Getting Ugly in Asheville: Die Antwoord at the Orange Peel
History will be made on March 23rd at Asheville’s Orange Peel, when the South African group Die Antwoord (Afrikaans for “The Answer”) touches down for a show that may very well rock the foundations of our peaceful, hippie-loving town. Their completely infectious sound and uncanny visual aesthetic make them one of the most exciting things happening in music right now. The self-proclaimed “evillest rap crew on the planet” doesn’t spare anything–or anyone–in their songs, which are send-ups of consumer culture, masculinity, violence, and power structures, both global and local.
Die Antwoord borders on inexplicable. Their music and performance style, which incorporates a hardcore blend of hip hop, electronic, and general punked-out craziness, is grounded in a counterculture known as zef, characterized by an irreverent blend of high and low art, trash and glam, the ugly and the beautiful. The rough English translation of the word “zef” is “common,” but the counterculture is anything but. A term that allegedly originated in the trailer parks of the 1960’s and 1970’s, whose residents purchased Ford Zephyrs and then modified them with rims and other accessories, it’s become a way of taking power back from the systems that control our lives. The term eventually became a parodic self-identifier used mainly by whites in lower socioeconomic tiers of South African society. Die Antwoord sees zef as existing beyond racial identity, understanding it as a cultural force that, not unlike hip hop, has the ability to transcend social categories and limits from the bottom up. As translated through Die Antwoord’s music, zef is nihilistic, materialistic, sexual, rude, and undeniably hilarious.
Die Antwoord, comprised of lead vocalist Ninja, Yo-Landi Vi$$er, and DJ Hi-Tek, has catapulted to fame through their distinctive (really, utterly unique) sound and aesthetic, which they identify as mixing influences from zef along with the history of South Africa, the hip-hop genre more broadly, and the work of photographer Roger Ballen, known for both his documentary photography of Johannesburg and surrounding areas and his uncanny, disturbing images of dark, violent domesticity. Die Antwoord’s variety influences have resulted in their own embrace of mulitple media. Ninja directs many of the group’s music videos, including the completely hypnotic “Ugly Boy,” the most recent single from 2014’s Donker Mag (and probably my favorite music video of the year). Ninja’s Instagram is also worth a long, voyeuristic look.
Tickets for this unmissable show are available through the Orange Peel’s website.