One day, Die Antwoord got on stage with Aphex Twin (at the London Electronic Dance Festival in 2010) and it looked like something. Like something new could come from the performance that would take the South African couple from being little more than hype - born from their viral impact, their grotesque appearance and a couple of effective singles - to the start of a consistent career that wouldn't depend on jokes or a gory image to be remarkable. The conjunction made sense: Die Antwoord's sound was somewhat influenced by British and German rave music from the early nineties (the dreamy parts by Yo-Landi Vi$$er on “ Enter The Ninja” are reminiscent of the kindergarten rave stuff, popularised by Marusha parting from the happy hardcore anthem “ Over The Rainbow”) - but the music was weighed down by their attitude and appearance, basically a gangsta-rap parody expressed in the way they dressed, chewed their words and produced their beats. We shouldn't forget that Die Antwoord don't come from the streets, but from the class rooms of the Faculty of Fine Arts in Cape Town, as some kind of theatrical representation / parody / exploitation of the criminal look of hip-hop in the South African ghettos. However, since those beginnings - basically a very serious joke - the band started growing, developing new ideas and were convinced there was a place for them. Yo-Landi could be a trashy sex symbol for the youths that cut their hair as if they were ashtrays, and Ninja looked like he just got out of some maximum security prison in Siberia; the basis, therefore, seemed solid and the duo saw a chance to go beyond the idea of a joke.
Sure, a joke repeated for the second time doesn't seem funny anymore, and it could even generate an opposite reaction: irritation, pity, whatever. What it doesn't provoke is laughter, and “ Ten$ion”, in the short history of Die Antwoord, sounds like a joke told for the second time with a slight variation. The variation being the times when, without leaving aside the raps and the high-voltage beats, they forget about the conventions of rap and (as could be perceived when they moved closer to Aphex Twin, a man who everybody knows likes dirty noise, high-octane acid and thundering hardcore) make their phrasing more cutting and their beats truly hard, sometimes going up to 180 BPM. But “ Ten$ion” is a record going in those two directions at the same time without really choosing one: when Die Antwoord insist on the hip-hop parody they become just irrelevant, unnecessary and annoying in their redundancy, but when they Europeanise, they become much more attractive.
In that first direction are songs like “ Hey Sexy” (which seems to start like KRS-One's “ Sound Of Da Police”, only to end up losing the entire thrill between weak beats and pointless lyrics) and “So What?”, which sounds like the typical bad track on an Eminem album. We'd have to add to that the skits (which in a multimedia dictionary would appear as an application next to the word “filler”) - except “ Uncle Jimmy”, which sounds like the story of a dirty old man visiting a Chinese brothel - the instrumental interlude “DJ Hi-Tek Rulez”, the cartoon-rap of “Fok Julle Naaiers” and the first part of “Never Le Nkemise”: at these moment you lose interest in Die Antwoord and the duo devalues. But there are interesting things on the other end, and that's where “Ten$ion” leaves the door open to a hopeful conversion, the reinvention of the joke. First, with the single “ I Fink U Freeky”- which leans on mechanical riffs and stabs that seem to be more inspired by 2 Unlimited than Joey Beltram. In its own way, it is an unexpected reinvention of Euro beat of the Dutch school (Dutch culture might still have its presence felt among the white South African population). Second, “Baby’s On Fire”, another rave pass-time that seems to link braindance with Flo.Rida-type commercial rap and riffs that sound like they're ripped from T-99's proto-gabber anthem “Anasthasia”. They continue on this path with “ U Make A Ninja Wanna Fuck” (with a sample that sounds like the original tune of “Doctor Who”) and the second take of “N ever Le Nkemise”, leaning on epic riffs that could be played by Tiësto or at the Alice Deejay reunion.
The problem is that this - on the album as a whole - is not enough. The prison jokes and clown-rap (prolonged as well on “ Fatty Boom Boom”, which sounds like a cruel imitation of M.I.A.) occupy minutes that could have been used instead to explore their rave side; in other words, as if Yo-Landi (the skinhead girl addicted to angel dust turning up at every rave, getting into fights, handling her knife with skill and stinking of rotten sardines) had lost her battle with Ninja (the thug with zero percent fat on his bones). It's not entirely clear which one is wearing the pants (he seems to dominate more than she does), but for the good of Die Antwoord, their third album should be a new joke - or at least let the woman, the ecstasy and the ketamine gain some ground on the testosterone and muscle. Because a Eurobeaty Die Antwoord - the post-modern and sarcastic version of 2 Brothers On The 4th Floor or Lasgo (hell, they already are a bit like a prison version of Aqua) - would be one of the most brilliant ideas in human history, after the invention of the clothes hanger and the water tap.