/ 5 February 2014

We’re all just a little bit over Die Antwoord


In 2009 musical crew Die Antwoord tore a vortex in space and crashed through with their super-fresh, brazenly creative, ultra-South African zef rap. It was the most revitalising thing to happen to the music industry in a very long time. Bolstered by a massive internet audience and delighted, now wide-awake critics, Ninja, Yolandi Vi$$er and DJ Hi-Tek put South Africa on the musical map.

Their first music video Enter the Ninja's unabashed aesthetic seemed to quench a thirst we never knew we had. I remember thinking, while the video unfolded before me, that I didn't care if they got big (any bigger than they already were), I didn't care that everyone I knew would probably hate them, all I knew was that I had just become one of Die Antwoord's most die-hard supporters.

I learnt every line of their debut album $O$ by heart, I snuck into the VIP area of Ramfest in 2011 in a bid to see Yolandi Vi$$er rehearse backstage (and was duly chased out), I dished out money to see their performances, hell, I even defended them on the internet.

But now, five years later, I'm just not that into it anymore.

Ninja, aka Watkin Tudor Jones, never intended for Die Antwoord to be more than a three-year musical project.* Like Max Normal, his early-career experimental alter-ego, he knew the affair would have a time limit.

I think he is more surprised than anyone that Die Antwoord has lasted the five years that it has. What is puzzling is that he is keeping the project alive. Because, let's face it, it's becoming a bit stale.

Descent into the boring
Take the last video they did, Cookie Thumper.

Whereas Yolandi Vi$$er's unapologetic in-your-face sexuality could once be dubbed as empowering to women, making her a weird sort of feminist icon, Cookie Thumper degenerated her into just another objectified hip-hook hook girl. Singing "sny jou koekie/ sny sny jou koekie" while pointing to your vagina can only take that much irony, even if you are sporting a mullet cut and hipster panties.

Pop culture critic Charl Blignaut has always been outspoken about his view that the band does nothing more than culturally appropriate the worst parts of South African coloured culture, an opinion I have always disagreed with.

But Cookie Thumper's handling of the nefarious side of coloured culture through Anies, a chappie-covered, just-out-of-prison 27s gangster obsessed with sodomy is nothing less than insulting.

And then there is the group's online presence, which, let's face it, is an extremely important aspect to an act that made it big through internet shares.

The band's Facebook shares consist mostly of photos of Ninja and Yolandi looking as intimidating and bad-ass as they possibly can without falling into parody. Here's Ninja pulling a middle finger, here's Yolandi smoking dagga, here's Hi-Tek in deep shadow. The problem is that it lacks the charm, good humour and heart that the act encapsulated so well in their early days. The page is cold, cynical, and positively alienating in a very unintentional way. A lot of what was so winning about them in the first place was how obviously starstruck and overwhelmed Ninja and Yolandi were at the level of fame they were achieving. They were underdogs, and like all underdogs, extremely easy to root for.

Publicity stunt
Recent allegations that Ninja was behaving like, well, an asshole on the set of Neil Blomkamp's upcoming release Chappie didn't shock me as much as bore me. I can't help but think that the story of Ninja behaving like a bad boy on set is nothing more than a publicity stunt intended to get people talking about a group that is very quickly slipping off the map.

Die Antwoord is due to release their third full length album Donker Mag (which means Dark Power, yawn for the obvious Satanic reference) sometime this year. Not before, of course, the release of the film Chappie.

One can only hope that after that they decide to end their journey on somewhat of a high note, or at least take a hiatus in which they completely rethink their direction.

For what good will I have left for the band, it would be a damn shame if an act as refreshing as Die Antwoord keeps flogging a dead (or should I say zef) horse, only to become as stale as Yolandi's old bong water.

* It has been contested that Ninja wanted Die Antwoord to last five years, not three.