Salt of the Middle Classby 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