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Die Antwoord
Ten$ion John Calvert , February 16th, 2012 11:37

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Comedy rap act or conceptual art project? Whatever your opinion on rave-rappers Die Antwoord, their new album is a rare treat - South African pop music. But if a cultural insight into the country is intriguing enough, Ten$ion's depiction of modern South Africa is nothing less than thrilling. Though not explicitly, nor necessarily the intentions of its creators, it's hard to shake the image of a future dystopia. Somehow, Ten$ion is sci-fi.

How? Well, it's the result of many things. Firstly there's the specific selection of sub-genres the album centres around. Ten$ion brings together the aggressive, non-euphoric elements of rave - militaristic power anthems (Baby's On Fire), ramped-up electroclash ('I Fink Your Freeky'); rigid Euro renditions of gangster rap ('So What') and undanceable, metallic brostep ('Never Le Nkemise'). It's a perfect cross-section of funkless anarcho-dance, driven by those uniquely Northern European styles that often bring to mind images of totalitarianism, and by extension sci-fi like THX 1138, Brave New World or countless other futuretopias. On the other hand, the tribal feel of 'Hey Sexy' and the Kuduro-esque 'Fatty Boom Boom' suggests the idea of plastic-fantastic technology in the context of Africa.

There's also Ten$ion's resemblance to the type of music that many sci-fi directors have imagined will be in-vogue in dystopian futures - everything hard, obnoxious and amphetamine-fuelled. Think The Matrix's anabolic industrial, Minority Report's blaring VR club, the robot-rock house band playing A.I.'s Flesh Fair, or even the role LA punk plays in creating Repo Man's vaguely futuristic aura.

Maybe it's a contextual thing - Ten$ion's future feel being less to do with the music and more to do with South Africa. The country's well known history of oppressive governments and race issues, its more militarised edge (mercenaries are two-a-penny), the mega-slums of Soweto, the widespread privatisation of security firms, the rise of heavily fortified 'gated communities', and the country's own apocalyptic plague in AIDS - all are commonly used tropes in science fiction, and all are written into the grain of the lawless Ten$ion. Essentially, like all good speculative futures,Ten$ion presents an exaggerated vision of the present day, in order to highlight present-day problems.

If it actually were a movie, Ten$ion might look something like the satirically gaudy Robocop, as opposed to the noir pulp-art of Blade Runner. It is, however, the godless L.A 2019 of Ridley Scott's opus that Ten$ion more resembles. As the country experiences a mass exodus of its educated classes on both sides of the racial divide, Ten$ion, like Blade Runner, depicts an industrially-defiled world where the rich have bought their way into heaven: the 'off-world colonies'. Those remaining have been left behind to pick the bones of a sun-blessed hell with the clock ticking down. It's a gangster rap/literal Wild West where boy-racers rove. The lurid, belligerent verve of MCs Ninja and Yo-landi Vi$$ser's delivery suggests nihilistic thrill-seekers in a moribund police state, partying like there's no tomorrow, because literally there isn't one. Adding to the effect, there's the otherworldly Afrikaans dialect, as unique a pop experience in 2012 as it was on their 2010 debut. That fusion of Bantu cluck and Dutch hack makes for a one-off rap voice.

The sci-fi comes also with the concept of 'Zefs', Die Antwoord's classification for their kind. You imagine them to travel in gangs, comprised of bionically enhanced nymphs and flashy cyberpunks, seeking salvation in genetically engineered drugs and customised super-cars. Communicating in a futuristic pidgin language, they soundtrack their rampage through the city's neon arteries with strange, futuristic music: debased, adrenal, mutant synthetica. And all across the night, the Ten$ion is rising. You can see why writer of Larry Clarke's apocalyptic Kids, Harmony Korine, is a super fan, alongside Davids Lynch and Fincher - all artists with a keen eye for spotting the high art in trash culture.

The root source of Ten$ion's future-feel can, however, be traced to Afrikaners' other great inheritance from their Dutch antecedents - a more recent import, the Dutch-invented gabba techno. A proudly working class phenomenon of early 90s origin, it's where Die Antwoord take many aesthetic cues from. Firstly, it's no coincidence that 'gabba' translates in Dutch as 'ruffneck', while in Afrikaans 'Zef' means 'hillbilly'. Or that the word 'gabba' relates to 'freak' - an idea another band of determinedly working class misfits, The Ramones, took from Tom Browning's eponymous horror classic (on 'Yo Gabba Gabba'). Freak-ness is a concept Die Antwoord return to repeatedly both in interviews and lyrically ( 'I Fink Your Freeky' is Ten$ion's lead single). Then there's their look: MC Ninja garbed in gabba-standard leisure suits and Vi$$er decked out in quintessential 'gabba-girl' (a mix of goblinoid and industrial). You'll notice too that both looks are seasoned by a gothic influence, a legacy of Gabba's closest musical relative in the rock world - speedy death metal (see also the album's cover art).

Musically speaking, meanwhile, Yo-landi's synthetic-sounding voice is pure gabba, in its blend of Japanese hypercuteness and android harlequin. Most of all, however, it's gabba's associations with skinheads and mechanised humanity - the anatomy of technocratic fascism - that burnish Ten$ion's sci-fi sheen. Add to that the scarily amplified masculinity of 'Uncle Jimmy', one of hip-hop history's most sinister rap skits, and the end result is a seductively alien concoction. When Ninja's snarls hooks onto an upsurging wobble-bass on 'Never Le Nkemise', the effect is terrifyingly inhuman. Ten$ion is a singular experience.

ervler
Feb 16, 2012 10:07pm

This review is totally detached from the album at hand. The author decided up front that the album reminded him/her of some sci-fi future of his own making, which he then spent his remaining words describing for us. He should take up writing sci-fi short stories rather than reviewing albums...

Some of his conclusions are tenuous at best. He seems to have a rather naive, stereotyped view of what South Africa is all about ("mercenaries are two-a-penny") and revels in tying weird links between his fantasy vision of the country and any other random pop culture factoid that comes to mind. I shook my head at statements like, "The root source of Ten$ion's future-feel can... be traced to Afrikaners' other great inheritance from their Dutch antecedents... gabba techno" (Really? They have so much to be grateful for) and, "...Vi$$er decked out in quintessential 'gabba-girl' (a mix of goblinoid and industrial). You'll notice too that both looks are seasoned by a gothic influence, a legacy of Gabba's closest musical relative in the rock world - speedy death metal (see also the album's cover art)". If you want to really know what inspired their look, and perhaps enhance your incredibly shallow understanding of these artists and the cultural milieu that birthed them, have a read here:

http://www.rollingstone.co.za/musicrev/item/595-die-antwoord-qwe-have-a-huge-respect-for-janeq

I never comment or troll on websites but this review just rubbed me up the wrong way due to its mix of ignorance in the paper thin caricature of South Africa it draws and its self-indulgent trip into the author's own sci-fi pretensions...

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ervler
Feb 16, 2012 10:07pm

This review is totally detached from the album at hand. The author decided up front that the album reminded him/her of some sci-fi future of his own making, which he then spent his remaining words describing for us. He should take up writing sci-fi short stories rather than reviewing albums...

Some of his conclusions are tenuous at best. He seems to have a rather naive, stereotyped view of what South Africa is all about ("mercenaries are two-a-penny") and revels in tying weird links between his fantasy vision of the country and any other random pop culture factoid that comes to mind. I shook my head at statements like, "The root source of Ten$ion's future-feel can... be traced to Afrikaners' other great inheritance from their Dutch antecedents... gabba techno" (Really? They have so much to be grateful for) and, "...Vi$$er decked out in quintessential 'gabba-girl' (a mix of goblinoid and industrial). You'll notice too that both looks are seasoned by a gothic influence, a legacy of Gabba's closest musical relative in the rock world - speedy death metal (see also the album's cover art)". If you want to really know what inspired their look, and perhaps enhance your incredibly shallow understanding of these artists and the cultural milieu that birthed them, have a read here:

http://www.rollingstone.co.za/musicrev/item/595-die-antwoord-qwe-have-a-huge-respect-for-janeq

I never comment or troll on websites but this review just rubbed me up the wrong way due to its mix of ignorance in the paper thin caricature of South Africa it draws and its self-indulgent trip into the author's own sci-fi pretensions...

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Tegart
Feb 18, 2012 5:51pm

I can't speak to the observations linked w/ South Africa. A lot of the the other insights were quite interesting and spot-on for me. Thanks!

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Bewarethemoon
Feb 19, 2012 8:01pm

If this album is Sci-fi, it's not visions of Bladerunner being thrown up, more like, Sci-fi channel cheap, made for tv fare.
complete comedy, like a time machine brundle-flyed 1991 into 2012

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De Hakkelaar
Oct 23, 2012 5:47pm

"Gabba" is the international mutation the Dutch "gabber", a slang term which has been used by Dutch ruffnecks for at least 150 years. But it doesn't translate as ruffneck, as the article states. It means "pal" and comes from the Yiddish "chawwer" with the same meaning. It is a Dutch equivalent of the American "bro" or British "mate".

Its use as the name for the Hardcore genre stems from the early 1990s when amphetamine/ecstasy spread to the football terraces, luring the hooligans towards techno music. "Gabber" is what working class football fans (hooligans) call each other, most notably in Rotterdam.

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De Hakkelaar
Oct 23, 2012 5:51pm

In reply to De Hakkelaar:

And I strongly doubt that these football fans made a connection to the slogans of The Ramones, let alone that they ever heard of the film by Tod Browning. The author is really stretching it here.

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