/ 23 April 2010

Die Antwoord are God

Damn, I love Die Antwoord. It’s like we’ve taken all the Disney Princesses at Stereotypes R Us, pulled off their wigs, forced their little legs together, and rammed them down the throats of the American purveyors of pop culture dreck, the soulless marketers who make millions every year by selling ersatz imperial myths to the rest of the world.

Okay, perhaps Die Antwoord aren’t achieving quite that level of utter cultural domination, but allow me our little victories. The sight of Americans taking Yo-Landi and Ninja seriously is so delicious, I can almost forgive some of the excesses of the music. There’s a 20 minute interview with Die Antwoord on Boing Boing, around their debut at the Coachella music festival in California, and it’s a marvellous exercise in satire.

Of course, there is a downside to this small cultural victory. Die Antwoord are, alas, just The Lion King for drunk people. They’re peddling a similarly exotic Africa, one that is as much a pastiche as a parody. But you know what — I don’t care. They’re geniuses, they’re ours, and they’re fabulous.

There’s an excellent article by Kevin Bloom on The Daily Maverick, where he makes the point that we’ve exhausted the subject of Die Antwoord. He takes Yo-Landi’s metaphor for Die Antwoord’s music, and comments on her “insight”.

“‘I think our style of music is like … we make car-crash music. Like when there’s a car-crash, everyone looks. It’s like, kids dancing in the rain, no-one’s really paying that much attention. But when there’s an accident everyone’s checking it out, so that’s our style.'”

Kevin Bloom comments: “Maybe that should be the last word. There’s never much to say at an accident scene.”

For once, I disagree with Bloom, and the David Bowie song title Always Crashing in the Same Car comes to mind. You don’t need to say anything at an accident scene, it’s always fresh. Every accident is unique, in the same way that every Die Antwoord moment is always of that moment, and fresh. It’s a performance piece acting itself out, and like all great performance, the audience is as complicit as the actors.

My favourite piece of the interview (which takes place in a house that used to belong to Merv Griffin), and the moment that proves how relevant, how important, and how clever Die Antwoord are: when expensively blonde presenter Xeni Jardin says to Yo-Landi, patronisingly, “What’s it like being in this crazy, lavish mansion that used to belong to one of the greats of American television? This is not South Africa!”

Yo-Landi’s fabulously sarcastic, deadpan response is: “We don’t know what the fuck’s going on, we’re just going with it. Next week we’re going back to our little Third World hole, but it’ll be alright, we’ll have this in our memory … Back to the dark depths of Africa.”

It’s a lovely deconstruction of paternalism and condescension, and the beauty of it is, it’s not just about exposing American cultural myopia. It’s about how fucked up South Africans are too. A post-apartheid country where we get pissed off if people like Die Antwoord sully the purity of our race by parodying it. A country where, as Yo-Landi so acutely notes, kids come to a Die Antwoord concert to cheer at the swearing.

Xeni Jardin says to Die Antwoord, “you guys are straight out of District 9“. How stupid is that? A fake hip-hop band is contextualised by likening them to a Hollywood movie about aliens. Wow, Xeni, you really know your cultures. Die Antwoord are an always-crashing car, and the passengers on their erratic journey are just roadkill for their postmodern pot.

“Ja, it’s kak”, says Yo-Landi. She could be talking about this very column. Nobody can write about Die Antwoord without becoming victims. I must have got at least three things wrong with my argument, and that’s the point. Xeni is probably entirely aware of the fact that Die Antwoord are ripping her off, but that doesn’t stop it happening. Die Antwoord are not a product to be dissected, a brand to be favoured or repulsed. They’re a middle digit raised to the world, and you can either sit on it and wriggle uncomfortably, or reach out and yank it. But to dismiss it as shallow is to make a mistake.

  • Chris Roper blogs at chrisroper.co.za. Follow him on Twitter