Is “pastiche” an insult in the 21st century? Emerging in the age of Girl Talk’s delirious fusions and the internet’s pop-culture free-for-all, South African trio Die Antwoord are very much a pastiche: punk in spirit, rap in sound, pop in sheer instantaneousness. They’re part South Park and part Playstation – frontman Ninja even resembles a thinner Zangief from Street Fighter – and feel like a Frankenstein monster spawned from rap-blaring taxis all over the world.
Are they for real? Are they a joke? Does it matter?
Not really. If you’re going to analyse this second album from the viral upstarts, what’s most diverting is just how well they appropriate the key elements of their chaotic “futuristic rap-rave” sound. Opener ‘Never Le Nkemise, Pt. 1’ is hip-hop wish fulfilment (“I’m indestructible / Gangsta number one”
) that dabbles in dubstep, while the following ‘I Fink U Freeky’ is a party jam that doubles as bubblegum terrorism. There may be ridiculous rhymes like “In God we trust / You can’t fuck with us,”
but when trilling Yo-Landi Vi$$er hits her chorus “I think you’re freaky and I like you a lot”
it’s almost like revisiting the Spice Girls.
Given how impressively catchy so much of the album is, it’s easy to regard Die Antwoord as some doomsday pop act. Like Backstreet Boys spliced with Atari Teenage Riot, maybe. And whether you suspect it’s manufactured and/or a massive joke, is a slow jam like ‘U Make a Ninja Wanna Fuck’ any more absurd than Akon’s massive hit ‘I Wanna Fuck You’ (sanitised as ‘I Wanna Love You’)?
Die Antwoord bark out lyrics about sex, drugs, money and of course the dangers of trifling with them, pumping themselves up like Travis Bickle in a hall of mirrors. They throw ideas at the wall with an AHDH intensity and see what sticks. They play dodgy, dangerous and dumb, although they’re not actually any of those. (Certainly not dumb.) They court controversy but – like Odd Future – the more they try to shock, the quainter and more try-hard they sound. It’s not their button-pushing that distinguishes Die Antwoord (Afrikaans for “The Answer”) anyway, but the anarchic level of fun they’re having and inciting.
The irresistible ‘Fatty Boom Boom’ mocks assembly-line rappers and nods to both Vanilla Ice and Die Hard, while the saner ‘So What?’ and the proper anthem ‘Baby’s on Fire’ are credible stabs at crossover success. That said, Die Antwoord broke ties with Interscope – “Dropped them like a sack of bricks tied to my leg,”
raps Ninja – to self-release the album instead of toning down the content.
The song said to cause the rift is lead single ‘Fok Julle Naaiers’, which translates roughly to “Fuck you all.” Titular expletive aside, it’s not much more comically vile than any other track here. The following ‘DJ Hi-Tek Rulez’, though, was tacked onto the single for its insane video clip
and follows the trio’s producer through the worst kind of homophobic vitriol. But Ninja has explained
that DJ Hi-Tek is gay and comfortable with the word “faggot” (“He’s taken that word and made it his bitch”). The lyrics, in fact, are taken from a Mike Tyson rant, although who knows how many listeners will know that.
That’s about the only track likely to ruffle many feathers. Even when Die Antwoord strive to come off needling and toxic, it still has the same air of performance as any pop (or rap) act hungry for success. This group is self-made in the same style of so many past: imagine yourself as a star and you’re a star.
Given the way Die Antwoord’s infamy precedes them, maybe it’s no surprise how schizophrenic and hard to follow TEN$ION is. The closing ‘Never Le Nkemise, Pt. 2’ starts as a rebel yell but detours into thrumming dance-floor bliss and then washing ambience. What is surprising is just how listenable it is. If I have any complaint, it’s that a line like “Our president talks with a fuckin’ fork in his tongue”
makes me crave more serious commentary on life in South Africa today.
But for now, Die Antwoord are successful enough as pop stars in wolves' clothing.
Words by Doug Wallen. More at thevine.com.au