by Hanna Hanra on BEAT
We were lucky enough to interview Die Antwoord for BEAT MAGAZINE. FOR REAL. If you want to buy the real thing to have and hold and cherish, tootle over here.
Nobody understands Die Antwoord. According to the ringing-dinging-singing tree, they’re an act, masterminded by some South African artist character, they’re brother, sister, husband and wife, they’re both in their forties and have kids together, she’s his daughter, he’s a member of some underground supremacist gang, she’s a pixie fairy. She’s the love child of Marilyn Manson; he has a tattoo on his knob.
Perhaps it’s because they’re white South African rappers – an unlikely combination at the best of times, but least of all when it comes to international chart success. Perhaps it’s because they both have haircuts that little old ladies would cross the road to avoid or perhaps it’s the fact that they manage to incorporate a penis in their artwork at every opportunity. Perhaps it’s because one of the most aurally exciting albums in a long time, or that one of their reoccurring characters is the worlds oldest living Progerian man. Whatever mysterious cloak they’re shrouded in, it’s got them to the point where we are sitting either side of the table. Somewhere in the room sits a huge prawn arm. Yolandi is dressed in an adult Pikachu outfit. Ninja looks tired. While their South African accents lent themselves naturally to a slightly aggressive air, there is a certain poetry to their chat; even if every other word is fuck.
When you were kids, did you want to be famous?
Ninja: I’ve been rapping since I was like fucking 13 and I’m 36 now. I got bored, not bored of rap, but bored of other rap. I still kept my own thing alive but I checked out the art thing, that’s why people are like, ‘oh it’s an art thing’… All I wanted to be when I was a kid was in the Guinness Book of Records. I don’t know why I wanted to be in this book but when I started rapping my natural inclination was to be a fucking good rapper, you know Olympic level. And then Chris Cunningham made the Aphex Twin Come To Daddy video and it was like booof, no other music ever made. I was like ‘I wanna do that’. I got zapped. I got zapped by rap. It was all I wanted to do; I didn’t care if I failed at school so long as I could rap.
White rap’s not a genre that’s traditionally very popular – theres you, Vanilla Ice, Ice T and Debbie Harry… and they could all be classified as pop acts rather than rap per se.
Ninja: Yeah we’re like a rap group but a new breed of pop star because rap’s pop now; it used to be this fucking underground thing but it’s mainstream now and I want to lean into that. It’s funny that you should mention Debbie Harry because she’s a huge fucking inspiration of mine. I was doing all this music before, and I was watching this TV show, and they were really punk and no one took them seriously, which is kind of what I was doing, and this is a bit abstract, but the person you hang with your friends with that’s you, so when you hang with your friends that’s one person and then you speak to your mum and you change yourself – you act differently around different people. Now you have to step on stage and who the fuck is that? That’s not the same person that takes a piss at night and gets up in the morning so who do you present to the audience? I was always experimenting with different people to present and it was quite stylized. And I watched this documentary about Blondie, and they were a punk group and [Parallel Lines producer] Mike Chapman said, ‘stop making these clever jokes and say something real that people can relate to emotionally’ and that struck me. And I started leaning towards this Antwoord thing. A lot of people are confused, I called it The Answer, you know, it is the fucking answer.
Yolandi: Pop just means you’re generous. You generously present yourself. We’re a pop group but we’re bringing something that’s real and emotional to the party but really strong and well presented. And I think it’s for the taking.
Which comes first, the lyrics or the music?
N: When we make music, it’s us two first. The good stuff is a complete fucking answer, you’re writing stuff that you’re thinking about or stuff that happens, but you don’t know [if it will be good]. There’s no answer to that question. There’s probably some bullshit pop answer that makes pop shit, but the real stuff, the classic pop that lasts for ever, the recipe is different every time.
Y: We do push, we’ll say let’s nail this song and sometimes we’ll finish a song in an hour. Most of the time it happens when you’re having fun and you’re on a vibe and everything’s just bouncing.
N: Or you’re in some sort of hole, like Enter The Ninja happened when we were just going mental. I was working and I was like, nothing is ever going to happen for us. I wrote it like a rat in the corner, with everyone attacking me, then she wrote this really sweet bit, the aiaiaiai, it balances out the rapping. And then Hi-tek the DJ was bringing this really ravey thing – it’s simple, gangsta rap is slow – it’s around 90 beats per minute
Y: That’s only when you’re drinking sizzzurp….
N: Enter The Ninja is like 70. It’s super slow but then it has the really fast chchchchchchchchchch. Rave music is high energy and gangsta rap is more hardcore and dangerous and sexy and then there’s the thoughtless nostalgia and rave doesn’t think about much, it cruises into the night you know but the two tempos lock so beautifully. When we heard that we knew that’s where we want to head – we want to do a high-energy show.
You are quite visually arresting…
N: I don’t necessarily trust people to be in charge of what we wear or what ever so me and Yolandi handle everything ourselves. We present ourselves. You control your image – you got dressed and did your hair – and we do the same, we want to be natural, but kind of like flexing real hard and present our stuff like BAM! Do you say muf in England? Muf means a sulky kind of person; we use it for when people have a big long face. So we tell the stylists that we don’t want to be styled and religiously on shoots the stylist pulls out clothes and then sits there with a sulky face. When we didn’t have any money, we made everything ourselves but now we get our friends to help. We always used to have ideas and we’d have to try our best to make them or try and build it, but now for example with the Evil Boy video, we showed our friend this drawing and she build a 5 foot sculpture.
Y: And we had an Evil Boy blow up thing and our friend for some fucking reason wrote ‘satellite’ on the package and it got stuck in customs so it’s still in New York. Then they blew it up and it was like a 3 meter tall boy with a giant penis.
What’s it like playing live?
N: The funny thing about Die Antwoord is that the first point we started with was the show, playing live, that’s our strong point. In South Africa we’d never get booked, we’d sit there for two or three weeks not getting booked so we though we might as well get a sound system and do our own fucking party. And now it’s like psychofuck. Like 5000 emails in our inboxes. It feels like a whole other lifetime ago but it was only a year ago that big festivals wouldn’t book us but all the kids would come to the festivals and play our music in their cars in the car parks. We got the show down before people knew anything bout us. We attack and the kids attack us back. And if you’re not attacking us we’ll make you feel like an idiot for standing there for an hour.
I’ve noticed that your fans are quite vary from hipsters to full on fraggles…
Y: When started doing Die Antwoord we had a group of dedicated fans in every city – never more than about 300 or 400 people but those fans were like fucked-up-psycho dedicated. Then when America spoke about us that was a big deal, people were like ‘AMERRRIKA, they’re going to Amerrrikaa’, because no one ever went to America and we were like ‘oh shit’.
N: In South Africa people get what we are saying but there are a lot of other levels where they don’t get it. In France they get the flow and in America they BANG to it, the rap stuff. In Serbia they go mental, we played a rave at 3 in the morning, they’re like fucking psychos. But in South Africa they understand the lyrics but they don’t know how to let go. The first time we played New York everyone was moshing and we were like ‘wow look how they are moshing, they’re, like, breaking everything,’ and then we learned how to bring that back and now everywhere we go the kids are like lunatics.
People seem to be unsure of your credibility because you have a past.
N: I don’t care if people like it or don’t like it but when people don’t have a fucking clue… being in a band is hard and it’s scary shit and you can lose your mind. It’s hectic. It’s confusing to people that I’ve done shit before. But it’s right fucking there, the band is called The Answer. Thank god for the interweb because selling music is like an Eskimo business; it’s like selling ice. Sometimes I can’t even believe that we are making a living out of doing this. In private it seemed obvious that this was the way things were going to be for us. Before we were feeling a bit kookoo because we were doing this superfuckfreak mode stuff that’s really high standard and South Africa has really low standards, generally. So this high standard stuff comes up and I just think; if you give a baby a diamond or a rattle the kid just bashes it the same. And in South Africa they don’t appreciate stuff. We take ourselves unbelievably seriously, we have to. The prerequisite for stuff is that it’s original. We’re obsessive about that. For us we crafted all this shit together and it’s like a bomb or a spell and it’s like BOOM.
What’s going to happen in the future?
N: We’re going to be bigger than Lady Gaga; she’s a fart in the wind. We want to be bigger than Walt Disney. We have this thing. I have these 5 dots on my hand, so does Yolandi. So this one’s our first album, this one’s our second album, it’s called Tension, the third album we are doing is Yolandi’s solo album called The Voice that comes out the same time as Ninja’s solo album, The Dominator then the 5th album is a secret and then that’s it. We’re finished. Like all big pop-stars there’s 5 albums and then that’s it. It’s hard to nail the fucking 5 super powerful things. It’s pop, but then pop becomes classic. You need to end it.
words: Hanna Hanra
photoraphy: Derek Henderson