Die Antwoord brings fun, weirdness, defiance to a bleak Tel Aviv night
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Concert review

Die Antwoord brings fun, weirdness, defiance to a bleak Tel Aviv night

South African rave-rap group’s energy-packed show mixes new material, fan favorites and a raucous response to the boycott movement

Luke Tress is a video journalist and tech reporter for the Times of Israel

Yo-Landi Visser and Ninja onstage in Israel, June 8, 2016. (Orit Pnini)
Yo-Landi Visser and Ninja onstage in Israel, June 8, 2016. (Orit Pnini)

South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord had all the answers for the crowd in their first show in Israel Wednesday night.

The trio from Cape Town, led by frontman Ninja and singer Yo-Landi Visser and backed by DJ Hi-Tek, performed at Rishon’s Live Park as part of the “Suck on This” tour in support of a recent mixtape and upcoming album.

Their bizarre, idiosyncratic and vulgar music is difficult to categorize, but that did not seem to bother the crowd. The audience knew the band’s hits and welcomed its new material. It didn’t hurt that Ninja and Visser emphatically and obscenely rejected the calls for them to boycott Israel.

The crowd of mostly young Israelis packed into the venue, which has room for 20,000. Some audience members sported Visser-like white face paint and clothing inspired by the “zef” countercultural movement, which the band identifies with. Visser described the South African movement to The Guardian in 2010 as “people who soup their cars up and rock gold and shit. Zef is, you’re poor but you’re fancy.”

“Die Antwoord” means “The Answer” in Afrikaans. The band performs in English and Afrikaans, and has used the Bantu language Xhosa.

Yo-Landi Visser and Ninja onstage in Israel, June 8, 2016. (Orit Pnini)
Yo-Landi Visser and Ninja onstage in Israel, June 8, 2016. (Orit Pnini)

The group opened the show with a drawn-out montage of ominous music, smoke and lighting. The audience crowded the floor, craned their necks to see the stage and held up their phones, hoping for a video of the group’s entrance.

During that 15-minute sequence, news reached the crowd of the deadly terrorist attack at Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market, just nine miles away. Audience members anxiously checked their phones and made calls home. The tragedy did not dampen spirits at the show, although it made the South Africans’ raucous support for the audience all the more compelling.

DJ Hi-Tek, whose real identity is unknown, emerged amidst flashing lights and smoke on a mounted platform above the stage wearing a grotesque, cartoonish mask. Visser then crossed the stage in an orange jumpsuit, middle fingers raised, followed by Ninja, who greeted the crowd saying, “Tel Aviv, Shalom.”

The group performed new material from their recent mixtape, “Suck on This,” which was released on May 19, and previewed songs from their upcoming album, “We Have Candy.” They announced the album’s title in a barely coherent Instagram post several months ago, but have not disclosed a release date.

Yo-Landi Visser and Ninja onstage in Israel, June 8, 2016. (Orit Pnini)
Yo-Landi Visser and Ninja onstage in Israel, June 8, 2016. (Orit Pnini)

The crowd was unfamiliar with the new material but the group’s animated performance made up for it. The diminutive Visser strutted and danced across the stage throughout the performance, while Ninja, rail-thin, covered in tattoos and usually shirtless, paced around the center of the platform and engaged with the audience. The thickly muscled, also shirtless DJ Hi-Tek towered over them with his turntables on a platform at the rear of the stage.

Their music often blends Ninja’s frenetic raps with Visser’s falsetto, and has inspired a cult following worldwide with songs like “Fatty Boom Boom,” the first one the majority of the audience seemed to recognize.

After the song, Ninja addressed calls for the group to boycott Israel ahead of the show.

South Africa is a stronghold of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divesment and Sanctions movement. The group, including its branch in Israel, requested a meeting with Die Antwoord and called on the band to cancel its show in Israel, claiming parallels between apartheid South Africa and Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Ninja responded to the pressure, without mentioning BDS by name, in a defiant, profanity-laced, mostly unprintable defense of the show.

“We make music for you (expletives). I don’t give a (expletive) about anyone else,” he said. “It’s just us, and you.”

Ninja of Die Antwoord performs in Rishon Lezion, June 8, 2016. (Orit Pnini)
Ninja of Die Antwoord performs in Rishon Lezion, June 8, 2016. (Orit Pnini)

They then continued with some of their new material, accompanied by two dancers dressed in a matching neon jumpsuits, before flashing the opening scene to their music video for “Ugly Boy” on the screen behind them. The crowd immediately recognized the image. Surreal, sometimes shocking imagery is a key part of their product. Their elaborate, bizarre videos like “Evil Boy” and “Baby’s on Fire” have tens of millions of views online.

They performed “Ugly Boy” shrouded in red-colored smoke, Visser dancing on the DJ’s platform high above the main stage. After the song, Ninja dropped his sweatpants, revealing a Star of David across the front of his shorts underneath. The crowd roared with approval.

They continued with their better known, older material, including “Pitbull Terrier” and “Baby’s on Fire.”

The show peaked with their hit “I Fink U Freeky,” released in 2012. The crowd knew the chorus and jumped in unison with the performers during the song. Ninja leapt onto the floor in front of the stage and kept rapping while sitting on the shoulders of audience members.

Die Anwoord frontman Ninja emerges from the crowd during their show in Rishon Lezion, June 8, 2016. (Orit Pnini)
Die Anwoord frontman Ninja emerges from the crowd during their show in Rishon Lezion, June 8, 2016. (Orit Pnini)

The show was the group’s first in Israel since its founding in Cape Town in 2008. They released their debut album, $O$, in 2009, and had their breakthrough year in 2010 with the viral videos for “Zef Side” and “Enter the Ninja.”

They have performed in well-known venues and festivals including Coachella, Big Day Out and Austin City Limits, and have collaborated with fashion designer Alexander Wang, musician and producer Diplo and South African “District 9” director Neill Blomkamp, who featured Visser and Ninja in his film “Chappie.”

They closed the Rishon Lezion show with 2010’s “Enter the Ninja.”

Audience members sat on each other’s shoulders in front of the stage and sang the chorus while neon blue butterflies flashed across the screen in front of them.

Ninja was back on the floor, running across the front of the stage with his hand outstretched to the first row of the crowd. Visser signed off after the song, saying, “Tel Aviv, Israel, be happy. Bye-bye.”

After a few moments, Ninja reappeared onstage in a black sweatsuit, face covered, and took a video of the audience on his cellphone before running off.

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