What’s up with Die Antwoord?
Are they authentic? And more specifically. Do they rip off other people’s work?
We are all familiar with the first set of anti-Antwoord complaints. That they were disparaging Afrikaner culture. That they were appropriating and exploiting coloured culture. Snot, I said. They were a wonderful fusion of the two.
@RoyBlumenthal Sign of the times! Seems SA’s Poor Whites have always fascinated sociologists & documentary photographers.
To which I replied.
@gussilber it’s part of what fascinates the overseas about Die Antwoord. It speaks to the possibility an authentic African whiteness.
Yes Gus agreed:
@wildebees True, & they’ve played on it very smartly, by working with the photographer Roger Ballen as well.
Roger Ballen’s pics – did he exploit poor whites?
But there’s a new worry about Die Antwoord. The other day a pêl from New York asked me whether Die Antwoord worked with photograper Roger Ballen. She was involved in a lively debate about this on the Africa is Country Blog (well worth a read).
Yes I told her. As far as I know he worked with them on the Wat pomp julle video and much besides. I had wrote so myself long before – just when they were blowing up – I had it from a source close to them.
So I was a bit surprised when my New York friend sent me this follow up comment to the Roger Ballen claims.
I live in Norway far away from SA. In present time Roger Ballen exhibit in Oslo. After his artist talk I asked him a few questions about his relationship to Die Antwoord. He answered:”Intersting question, because I got an E-mail yesterday from this rap group, where they say that they appreciate my work. I don`t know Die Antwoord. I have never talked to these people. I hear that they are going to earn millions because of inspiration from my photos.” He didn`t know how to react! On one hand it`s nice that someone likes your work, on the other hand it feels a bit dirty not to ask for permission.
The commentor continued:
“Now, I was a bit confused about this answer, so I asked Die Antwoord on the FB fan page. Are you working together with Roger Ballen or are you just inspired by his work? The answer from Die Antwoord: They deleted my post!”
This week I also saw The social network flick. And it set me thinking about ideas, truth and ownership.
Now if above is true – that’s not cool.
On the other hand. Which artist does not use other artists as inspiration? In this cut and paste culture, in digital media but also everywhere else, people have mixed and matched styles they liked and increasingly so.
The author of the comment pointed at another facinating article she allegedly referred the angry Ballen to:
From Weird Al Yankovic to Chromeo, parody is not a new device in pop music. But what makes Die Antwoord so interesting is their ability to blur the distinctions between what’s real and what’s actually satire. The tension here between aspects novelty and what’s contemporary becomes quite fertile as a mode of production.
As a metaphor, Die Antwoord embodies the post-modern attitude by attacking the notion of a static or fixed symbol. Wether in literature, film, art, music, product design, etc, etc, the product in question is never completely original. Instead, it is always built from those cultural forms that preceded it. While this notion was most famously illustrated by Roland Barthes in Death of the Author, it was made truly tangible to my generation by Nicolas Bourriaud in Post Production. In it, he states “with music derived from sampling, the sample no longer represents anything more than a salient point in a shifting cartography. It is caught in a chain, and it’s meaning depends in part on its position in this chain.”
Nod, nod, nod.
I have a little secret. A lot of the hardcore Die Antwoord fans are aware of this mind. Mr. Ballen has to fall into the back of queue when it comes to major influences and even diewery.
Check this video. The Matrix SA style by Ne0 SA.
It contains by my reckoning, lyricks and passages that form part of at least five Die Antwoord songs – (not all of which made it onto $0$ Like my new best friend).
It’s not as if there is no hat tips. Die Antwoord actually name checks Ne0 SA in the orginal tracks that were free to download (
not sure if $O$ maintains these refenrences.) UPDATE: Grif informs me that Die Antwoord also hat tips them in the sleeve of $O$. See comments below.
The video is itself a mix of the original Matrix movies and a Justin Timberlake parody of the Matrix movies and strictly speaking itself illegal. It features Ne0′s incredibly odd and hilarious potty-mouthed dialog. This is the fountain of what Rustum Kozain calls Die Antwoord’s ability to kak-praat:
“The one thing that is certain is that Die Antwoord opens up the space of double-speak, characteristic especially of slave society and known, from my ‘coloured’ background, as ‘kak-praat’ or ‘gat-krap’. The latter especially points to mischievous lying, something that anthropologists don’t get: the informant cannot be trusted because you don’t know, can never know, whether the informant is talking the truth or whether they’re krapping gat (scratching hole/arse/behind). “
And here is some more Die Antwoord influences. Zef sketse was a number of shows put on in and around Pretoria from 2002 to 2004. Often in collaboration with and attended by an enthusiastic Watkykjy ( Die Antwoord’s spiritual home – or buitekammertjie ) – crowd.
So are they bad ass for doing this?
In The Social Network the genius that is Mark Zuckerberg ends up paying $60mil to three student entrepeneurs who he kept on a leash for a month – pretending he is building them a social network – while he built Facebook.
The issue here is not whether Zuckerburg was inspired by them to build Facebook. He clearly was. The devil with developing good web tools are always in the details. The idea is one thing, the execution is another.
For me it’s obvious that Zuckerburg had the particular talent and understanding of user behaviour to build Facebook in the way he did to make it a global powerhouse. He did not need them. They needed him.
But he should have told them from the beginning that he was going to do it himself. Not nice Mark.
So the borrowing with Ballen and Ne0 does not diminish the genius and drive of the creative cultural mash up that is Die Antwoord. Another two comments on The Africa is a Country blog reads:
Siener: last night I spent some time doing exactly that, Googling to find out more about Die Antwoord, having realised (for example with Ballen link) that I was misunderstanding a whole lot of stuff here. And I’m rather inclined to agree with you regarding the idea that Die Antwoord can somehow be seen in any way as a representation of the way white South Africans per se think. Clearly there is a whole lot more going on with Die Antwoord than at first may appear, and certainly from this blog post. I’ve been completely absorbed by what I have read about this group on the internet, and what it once again (for me, as an outsider) throws up about the complexity of South Africa (which I think I have often missed).
and this quote from Pam Sykes.
Very little in pop culture in the past five or ten years has made me think quite as hard as Die Antwoord has (and thanks Lara Pawson for the Roger Ballen lead, there is more for me to follow up). They deserve better than the reading that they “convey pretty superficial stereotypes about blackness that already over saturate global popular culture”. Because frankly, as someone who lives not too very far away from the streets they depicted in Zef Side, I find myself utterly unable to pin down what they’re doing. They’re playing way out on the fringes where whiteness and blackness and colouredness and watookal blur together and cease to have meaning. They’re rude and anarchic and gleeful — it makes my head hurt, and I love them for that.
Wow. It’s true.
To be able to have that impact. To make sense of and mash together the phenomenal complexities of South African culture, in word, visually and in music requires phenomenal talent, genius even. That while navigating treacherous political ground, and humungous stereo-types.
And what everybody seems to forget in these rather academic discussions is that in rap and in rave and a whole slew of other urban genres they sample and mash they do so with utmost street intelligence and musical nous. It’s not only tight, it’s slick, and it’s on the button musically. That is Die Antwoord.
If true it does cast some aspersions over the their ethics. But in line with his now more arrogant and aggressive persona, I’m sure Ninja will just shrug, and tune us we’re jaloers. You can’t beat them. Just join them.
Oh irony. The Watkykjy blog has been moaning about polish TV ripping off Die Antwoord. See the vid below:
The Africa is a Country commentator ends her comment on the following:
What would Roger Ballen be without the The Boardinghouse, and what would Die Antwoord be without Roger Ballen? Maybe the idea of a pure work is false?
UPDATE: The comment in question on Africa is a Country has not been confirmed as true – as I say in the post above as well. To reflect the uncertainty and the protest of the commentators I added a question mark to the heading of this post and the Sies Ninja. Be that as it may, it is besides the point I’m making. True or not true it does not reflect for me on their authorship or the greatness of their work.