Die Antwoord is Feeling Freeky

Die Antwoord is Feeling Freeky

Known for their genre-bending music, the South African duo Die Antwoord are poised to release their most ambitious album yet

Known for their genre-bending music, the South African duo Die Antwoord are poised to release their most ambitious album yet

Photography: Inez & Vinoodh

Text: Joseph Akel

It’s midnight in Romania by the time the rap-rave duo Die Antwoord is able to connect by phone. On a whirlwind global tour to promote the release of their as yet to be named forthcoming album and perform tracks from their mixtape, Suck on This, the group was just settling into their hotel room after a performance that day somewhere in, perhaps all too aptly, Transylvania. Speaking with a thick Afrikaans accent, Ninja, the pair’s lanky, heavily tattooed frontman, notes excitedly, “I don’t even know where Romania is.” Almost everything Ninja says is delivered with heightened brio. When I ask him if he knows whether the group was big in Romania, he responds with characteristic hubris, “We’re in the middle of fucking nowhere and people know about us. We started off at four in the morning in Tel Aviv, Israel, now we’re in a five-star hotel in the middle of nowhere, Romania.”

Nowhere, too, is likely how Ninja and his longtime collaborator and former romantic partner, the elfin Yolandi Visser, would describe the origins of Die Antwoord. “We started fucking around making this film called The Answer and while we were writing the film, we made up Ninja and Yolandi. But we didn’t really know what we were doing.” “Over time,” Ninja continues, “I started thinking, Fuck, dude, I am this guy, I’m more Ninja than the person I was before. And the same thing happened with Yolandi and we just started diving deeper into the hidden parts of ourselves.”

Self-invention, however, was nothing new to the duo. For much of his career as a performer, beginning in the late ’90s, Ninja—whose actual name is Watkin Tudor Jones— has assumed various, often flamboyant personae, first as Rick Flare and later as Max Normal, the three-piece suit wearing, lyrically acrobatic frontman of MaxNormal.TV.

In 2002, Visser—then going by the name Anri du Toit—contributed vocals to another of Jones’s projects, the Constructus Corporation, and during that time the two became involved. While they never married, Ninja and Visser share a daughter together, Sixteen Jones (pictured here). Obviously bitten by the music bug, Jones is herself in a band with Sunny Balzary, the daughter of Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist, Flea.

Before disbanding (for a second time) in 2008, MaxNormal.TV released their final album, Good Morning South Africa, on which tracks such as “Rap Fantasy” heralded the performers’ evolutionary next step. That same year, Ninja, Visser, and longtime collaborator and producer, DJ Hi-Tek, officially formed Die Antwoord, dropping the band’s first album, $0$, in 2009. The second music video released to accompany the album, “Enter the Ninja,” quickly became a viral Internet hit, transforming Die Antwoord into a global sensation. The video featured Visser dressed up as a sexy school girl gone bad and Ninja rapping about South Africa’s “zef” culture—a moniker indicative of socio-economic background, akin to England’s chavs. The blend of techno-rap beats and Afrikaans references in “Enter the Ninja,” combined with its visually striking art direction, were unlike anything audiences had seen before. Subsequent albums, including their 2012 sophomore release, Ten$ion, and Donker Mag in 2014, have only seen the duo’s profile rise. For their 2012 single, “I Fink U Freeky,” Ninja and Visser asked Johannesburg-based artist Roger Ballen to direct the music video, a twisted phantasmagoria featuring, among other things, an albino breakdancer, coal-smeared children, and Visser laying atop a pile of refuse and deflated sex dolls, crawling with rats. Indeed, Die Antwoord has made something of a name for themselves with visually striking, often freakishly bizarre music videos, citing Chris Cunningham, among other music video directors, as inspiration. Speaking about their video’s off-kilter aesthetic, Visser notes, “We want to blow our own brains, and that’s why I think it makes things good because you really, really fucking dig it.”

When pressed to explain how they would define their unique style, Ninja is quick to respond. “A lot of people think our stuff is strange and different, but for us, it’s just new. Obviously, something different is strange. We just like the most unexpected things you can think of, put together.” Unexpected is especially true for their forthcoming album, which both Ninja and Visser see as something of a departure from the feel of earlier Die Antwoord albums. “It’s more pop than we’ve ever done, harder than we’ve ever done, but every single song sounds like another genre, but it’s not like we tried to fucking do that.” Chiming in, the usually reticent Visser notes, “We just try and be ourselves, like, Okay, what can we do next that’s fresh that we haven’t done?” Meanwhile, as Ninja describes it, “The album is fucking schizophrenic. We just hit a whole bunch of different zones, some really strange, fucking weird, dark, alien style music.”

DIE ANTWOORD’S AS YET UNTITLED ALBUM IS DUE OUT THIS FALL

Credits:

Grooming Yadim (Art Partner)  Hair Christiaan  Manicure Michelle Saunders (Forward Artists)  Production Stephanie Bargas, Tucker Birbilis, Eva Harte (VLM Productions), Gabe Hill (GE Projects)  Lighting director Jodokus Driessen (VLM Studio)  Digital technician Brian Anderson (VLM Studio)  Studio manager Marc Kroop  Retouching Stereohorse  Location Milk Studios L.A.

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