I started getting calls from Die Antwoord fans when I was in Tunisia at the beginning of 2012. The calls came from all over the world: Holland, the US, South Africa, Germany, Brazil, and in one strange case, Iceland. People were friendly, albeit a little mystified. Why was my mobile number emblazoned all over a Die Antwoord video, they wanted to know?
The video in question is “Fok julle Naaiers”, from 2012’s Ten$ion, and features Waddy, Yo-Landi and a misshapen DJ Hi-Tek (who appears to have had botox to make himself look like an attack poodle), threatening to “fok” a “punk ass white boy” “in the ass”. Waddy does his usual aggressive look (in the film Zoolander, it would probably be called something like “Constipated Ninja”), regurgitates worms and spiders, and waves a couple of guns around. Dj Hi-Tek raps in front of a wall, on which is scrawled the number of the feared 28s gang of the Western Cape, a drawing of a dude with an unnaturally large penis, “Viva ANC”, “moffie”, and my mobile number with the invitation “4 Hot Bum Sex Call”.
The video, I assume, is a response to a review I wrote of Die Antwoord’s album $O$, in which I said: “Never has South African hip-hop sounded more snide and parochial, more resolutely middle class.” I also wrote: “There’s just too much pettiness in the band’s parody”. It’s nice of Waddy to make this video and prove me right. But it’s disappointing that in 2012, we still think that homophobia is cool, and that calling someone a moffie is a legitimate rejoinder to criticism. And it’s also weird that a pop star would think hot bum sex is a negative. Surely you’re beyond this sort of middle class morality when you’ve been on the David Letterman Show? I’m reminded that Waddy wrote a series of sex advice columns for me a few years ago – now I’m starting to worry his advice to young people might have been a little less cool than I’d hoped.
Disappointingly, none of the many people calling my number actually wanted hot bum sex. Many wanted to speak to the man himself, Watkin “Waddy” Tudor Jones, known to hardcore hip-hop fans as the tattooed Vanilla Ice of his generation. When I took the first few calls, I was standing next to a giant plastic penguin by a pool, so I told callers that Waddy and I were trying to raise funds for a penguin we’d adopted called Waddle-E. Many offered to send money. Some callers were looking specifically for DJ Hi-Tek, and I managed to convince them that I was his less successful working class brother, DJ Hard-Hat. I promised to pass on their messages of love. Oddly, not one single caller has ever wanted to speak to Yo-Landi. That’s hip-hop for you.
Many people were outraged at what they saw as the threatening invasion of my privacy, and suggested I take legal action. This, I couldn’t understand. One of my few rules as a writer is, if you want to hand out criticism, you’ve got to be prepared to take it too. So I decided to just embrace it (“not in THAT way, you silly Waddy you!”, he said girlishly.) Sure, it was costing me a few thousand rands taking calls in foreign countries (a phone bill of R1 200 for a few days in Tunisia, for example), and it’s vaguely irritating getting calls from the US at 3am in the morning, but on the upside my brand as an occasional music writer was immeasurably enhanced. And also, it’s an extremely funny manoeuvre by Die Antwoord, and one that I’ve used in lectures as an example of how fantastically liberating the internet is. The joy of social media is that everyone owns their own platform, and even better, it’s not time bound. Thanks to YouTube, I’ll still be making friends with Die Antwoord fans on my deathbed, unless I wimp out and change my mobile number.
But I couldn’t help wondering why. Why would a successful international pop star care about a tiny review in a small African newspaper? And the reminders of Die Antwoord’s incredible success were everywhere. In New York, leaving my hotel after, coincidentally, yet another call from a drunk Dutch DJ wanting to profess undying love for Waddy, I was confronted by a giant Alexander Wang billboard featuring the sneeringly smug visages of Waddy and Yo-Landi. A few weeks later, in an anonymous street in Copenhagen, I passed an art gallery showing Roger Ballen’s I Fink you Freeky Die Antwoord video. I have to say, I was starting to feel that sense of unearned pride I imagine Springbok fans have. Despite having nothing to do with Die Antwoord’s success, as a South African I was immensely pleased at their impact.
My initial impulse had been to just ignore Waddy’s gesture. If he wants attention, he should shoot himself like a real hip-hop star, I thought. But now I was intrigued. Perhaps the clue is in the chorus for Fok Julle Naaiers. DJ Hi-Tek raps, incessantly, “DJ Hi-Tek will fok you in the ass. You can’t touch me faggot, you’re not man enough.” And the chorus is, incredibly, “I’ll fok you till you love me, faggot. I’ll fok you till you love me”. Can it really be that simple, that asinine? Is this just a pedestrian cry to be loved by reputable media, rather than a million facile likes on YouTube?
No. I think it’s more than that. I think it speaks to the generally execrable state of the music industry in South Africa, and in particular music journalism. Even in this blessed age of social media and citizen journalism, bands are desperate to be reviewed by authoritative publications. And yet, when they do get honest reviews, many of them can’t handle the criticism. In a world where there isn’t enough volume of intelligent analysis, just one negative opinion can strike to the heart. There’s no perspective.
I do find it kind of sweet that a band like Die Antwoord, lauded in other countries, still want their own people to, like, understand them. Which is why we’ve put together a package of Die Antwoord content, with a range of opinions about the self-styled “fre$, futuristik zef rap-rave krew from da dark dangerous depths of Afrika”. You can love Die Antwoord, and consider them the best thing since sliced wrists. Or you can hate them, and think they bear the same resemblance to hardcore hip-hop that The Scorpions do to heavy metal. But you’d be dumb to ignore their fascinating tale of artistic and commercial triumph, and its particular relevance to a South African music scene striving for some kind of international weight.
(For a more recent story I wrote about Die Antwoord (which might be subscriber only), read “Marred by controversy and soaked in scandal: Is Die Antwoord’s House of Zef collapsing?” on News24.)
[First published in the Mail & Guardian, 4 Oct 2012]