Die Antwoord: South Africa’s answer to world music?

(Photo courtesy AEG)

Why is Seattle obsessed with a white South African rap group?

Maybe because after years of discounting them as a novelty act, we’re starting to realize they’re for real.

Cape Town rave-rap crew Die Antwoord has been boggling the Internet’s collective mind since they started releasing virally shocking music videos back in 2009.

With their edgy, intense brand of South African rap mixing in tribal beats, electronic influences and an undeniable pop appeal, they have Seattle hooked. Just months after a triumphant performance at Sasquatch in May, the slang-slinging rap duo of Yo-Landi Vi$$er and Ninja — most often backed by DJ Hi-Tek — are coming back September 22 to re-play the Paramount.

Four years ago at the same theater, it was a different story. Die Antwoord’s opening show for Deadmau5 — their first ever Seattle show — ended when Yo-Landi waltzed offstage with a “whatever, man,” after a profane berating of the appalled crowd.

But in the same way millions of Internet-goers, who recoiled at their first Die Antwoord music video, ended up obsessively watching the crew’s entire canon, Seattle has changed its mind about Die Antwoord. Suddenly, we can’t get enough.

Enter Die Antwoord

“I first found Die Antwoord in 2009, when their videos weren’t even available on YouTube,” says Wallingford resident Joe Cohen. “They were weird and completely different, both in the visual style of what they were doing and in South African zef rap being a completely different sound.”

Die Antwoord’s violent, disconcerting and bizarrely captivating music and videos were quickly shared worldwide. Soon their name (often mispronounced – say “dee,” not “die”) was spreading like wildfire.

So was the accusation that Die Antwoord was fake. “It’s not really a big deal to ‘get’ South African ‘zef’ hip-hop act Die Antwoord,” wrote Eric Grandy for The Stranger. “It’s not impenetrable. It’s a joke. And a performance.”

“[The] question of authenticity permeates the South African hip hop group,” agreed The Seattle Times, which also asked straight up: “Are these guys for real?”

The first time they played the Paramount, no one seemed to know the answer.

“I think most people were confused more than anything,” says Allen Oh, a Seattle-based DJ who attended the 2010 show. “They did a lot of cursing and yelling at the crowd for the whole act…wearing some really funky shit, like full body suits with shiny gold print on them or fluffy onesies, and even stripped down to almost nothing at one point.”

As a culturally diverse, socially progressive city, Seattle wasn’t used to being taken aback on this level. So baffled commentators swiftly wrote the pair off as a novelty act.

Local articles and blog posts showed up with titles like “Die Antwoord Try to Convince Us That They’re Not Big Fakers” and “The Endearing Joke of Die Antwoord.” In a city that places high value on authenticity, such challenges to performers’ credibility can be a fast, hard and sometimes crippling blow.

A fan video from Die Antwoord’s first show in Seattle (before things went south with the crowd).

Most Zef

But the beauty of Die Antwoord is in setting absolutely no store by public opinion.

“That’s who they are,” explains Cohen. “If you don’t wanna listen to them, fine – they don’t give a fuck, they’re gonna do their own thing.”

By 2012, Die Antwoord had signed and subsequently left a million-dollar deal with Interscope records, dropped their second album, and launched another tour to back it. Once again, Seattle was a tour stop. The reception this time was decidedly different.

“They played to a sold out Showbox in 2012. That was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen,” says Michael Spadoni of AEG Live, the entertainment group responsible for Die Antwoord’s Seattle shows.

“As well as having a great stage presence, a terrific sense of humor, and more personality than they know what to do with, Die Antwoord are more creative than most bands out of America in the last decade,” said Nada Mucho, a long-running Northwest online music mag, in a write-up on the Showbox show. And as it turned out, that creativity was addictive after the first dose.

Yo-Landi Vi$$er and Ninja on stage at a 2010 show in Vancouver, BC. (Photo from Flickr by Kris Krüg)
Yo-Landi Vi$$er and Ninja on stage at a 2010 show in Vancouver, BC. (Photo from Flickr by Kris Krüg)

On Fire

Die Antwoord’s steadily rising popularity reflects the world’s thirst for their entirely unique adrenaline-rush soundscapes. With two more years’ worth of music and recognition under their belts, Die Antwoord returned to the Pacific Northwest earlier this year to perform one of the most talked about sets of Sasquatch 2014.

“I don’t even know what else you’d put with them,” says Cohen, who attended the Sasquatch show. “They’re definitely doing stuff no one out there as big as them is doing.”

The Sasquatch show was a blaze of orange and white light coupled with thundering music, with furiously quick raps delivered over catchy, crowd-bouncing beats. Both Ninja and Yo-Landi are born performers, and charismatic Yo-Landi seemed to have a grip over the entire crowd. Just a few months later – four years after the original Paramount debacle – tickets to see Die Antwoord’s upcoming show at the Paramount sold out weeks in advance.

Meanwhile, accusations of falseness are slowly fading out, if only because after five years Die Antwoord’s artistic intensity hasn’t fizzled.

“We’re a rap group from South Africa. We’re not conceptual art at all. Some people think too much. Some people get it,” said Ninja in an interview with The Stranger.

Seattle has a proclivity to want to ‘get it.’ Our city has cultivated an interest in world music thanks to a vibrant multiethnic community, cutting-edge live music scene, local radio shows like KEXP’s Wo’ Pop, and general Internet savvy.

This heavily accented rap spliced with Afrikaans argot may not be the world music we’re used to, but the more we believe Die Antwoord really stands for what they put out, the more we’re willing to embrace it.

Monday’s show promises to be a similar full-throttle performance to Die Antwoord’s early tours. And this time, Seattle’s ready for it.

Die Antwoord plays this Monday, September 22 at the Paramount Theatre.

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