Die Muthaf**kin’ Antwoord

My favourite band at the moment is Die Antwoord (“The Answer” in Afrikaans) from South Africa.  They hit the “interwebs” hard with an instant cult classic, the abbreviated video for their song, “Beat Boy”, presented as a micro-documentary of the erstwhile band, presumably a trio of seriously trashy Afrikaaner kids.  (Note, the greatest clip in Youtube history appears 1:12 to 1:16):

The video tells of a streety musical movement called “Zef” and presents the band as low-income neighbourhood kids living a life of booze and profanity.  The word “trio” is not entirely accurate. The band actually consists of the front man, “Ninja” and a waifish neighbour girl named “Yo-Landi”. So-called “DJ Hi-tek” appears to be there for visual strangeness. Already, the quote that DJ Hi-tek “owns a PC computer” is a strong internet meme. More hilarious is that at least two guys, and possibly more, play the “role” of DJ Hi-tek, and this is never addressed or explained.

As with most people, my reaction to Die Antwoord was first one of horror, then one of fascination, and now one of great affection. It seems mine is not an unusual experience. Their current world tour now reportedly involves audiences filled with frat boys who now sing along in Afrikaan slang. Who knew?

The big hit appears to be this take on a sample from Aqua‘s “Butterfly“, called “Enter the Ninja“:

And here is my personal favourite, “Wat Kyk Jy?”, but performed in a moving vehicle as part of an ongoing South African music trope called “Taxi Jam“:

Here’s the thing. The music is strange, addictive and, frankly, bad-ass. But the band… well, are they real, are they a comedy experiment, or are they some kind of extended art project? Ultimately, I don’t care, since I’m really loving the songs. But here’s what I’ve dug up so far…

“Ninja” is actually Watkin Tudor Jones, a mid-30-something South African rapper and satirist. He’s had a few personas and bands over the years, most notably something called “MaxNormal.tv“. Here’s Waddy before he became Ninja, again backed by Yo-landi:

Meanwhile, “Yo-landi” has a real name, too, and I don’t know what it is.  It’s unclear whether she’s married to Watkins Tudor Jones, but some reports say that “Yo-landi” is highly educated and that the two of them even have a child together.  What is certain is that “Yo-landi” also used to be in some sort of art-band called “The Constructus Corporation.”  This guy agrees: there is no “Zef” scene that Die Antwoord claims to represent.  That’s the brilliance of it!

Check out this very brief video of Watkins Tudor Jones performing a cute little art clip, and remember that this is the same guy playing the “role” of “Ninja”:

Still not convinced that Die Antwoord is actually an art project?  Check out this video of Tudor Jones in yet another persona:

Die Antwoord is about to break out moderately big in North America, as they are already doing the late night talk show tour. Here they are performing on Jimmy Kimmel live:

So why am I so fascinated? Because of four things:

  1. Die Antwoord is “clearly” a satiricial sort of public art project. I put “clearly” in quotations because a lot of people don’t see it yet. They play the role of trashy kids, but are actually savvy, experienced and educated adults.
  2. Their music is, to me at least, bloody fantastic — a rarity for projects that are ultimately mostly about character.
  3. They’ve managed to stay in character for a very long time and in a lot of different media.
  4. In the current era of pre-packaged and predictable corporate bullshit, how great is this?

For those interested, here’s a much more nuanced discussion of the Die Antwoord phenomenon: