Die Antwoord started their first headlining tour of the U.S. in a manner typical for a band that at every turn leaves audiences scratching their heads — they played second, on a three-band bill, opening for Deadmau5. This Seattle date was no doubt set up before Die Antwoord’s “Enter the Ninja” video went viral, which made the South African band a YouTube sensation, and catapulted their name temporarily ahead of the Sears Die Hard battery in search engine results.
While the Die Hard has earned a following among auto buffs over years, the record-buying public is decidedly more fickle, particularly in the problematic category of white rap. There were times while watching leader “Ninja” when one couldn’t help but think of the specter of Vanilla Ice, albeit a lankier, more tattooed, Afrikaner version. Some of this was musical, as Ninja favors old school playground rhymes, which he knocked down in front of beats that would have been at home on a 1987 LL Cool J album. The group’s DJ is named Hi-Tek, but that, like a lot of Die Antwoord, may simply be a joke.
Ninja is not the lead singers’ real name, and it is either his sixth of seventh nom de plume, depending whose counting. He was born Watkin Jones, and is a seasoned vet of Capetown clubs, which is where he came up with the vision of Die Antwoord. His partner is the pixie-sized Yo-Landi Vi$$er, who looks like a miniature Lady Gaga, albeit a less androgynous one. Think Mini-Gaga, with curves.
They make an odd couple, to say the least. And it might be the unparrelled weirdness that made a handful of their songs in Seattle, against all odds, work to get the DeadMau5 fans bouncing. On “Enter the Ninja” and “Wat Kyk Jy,” the floor looked like a ride at Disneyland during an earthquake with all the mouse ears bopping.”Fish Paste” also seemed to work as tribal stomp, despite the unneeded explanation that the song is about a mother’s vaginal odor.
It was during their stage chatter, often in the middle of a song, when Die Antwoord seemed to falter. “In Your Face” was lifeless, and made more so by Ninja’s extolling the “fokkin” crowd to “make some noise.” Their only real accoutrements were a couple of black robes straight out of an Aryan Nations garage sale, and some white pajamas with Keith Haring-like designs.
A black robe hardly provides the visual punch that a video can, and that might be why Die Antwoord, live in Seattle, seemed to pale to their pixelated versions. It also might be because rap succeeds best when the beats come with authenticity. Whether Die Antwoord are fronting a long con — think Joaquin Phoenix — or fronting a new aesthetic is a mystery. Their name may mean “the answer” in Afrikans, but that’s hardly a clue whether the joke is on them, or on us. In Seattle, it might have been a little of both.