Die Antwoord at Lollapalooza 2012 | Photos and music review
Who saw this one coming? I sure didn't. When Die Antwoord first hit the scene, the South African hip-hop(?) trio seemed like a guaranteed flavor of the month, a bizarre and confounding gimmick with almost too many seemingly random facets to sustain any kind of following. But here we are, two-and-a-half years after their near-11-million-view "Zef Side" hit YouTube, and Die Antwoord just rocked the most enthusiastic crowd the Playstation stage will see all weekend.
The always-masked DJ Hi-Tek took the stage first, only to drop some kind of ominous, didgeridoo-sounding bellow to set the mood. The crowd was already going apeshit, abandoning discussions of DMT and friendship bracelets and firing up blunt after blunt in response. At least two South African flags could be seen flying high among the crowd. Hi-Tek and his bandmates were dressed from head to toe in orange sweatsuits, looking like some kind of dayglo Jawa security team.
Part of what separates Die Antwoord from their contemporaries, if you could name any, is this dedication to playful histrionics, both on and offstage. It's this same penchant for affectation that drew fans and critics into the Zef mythos from day one, but it's also what led people to trivialize the group as a gimmick, all show and no substance. Critics even questioned the authenticity of their background, as if that made any difference. Part of what made the Wu-Tang Clan such a popular and transgressive group was this same playful affinity, but I don't think I've ever heard anyone call the Wu-Gambino shtick on Cuban Linx a "cheap gimmick." This stuff is part of being a great band. Even Pavement had a shtick: appearing to not give a shit.
"That's her voice?" said just about everyone around me as Yo-Landi Vi$$er first took the mic. Understandable: the singer/rapper's trademark chipmunk chirp is inimitable (though I heard a few people try), replicating the high frequencies of a sped-up soul sample à la early Kanye West, and the RZA before him. And while it can be admittedly irksome on record, her voice grew in power and influence with the Playstation stage's speakers. "You sound like a Pokemon! I love you!" yelled a shirtless, blunted bro to my right. If you didn't love her, you weren't paying attention. Yo-Landi flashed her ass to the audience at one point, pulling her shorts down for the camera and everyone else caught up in the swirling rap-rave leviathan that is Die Antwoord's live show. "She's really hot," said a girl next to me. Amens resounded.
The group has been praised for its originality, but Die Antwoord is pretty damn derivative. I didn't hear a beat or a bass drop that hasn't assuredly been played 100 times over at Perry's stage this afternoon, but it's what rapper Ninja and Yo-Landi add to the EDM madness that makes them noteworthy, and sets them apart from that ravey clusterfuck. "We make our own rules," said Ninja. "We keep it gangsta, and we keep it Zef." Who else but a man with his awesome level of audacity could spit a line like "I'm sippin' Dom Perignon/It's like an angel peed in my mouth"? Certainly not Wale. Midway through the set, Ninja was wearing his Pink Floyd boxers from the Zef Side video, and we got an eyeful of those pelvic thrusts once again. No comment.
At what appeared to be the end of the set, all three members took a knee at the monitors, for one of the most solemnly gangsta moments anyone will witness this weekend. After a minute offstage, they returned to deliver the hit "Enter the Ninja," and there wasn't a smileless face in the crowd. He crowd surfed to cap off the set, and hugged his fans. There was something miraculous about the whole thing, that a band of freaks with weird backgrounds and imaginations could gather the collective attention span of the Adderall generation enough for everyone to learn the words. And man, if you didn't get chills during that last bass drop in "Ninja," you might as well stay home the rest of the weekend. You're not gonna like anything else.