"Bowtland!" a breathless Yolandi Vi$$er squealed at the end of a sweaty set, "Why are you so fawking cute?" I've been a part of a crowd that a performer had deemed "cute" before, but now that I've been called that by a pint-sized sexbomb in an over-sized Jigglypuff jumpsuit, I think I can die happy. It wasn't just the cute recognizing cute that stirred up all my post-show euphoria—Die Antwoord simply slayed, meeting and exceeding all my expectations.
So let's back up a bit—I had this nagging feeling before the show that Die Antwoord's game was over, or maybe that another one had begun entirely. The trashy South African rap/rave duo is widely recognized as a massive piece of performance art, a fact that hasn't hindered—and has probably helped—their fast climb to YouTube stardom and an Interscope record deal. My fear going into the show was that the performance would take its next logical step—from Die Antwoord, the charming, hilarious little viral-vid enigma to Die Antwoord, the biggest band in the fokken world. It's a leap not without precedent—I've recognized for a while that Antwoord and Andrew WK have a lot in common, as Eric Grandy pointed out after their Seattle show. Before WK broke down and became a motivational speaker, though, the performance veered off into a sick, (literally) commercial direction, his songs and visage appearing in as many ads, shows and video games as would take it on. So now that everyone is in on the Die Antwoord joke, would corporate music biz assholery and an abandonment of the high art image they've cultivated be the punchline?
My trepidations were put to rest pretty much immediately. Though the house was packed and palpably frenzied, Tour DJ Fishsticks came on stage first and launched a deep and punishingly long, mono-note drone, backdropped by a projection of a super creepy face. Tension built and built—imagine seeing an all-ages rave that had already ingested their party drugs being subjected to an eternity of goth Tuvan throat singing—but it's exactly the mood they meant to create. It was a weird statement of intent, declaring that the performative and aesthetic display to follow would be on their terms alone. The audience seemed to be mostly up to the challenge—throughout the night, the arty video projections ran the gamut from cartoony to Lynchian, lending a clandestine darkness to the ecstatic beats and rhymes.
When Ninja and Vi$$er finally bounded out in oversized hoodies, the place went apeshit—the crowd was putty in Antwoord's hands for the duration of the set, and for good reason. The irresistible, faux trailer-trash charisma and innate humor that shine through their videos are amplified when they perform live. Ninja spat fire and worked the crowd hard, stage diving, pelvic thrusting and mugging (what a fucking mug!) his way through sweaty, pulsing jam after jam. He even managed to keep everyone into it for an entertaining though not particularly adept a capella rendition later in the set. After a massive group-falsetto sing-and-sway-along to "Enter the Ninja" and a near fever pitch of harsh pogo-mosh to the clubby "Wat Kyk Jy", Ninja actually brought the crowd down to demand a moment of silence so he could pose a question. His query—"Where is that motherfokkin' rrrrich bitch?" Vi$$er re-emerged in all gold lamé, starting a bouncing rendition of, what else, "Rich Bitch."
Vi$$er's pixie-vixen sexuality was on full display from there—she soon shed the gold hoodie for a barely-covering cut-off tee, cooing icy cold and holding the audience rapt on "$copie" and "Evil Boy." The perpetually shirtless Ninja had his fair share of grind-time too, eventually stripping down to his infamous Dark Side Of The Moon skivvies to thrust and flop along to "Beat Boy." Before their encore, DJ Fishsticks came out and started the same inaugural drone again. Luckily, it was only a few moments before Ninja and Vi$$er reemerged, now decked out in bright, baggy Pokémon outfits, and launched into the pub-sing-along of "Doos Dronk."
Time will tell if Die Antwoord's now endearing persona and performance will morph into a synergistic machine, packing stadiums with kids who take the vapid party lyrics at face value and didn't really understand the joke to begin with. Whatever direction they take, all indications are that Die Antwoord is in it for the long haul—I'm 100% certain Ninja and Vi$$er don't even break character even to talk to their parents—and watching their plan unfurl itself in front of a captivated world should make for arresting theater.