watching a Lil Wayne show be without the persona he has created or portays? What would any form of entertainment be without its instrinsic character?

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  8. Iago says:

    Coming from the heartland of America, let me say this, you South Africaners seem to take this far too seriously. Was David Bowie really from Mars (Ziggy Stardust)? Are the Rolling Stones really Street Fighting men (as opposed to Mick Jagger an Econ student from a well off family)? Was John Wayne really a cowboy? Who gives a rat’s patutti? When you watch/listen to Die Antwoord, are you entertained? Does it make you move? That’s what counts and that’s why they are popular elsewhere. We don’t care if they “real”. We look at “is it fun”? Do we enjoy it? In America we realize what’s on the TV or in movies or on the stage is entertainment. Sounds, movement and colors to stimulate the eyes, ears and mind. South Africa has had far too few worldwide known bright points outside of Die Antwoord. You should embrace them and promoted them as that. It’s how a large group of people are having a favorable impression of South Africa right now. Your artist, Jane Anderson (the artist of “The Butcher Boys”) should be sending them at least flowers for letting the rest of the world know about her work, rather than crying foul at them. I see from the comments that Die Antwoord has a large group of haters where you are. Is this from hate or jealousy? I’m 57 yrs old and I think Die Antwoord rocks and actually would pay a ticket price to see them! That’s something I can’t say about any current band that I can think of.

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  9. nero says:

    @lago: The difference is that while David Bowie presented something out of this world and fantastical, DA are trying to represent aspects of a real life culture that some people take very seriously. They do not have the credibility to represent that culture.

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  10. Anonymous says:

    @ Lago: I’m not sure if the word “South Africaners” is deliberate but I really like the word “patutti” and for a 57 year old you’re pretty gangster…

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  11. leleput says:

    @lago – cultural reference is something that’s a part of SA culture. Parts of us are connected to this sea of culture, America has no real point of reference, what is American culture? thats why entertainment is a form of escape to you while to us, its a point of transcendence

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  12. leleput says:

    Americans are ready consumers because of their greed for the next shiny bright thing and then they suck the life out of it…thats why Idols and x factor show stars are never authentic because they lack substance, music is not just entertainment, music is life..

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  13. Urk says:

    @Iago I like your perspective, and feel it’s often relevant. THat one should not want to look too deep for fear of getting sucked into the abyss.
    But then leleput also has a fair point. We are battling through issues of culture, identity, authenticity. Which is more than just vacuous entertainment.
    That shot of the 2 cellphones: gold.

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  14. Andy says:

    fuck it’s just kif to hear someone making pop music without the seemingly mandatory American accent.

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  15. Anonymous says:

    leeput,” America has no real point of reference, what is American culture? thats why entertainment is a form of escape to you while to us, its a point of transcendence”. Allow me to take issue with that. We are a melting pot in America, much like SA only older and deeper, as far as music traditions go, as they translate into modern music. Where do you think rock and roll started? Where do you think rap started? Our culture surrounds us and permeates all we do. Die Antwoord takes heavily from the American Rap and Rock traditions and borrows lightly from South Africa (the accent perhaps? A few South African words and references?). The material for most of the songs, “Look at my bling, I’m so great, I do lots of chicks, I like to drink, I like to party hard!”. This has all been said before. You seem to be trying to overthink Die Antwoord and seem to be arguing that they are not putting in the correct cultural items that you think every musical/entertainment group in SA should be required to do. I doubt that is what they are trying to achieve. They have blended their own unique style, that up to now, no one else has done successfully. We like the accents and the mix of rap and rave. The charactors that they have created are outstanding and colorful. Xfactor and Idol both started in Britian by the way, not America, so blame Britian for those shows. How do you know about them anyway? You watch them? All entertainment is an escape of some type, how could you possibly define it any other way? To sing and dance or to enjoy it takes you to another level of your being. You seem to feel that Die Antwoord should fit into this tight straightjacket that you yourself has defined as being properly representing SA culture. I doubt that your fellow countrymen have deemed you “definer of SA culture”. Sounds to me like you’ve got a bug up your rearend for Americans. Why? Do we intimidate you? No need to worry. Just send Ninja, Yolandi and DJ HiTek over here. We’d enjoy that and will take very good care of them, since you don’t want them anyway.

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  16. Iago says:

    The David Bowie reference that I used is valid. Not a huge percentage of the populous in the USA have been to South Africa. To us Die Antwoord represents something out of our world and fantastical. Also, Nero, this “Zef” culture, is that the one you refer to as “of a real life culture that some people take very seriously”. Seriously? Zef? I thought that was a culture that most people in South Africa don’t take seriously. I’ve never seen it referred to as such anyway. If you’re referring to the “Butcher Boys”, my point was that to give her art work exposure it encouraged tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people, worldwide, to look into the meaning behind the work. Which, if not for Die Antwoord, would still be some artsy-fartsy, esoteric, odd sculpture with little recognition to the general public outside of SA. I consider my self fairly well educated and I never heard of her work before (not that I am well versed in modern art) and now I have an appreciation of her work and the thought and conditions of the time that produced it. Lastly “gangsta” is very ’80’s over here. lol

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  17. nero says:

    @lago: Not Zef. I was referring to Coloured culture, especially the gang related elements they appropriate. These things are as serious as life and death.

    Interesting article on the topic here: http://africasacountry.com/2010/02/19/is-die-antwoord-blackface/

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  18. Iago says:

    Good article you linked. Reading the comments one Canadian reader comments
    that if it weren’t for Die Antwoord, he would have had no idea of what was going on with the socialogical aspects of what DA was portraying. So, for me anyway, it’s the same thing as the Jane Anderson thing. I’ve learned much about South Africa via reseaching Die Antwoord, trying to figure out what they were rapping about, even if they are not “authentic” (whatever that means anyway) .So it’s all good as far as I can see. Die Antwoord, by one way or the other, is putting South Africa on the map for the Western hemisphere like no one has done in the past couple of decades. If your country would support them better it certainly would translate into more tourist dollars for your economy. Just sayin’……

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  19. Anon says:

    DA is entertainment. Waddy Jones & the Constructors Corporation was entertainment. Even those dassies they sew was entertaining. Sjeesh if you want real, watch the news or tag along with a social worker one day. DA is not my cup of tea but they’ve worked hard for where they are. Just don’t go to the shows if it bothers you so much

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  20. kropotkin says:

    Hectic!

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  21. Elizabeth says:

    “But the little voice in the back of my head crying “false! Fake!” never really went away during the entire gig.”

    Well of course it did, they’re essentially a spoof act!

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  22. Anonymous says:

    Elizabeth is right. And it’s perfectly obvious. How can there be so many stupid people in the universe? Not that any of that detracts from Waddy’s genius…

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  23. beherenow says:

    Die Antwoord DA is the sterotyped cleaned up cape flats pseudo gangsta for the real DA (that the political party, janee laanie) which is a hangover from the nats.
    Thats why mostly white middle class kids go and suig their stuff.
    Sure they are good, their lyrics hit the spot but they would not be popular if they were real – I mean what about brasse vannie kaap and the genuine cape town hip hop that does not get out there – instead its the pretend stuff like DA and jackperrow which gets known.
    Yes, entertainment is just that – entertainment. Its all pretend. Which is why die antwoord does so well – because everyone knows its pretend. So dont try to even pretend its real.
    My final line – kak review cos you missed the point, ne?

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  24. react says:

    leleput=idiot

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  25. lily field says:

    your sense of class superiority is almost frightening!! I am American and 50 years old but I’ll try to speak for Americans in general. Die Antwoord has an formidable appeal that is totally foreign, totally breaks boundaries!! They perform harmoniously… the two rap together in a very unusual complimentary and in-tune-with-one-another way. Both ninja and yolandi appear to Americans as strikingly original, strikingly different, and most of all, willing to be themselves, in spite of the rest of the world — which is always an attractive quality. In America, people tend to emulate celebrities and tend to compromise themselves for $$$$.
    I liken your sense of superiority to the sense of superiority that privileged (white — goes without saying) people here feel to the “ghetto” (poor black “inner-city”) culture, and rap, real rap as opposed to “pop rap” which is the rap you hear on the radio. There would be the tendency to not appreciate the visceral energy, to be socially over-conditioned and judgmental.

    Another impression Americans have of Die Antwoord, is shock over their foul language and Yolandi’s frank sexual behavior. Americans soak up porn on the internet like there’s no tomorrow, but when it comes to celebrities and stars, there is generally such an aura of privilege, not to mention $$$$$, that frank sexuality as well as frank self-expression, gives way to pleasing and teasing.

    Die Antwoord seems totally original, totally harmonious, shockingly willing, no doubt a product of a class-oppressive culture, as well as an uncaring world. They are a wonderful mesmerizing embodiment of our extraordinary global time and place in history.

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  26. ffs says:

    how typical of the Americans…they read only the part of the article that relates to them. Is it not obvious that this review was written from the point of view of a WHITE, UPPER CLASS STUDENT WHO WITNESSED THEIR ENTIRE JOURNEY? therein lies the crux, not the fucking debate about whether or not authenticity is relevant to success. it’s about how they used to be one thing, and have become another, and how people that are late-comers to their show or foreign could never completely relate. the FAKE aspect relates to that differentiation, between what they used to be and how the international market has received them, NOT the difference between reality and performance. fuck.

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  27. lily field says:

    ffs — I actually appreciated that aspect of the article also. And watching the Coachella interview after Die Antwoord’s first American performance, I thought about the fact that that was the beginning of the end of their true greatness…….

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  28. Iago says:

    “how typical of the Americans…” Fuck you. I had about the fifth comment here. There was no debate up to that point about the cultural relativity. It was Megan who wrote “I disagree, entertainment depends directly on the persona of whoever is doing the entertaining. What would watching a Lil Wayne show be without the persona he has created or portays? What would any form of entertainment be without its instrinsic character”.
    To which the reply was entertainment doesn’t have to be based in reality. But since you don’t like Americans, fuck you anyway! What have we’ve done to you? Are you jealous? Or do you have a real reason to hate us? I was seriously considering visiting South Africa for a vacation. But if you’re an example of the typical resident, I’ll just go visit Germany, Austria, Britain, Norway, Japan again where they love Americans. Why bother spending my hard earned money if it’s a nation of jealous pricks?

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  29. ffs says:

    Iago; your last message says it all. You actually think anyone cares where the fuck you go on holiday? Pure arrogance of the most American kind.

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  30. azriel hopscotch says:

    really . . . the point is that DA are a send up of what we would all like to be . . . like ZEF is the authentically instinctual. . . like during the good old days when we were all trek boers of one kind of another . . . so lets give thanks for their perfecting the art of trekking deeper and deeper into the shit . . . DA is about death in life: and damn me if those kids in stellies weren’t wanting to snuff . . .agter all, what is there to live for . . .? really . . .

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  31. Iago_agogo says:

    ffs, maybe you don’t care, but I bet your tourism industry does. All the workers at the airports, hotels, restaurants, cafes, you don’t care about them do you? Crawl back under your rock. You seem to be the arrogant one here. You’re too snobbish to appreciate DA. You’re too good to want the economic stimulous that the rest of your poor, third world nation could use. You must be so uber educated and rich! (Although you’re probably a carbon copy of “the comic book guy” on the American cartoon “The Simpsons”.) But you are ignoring the rest of your fellow South African citizens. Big patriot you are!

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