Breaking Out: Die Antwoord
Inspired by taxis and techno, bizarre South African rave-rappers ride viral video to major label deal.
Given that Cape Town–based rap provocateurs Die Antwoord’s introduction to the world came via a freaky video featuring a muscle-bound progeria sufferer and a suspiciously young-looking blonde’s striptease, it’s not surprising that the band’s frontman, Ninja, was worried his first visit to the United States would end before it began. “I thought the customs guy wouldn’t let us in,” says the MC, recalling the trio’s journey to Los Angeles last April to play Coachella, “but then he asked for my autograph.”
It was a long, strange trip for Ninja, vocalist Yo-Landi Visser, and DJ Hi-Tek to reach fanboy recognition. Born Watkin Jones, Ninja scuffled for years in South Africa’s music scene — hanging with rappers and smoking weed with Rastas — before getting in on an idea that could travel. “In 2006, Yo-Landi thought to throw in rave shit with my rap shit. Hi-Tek added his next-level beats and it felt perfect. Since then, we’re only interested in being as crazy new as possible on a daily basis.”
Christened Die Antwoord (“The Answer” in Afrikaans) and inspired by the bass-heavy techno blaring from Cape Town’s taxis and the bumper stickers adorning those same cars (e.g., “Famine or feast / When you’re living on the razor edge”), the band posted the aforementioned video, for stroboscopic banger “Enter the Ninja,” to YouTube in January 2010. Displaying Visser cavorting on a bed and tiny South African visual artist Leon Botha (he of the progeria) lip-synching, the self-financed clip earned millions of views as well as speculation about the group’s authenticity.
“People thought we were a joke because we got noticed so fast,” says Visser. “Interscope e-mailed us a week after the video went up. They obviously took us seriously.”
Signed to a five-album deal, with a New York City appearance at July’s M.I.A.-headlined Hard festival behind them and debut album $O$ due later this year, Die Antwoord aren’t about to clear up any confusion. “We don’t care if you understand us,” says Ninja. “We just want you to play our music fucking loud.”