I came, I RAMmed, I went home and watched television.
This article was going to be about RAMfest. But what could I say here about my festival experience that you haven’t already read on several other blogs? There was loud music. There were lots of drunk boys and girls, staying out way past their bedtime. I don’t want to bore you. So instead, we’re going to talk about hip hop.
I do not enjoy hip hop. Never ever. Okay, I do have Why’s ’Alopecia’ somewhere my iTunes playlist. And one time I was drunk at a wedding and accidentally tapped my foot to the Sugar Hill Gang, but that is it. Most of the time I find hip hop abrasive, ignorant, overproduced, and well, just plain puerile. Why, then, did I spend 90% of my RAMfest at the tiny, sparsely-populated dance tent, listening to Afrikaans rappers and dubstep DJs?
That’s me, drunk as a fiddler’s bitch.
The obvious reason is because I was really in no state to walk the 50 meters back to the main stage in the obscene heat of mid day, navigating the, frankly, perilous mounds of dirt and small grassy knolls that make up Riverside Farm. But let’s put aside my drinking habits for just a moment, they’re none of your business anyway.
Had the the main stage been host to some nice folk musicians, for instance, I would happily have traversed the treacherous geography between myself and Justin Vernon. Mr Vernon was, however, not featured in the RAMfest lineup. Instead, we were presented with the usual suspects - Desmond and the Tutus (who I actually rather like); Knave; Pestroy; Zebra & Giraffe ad infinitum (this scene is so old, I’m expecting Barney Simon to crawl out of his tomb and MC. I know he’s not dead yet, that’s my point. Anyway, on the MC front we are instead treated to Vlismas, who is surprisingly not dead yet either, although he looks it).
Same ol’, same ol’.
Then there was Alkaline Trio and Funeral for a Friend, neither of whom I’ve seen before, and neither of whom I would pay money to see again. Not even Monopoly money, or chocolate coins. I think Alkaline Trio’s sound-guy was surreptitiously replaced with an ill-trained chimp, because all anyone could hear was vibration. As for Funeral for a Friend, oy. I mean, they played well and were hugely popular with the crowd but, let’s just say, they do not put the ’fun’ in ’funeral’. There is nothing that irks me more than a bunch of whiney men (Welsh or otherwise) singing in near-falsetto unison, to pop-punky guitar harmonies about the anguish of masturbating into a sock or whatever. Nothing. Except maybe hip hop. Or so I thought.
The Science Frikshun dance stage hosted mostly people I had never heard of. Granted, I don’t get out much. But the likes of RudeOne, Deeziak, Benson and Bittereinder were all as good as nobodies to me. I’m not sure what’s up with Afrikaans rap right now. I have a vague inkling that it involves assuming The Other’s culture as a way of reclaiming the white masculine identity lost post-Apartheid. Consider Bittereinder - a name referring to those Boers who refused to concede defeat to the victorious British Empire during and after the Second Boer War. Political statement or not, I know that I never thought I’d see a guy dressed like a game ranger (Jaco van der Merwe) and rapping like a member of the Broederbond possessed by the ghost of Ol’ Dirty Bastard. And I sure as shit never thought I’d like it much, but I did. It was like someone put The Buckfever Underground and Hot Chip in a blender with ice and then threw it in your face. Like a refreshing, Afrikaans slap.
A rapper, wif his duck.
While not Afrikaans, PH Fat is similarly appealing. I had seen them play once before in a little hole on Long Street, where they impelled so much energy from the crowd, I was convinced the floor was going to fall out from under us. They were as good in front of a relatively large, temperamental and heat-struck, Jo’burg audience as they were in a muggy sardine-can filled with fawning Capetonians.
Some double vodkas and dancing to dubstep (I’m not proud of myself) later, and I ambled down to the main stage. After I had successfully managed to avoid most of the artists playing there, I was about to be subjected to Die Antwoord.
Spot the fucking clowns.
Let’s talk more about them, shall we?
The zef-rap-slappers with two microphones and a Mac are unlike anything South Africa, the world, has seen before. This much is true. And the heady spectacle of art-school shock theatrics and tongue-in-cheek lyrics is absorbing to say the least. From beginning to end, the RAMfest crowd is entirely mesmerized by the onstage antics, the vulgar in-your-face attitudes and the raw, savage energy of the group. Much has been said about whether the act is all bluff or whether Die Antwoord themselves really buy the shit they peddle as music. But whether they consider themselves musicians or con artists (and having seen the metamorphosis of Waddy Jones over the last decade, I can’t help lean towards the latter), the consensus, generally, is that Die Antwoord is ’just for laughs’.
Deep in the throb of their aggressive ’rap-rave’ set, the crowd around us spits out the group’s lyrics with almost as much polish as the vocalists themselves. The audience seems to be lapping it up. Matt Davies from Funeral for a Friend couldn’t even successfully manage to get a circle pit going in a crowd full of fans (let alone the "wall of death", which had to be explained to the crowd), but Die Antwoord has those same kids jumping up and down, flashing "Zef-side" hand gestures and regurgitating lyrics on demand.
I just stand still and try to take it all in. There is an almost sinister energy being produced here. I imagine myself at a white supremacist rally - the rhetoric of a truculent and enigmatic leader being spat through a loudhailer; flashing images repeated over and over in the background (are you checking off your cult list?). The crowd seems to grow more and more agitated with each song, the group’s onstage antics becoming more excited and more outrageous, and I can’t help but feel, with a sense of growing queasiness, that I’m watching some sort of hypnotic brainwashing.
To what end are we all being incited, I wonder? I have no answer. But it feels, sort of, frightening.
Long after the show, one image is stuck in my head: a photograph of a young boy with his mouth covered recedes into the background, amidst badly drawn characters - many of them likewise lipless. The silenced boy makes me think that the joke, if there is one, is in the language of the thing. The vocalists of the all-white group Jones and his albino-bleach blonde mistress Anri du Toit assume the savagely guttural dialect of Cape Town’s gangland, coloured citizens. That Jones, a Parktown Boys’ alum, speaks naturally in the perverse and guttural slang that would blanch a bergie, is unimaginable. But as ’Ninja’, he slips naturally into the role of another race. He performs, and mocks, the Other. Or maybe he mocks us, for how easily we recognize and receive this stereotypical role.
So what, right? It’s performance. They’re performing the stereotypical roles of another culture. This is South Africa, we do it all the time, don’t we?
I’m not making this a black/white thing, but anyone who thinks that the whole schtick of Die Antwoord is not absolutely entrenched in racial/political charge is either woefully optimistic or just plain dumb - either willfully or otherwise. Not only are they openly mocking their fans, but they also make a mockery of hip-hop culture and its audience. Most of all, by assuming and performing the roles of another culture, by making such an absurd spectacle of themselves as the almost alien hybrids of white/’non-white’ culture, they’re poking fun at the very idea of a multicultural South Africa in which the lines of race/class/culture are blurry (as they are often purported to be). If it is all a just for a laugh, I doubt many people are really getting it.