Saturday, February 13, 2010

Die Antwoord - My Inner Fuckin' Colored Just Wants To Be Discovered.



So I woke up this morning hung over after hanging out at Iowa City's main gay bar for the first time.  It's a weirdly faux-glam, cheap looking place, with moulding glued rather than nailed around the doors and lots of metallic spraypaint.  It’s clear that the gays around here need to get their shit together.  All the same, I had a hell of a night, the fake glitz lending just the right amount of seedy energy to proceedings – and then I woke up to the weirdly appropriate discovery of Die Antwoord, the South African “Zef Rap” crew that’s been blowing up the internet since a post on Boing Boing two weeks ago.  This is totally amazing music, if you’ve got a hunger for loud, clangy dubstep/future rap beats and strident, chest-beating raps with the ends bit off, all of it given a twist of adventurous artsiness.  You can listen to their debut, $O$, in full at their website


“Zef” is apparently roughly equivalent to chav in England or a certain breed of hip hop-obsessed redneck in the U.S.  Beat culture isn’t some child that grew full-formed from the head of black America (just ask Grandmaster Flash about Kraftwerk sometime), but whether you’re talking about Kid Rock, Ali G, or now Die Antwood, the appeal comes from an underlying image of toughness and bravado, derived from a cultural sense of blackness that’s being recycled and transformed by white people.  Whether this is good or bad or neither can be debated endlessly – I go back and forth, personally, and where I fall pretty much depends on how good any particular appropriation is.
So, I’m naturally inclined to like Die Antwoord, or for another example, Burial, another white guy trafficking in transformed blackness.

But what ratchets my like into a totally absorbed fascination that has kept me from getting anything else done all day is that Die Antwoord is not just a really amazing band, but apparently a conceptual art project. That is, these aren’t the ‘real thing,’ not Lil Wyte or the musical Michael Carroll. Die Antwoord’s two main performers, Ninja and Yo-Lindy Vi$$er, were also (under different names) part of Max Normal, a pretty weird, self-referential project that clearly isn’t the product of hoodrat dropouts. Hell, they made stuffed toys. So, rather than the rap name “Ninja” being another sad instance of a white boy throwing around a word that he does-but-doesn’t ‘know’ is a proxy for a totally different N-word, this actually turns out to be a commentary on the backhanded racism of international wiggerdom.

It’s tempting to give in to the constructedness of the whole thing as an excuse for unabashed enjoyment, of the classic “Sarah Silverman’s racist jokes are actually jokes about racism” logical heritage.  But listening to this stuff, the nature of the emotional connection makes me take a step back.  Die Antwoord are so soaked in cock-swinging testosterone and working-class fuck-youness that what they’re selling to listeners, more than ironic commentary, is the actual experience of identification.  Is that meaningful, or just totally superficial, a consuming gesture more than an empathetic one? I don’t know much about the situation in South Africa, but I’m sure the racial situation there is intense enough to make these questions even more important than they are in the U.S., and according to a variety of sources, what they’re doing is drawn from SA black slum culture (or those people’s interpretation of American black music, I guess).  If these well-educated whites end up getting internationally famous because of their music commenting on the appropriation of black culture, while also actually appropriating black culture, it’s going to launch a thousand hard-thinking essays.  For now, though, I'm stoked to be learning some slang from a new place and digging some amazing new sounds.

4 comments:

Joshua said...

Just wanted to say that The Passion of Vanilla Christ was a great read. I think your article on Die Antwoord is by far the best I've read so far. Your article raises a lot of good points about our current culture and the role that race and authenticy play in music today.

David Z. Morris said...

Thanks! Sorry for the late reply, I'm really just starting to figure out how to blog conscientiously.

Deadwood said...

Great article!

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