Coachella 2010 outro: Die Antwoord, so Zef, so fres! [Updated]
With Coachella 2010 quickly receding in the rear-view mirror of festival-goers’ collective consciousness, it is fair to say that there was no shortage of lasting impressions made this year. Highly touted reunions (the Specials, Faith No More, Pavement), splashy performances by next-big-things (MGMT, Vampire Weekend), even blanket ubiquity by bona fide superstars (Jay-Z and Beyoncé, please stand up).
But pound for pound -- or maybe, considering the group's abbreviated set time and its members' dangerously emaciated-looking Body Mass Indexes, minute for minute onstage -- the most engaging and legitimately surprising act of the weekend might have been the hard rhyming South African “Zef-rap” trio Die Antwoord. Their arrival came as a late addition to the Coachella lineup, placed in a high-visibility spot Saturday night between veteran party starter DJ Z-Trip and Belgian mash-up superstars 2ManyDJs. Then there was the name itself: "the answer" in Afrikaans. All day Saturday, the question was, "Who the [bleep] is Die Antwoord?”
Suffice it to say the audience did not know what hit them.
Steeped in viral mystery after months of ‘Net speculation about their integrity level and original provenance, the group bounded onstage in the Sahara tent and basically laid waste to any preconceived notion about hip-hop’s global currency in the new millennium. That is to say, it’s easier to consider Die Antwoord’s “rave-rap” and try to process its “new Zef flow” in terms of what M.I.A. does than, say, N.W.A. (Even if Die Antwoord shares a similar fondness for filthy language and descriptions of brutal sex, paying homage to Compton’s finest by proclaiming themselves “Straight Outta South Africa” with a pronounced Afrikaans accent.)
In less than 20 minutes onstage and over the course of fewer than six songs, Die Antwoord amazed and confused by indeed being Zef and staying “so, so fres.” Depending on who you ask, Zef either embodies the celebration of a uniquely South African brand of white trashiness or is shorthand for general awesomeness. Both would seem to apply. Zef is indisputably the group’s X-factor: the key to its fizzy menace, its otherworldliness and ribald sex rhymes.
To be sure, lead vocalist Ninja and backup singer/MC Yo-Landi Vi$$er make a visually arresting pair. Both are greyhound-thin and exude a kind of hard-to-place affectlessness -- he after having stripped down from a white hoodie sweatsuit to a pair of flimsy Pink Floyd “Dark Side of the Moon” workout shorts and she, sparrow-like and helium-voiced in gold hot pants and a halter top. Their quirks of idiom and casual referencing of old school hip-hop, coupled with Die Antwoord’s singular Zef look, create a sense of wonder. It’s no far stretch to imagine them having grown up in some Cape Town meth lab watching a steady diet of “Yo! MTV Raps.”
But after having performed basically all of their recorded material (available on widely downloaded mix-tapes), the trio (and their portly, shirtless, be-masked backup dancers) exited stage right. And for a moment, the possibility of a melee taking place in the Sahara tent seemed perfectly plausible. Resplendent with his Kid 'n Play-esque high-top fade, Ninja took the opportunity to departed gracefully: “Coachella, we love you!” he exclaimed.
Vi$$er -- looking like a diffident, highly sexualized 12-year-old and drenched in sweat -- chose to bail in a hail of curse words directed specifically at the Coachella crowd and flipped everyone the bird.
So just how did Die Antwoord rate its Coachella performance? Your humble correspondent tried in vain to swaggle an interview, only to discover that the group had chosen to do no press, keeping the sense of mystery surrounding them intact.
But Ninja articulated a certain sense of accomplishment in an Afrikaans-accented gangsta tweet Sunday.
“We came, we saw, we skopped fokken gat,” he wrote.
-- Chris Lee
Photo: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times
UPDATE: The original version of this post incorrectly stated that 2ManyDJs cancelled their set. In fact, 2ManyDJs did perform at Coachella but without David Dewaele, who was stuck in London due to the volcanic ash cloud.