2010-10-07

Die Antwoord's Evil Boy, or the Thompson Evil Twins


Not even remotely safe for work


One of the strangest trends of the past few years has been the grafting of the old Marilyn Manson aesthetic (itself taken from earlier Industrial video antecedents, performance art and fashion photography) onto disposable pop and dance music artists. None of this is the doing of the artists- performers, more accurately- it's the work of very expensive designers, choreographers and directors.* Too often people confuse the two. Once the performers are inevitably disposed with, this provisional army will move onto the next batch of puppets and cast their visual spells.

What we've seen from artists like Lady GaGa, Rihanna and some rappers is an adoption of this strange Plutonian energy into their visual presentation, using techniques, props and costumery more suited to metal acts. None of it's remotely new- you can see pretty much every riff in an old episode of 120 Minutes or Headbanger's Ball (the media machine intentionally destroys history because it needs to pretend that stolen ideas are original). But it's working- music video is by no means dead, and it's still an incredibly important tool in promoting an artist. Without it, no one would have even heard of Lady GaGa.

What is new is this strange evolution- this kind of visual imagination (Plutonian or otherwise) was the stock-in-trade of alternative rock acts, but most of the breakout alt.rock acts seem to be trading in that hipster vibe- that strange mix of Hermetic and Orphic memes and cues- that tend to radiate suburban privilege and comfort, not the stuff of rock 'n' roll. A lot of this is an evolution- the music industry stopped spending the big bucks on rock acts as soon as it realized that its fans are downloading their music from torrent sites- and the more Dionysian impulses in rock have been in recession.

This video would have been a huge hit in Pompeii- the phallic worship here is straight out of the Dionysus and Pan cults that ruled over that pleasure palace. I have no doubt the producers here- or the artist whose work they are referencing- are familiar with this history. I can just smell the pheremonal sweat, smoke and piss, and hear the maenad's yipping across the chasm of centuries.

The music itself has more of that new wave revival sound to it, referencing its 80s visual antecedents- the group itself even look like an evil 21st Century Thompson Twins. Everything seems to be an evil twin of some 80s act these days. If I hadn't hated all of that stuff the first time around, it might even give me a nice hit of nostalgia.

Offensive as this video might be to some people, it's also got a harsh, jarring buzz and a adrenalized kick, something that rock 'n' roll once had and very much needs to recapture. It's also incredibly timely, since this ties into what I've been writing about. Passion Pit make great records, but you can easily take your eyes off them and (most 0f) their videos.

Another 80s throwback- the music video is once again the playing field. If you want to compete- no matter what kind of music you make, think visual. It's part of the wonder of what once made rock 'n' roll great. Remember, it was TV that put Elvis and the Beatles over in the first place.

*If you need any proof that it's not the performers in the driver's seat, watch this.

6 comments:

Vicky Knowles said...

That video was hilarious!

Anadæ Effro said...

I just think of this kind of arthouse shock cinema meets Hip Hop leering braggadocio & the old Peter Pan ethos, save repackaged (no pun intended) & presented in a formidably lethalithic formula, as simply the natural conclusion to murderers like Michael Alig having found prominence in a largely amoral, drug addled, dancing gets you sex (or killed) Club Kids scene. Back to the Circus Maximus everybody, except updated ~ (•8-D

Daniel said...

Hello Chris that video was pretty funny and die Antwoord's is just a clever joke I think.
Anyways, I wanted to point out how this video give a small tributes to District9.

See you mate,

third said...

Agreed. Spectacle. The circus with it's attendant freaks, the shadow writ large and all that (and goofy to boot). But time to risk a nerdy move and take to task the ruling 'glamour' of all this vaunted 'rough stuff': is what we have here an unmitigated authentic experience of some kind? Are we in fact free to explore the cabinet of wonders all by ourselves, or has someone else already been there before us to label what we're supposed to be seeing/hearing thus feeling here (with the emphasis on FEELING, on real emotion, not on the stimulation of 'sensation', which the world is so hooked on these hazy lost days). O.K., it's true that historically an Initiation into the Mysteries was overseen and orchestrated (for the most part) by some level of hierarchy or another, but imo these guys here garner no respect in the first place. It's the same old power grab as of yore, where the performers (priests) have to be a bit scary in order to ply their trade. Presumably the aim here is for something 'raw', with humour and the fear mixed in in equal parts, but it's still just a bit of pre-chewed food for my money (read:mana). I'd rather go on the vision quest all alone, without the corny, dare I say ugly supervision.

And finally we have to ask ourselves --are the goods any good? Yeah, so there's something here to see, is there anything here to LISTEN to? But then I guess that's not what it's all about, sic "Na, na, na na, na", and etc.

Give me PIL's "Poptones" over force of spectacle any day.

Liza said...

I just ordered the book.

I like this post. "evil 21st Century Thompson Twins" wow!

Mark Trueblood said...

OMG that was Awesome! I've never even heard of Die Antwoord before.

It's obvious this kind of stuff is just recycled from one star to the next, but they wear it well.

This has Genesis P. Orridge/TOPY written all over it...