In June of 2008, Die Antwoord's Ninja (Watkin Tudor Jones) had a dream he was floating in a boat of bones through a sea of fleas and kerosene. The moon in the dream was a rabid, veined rat's eye sitting in a black sky above watching him. There was no wind, no light, and, try as he might, he couldn't wake up. The dream lasted for weeks in Ninja's sleeping South African mind. He was starving. For food, he would reach into the thick rippled kerosene and eat the fleas. When thirsty, he drank his own piss. Then a dove descended from the darkness bringing him a lighter and a single sheet of paper with the words the answer written on it. Ninja folded the paper into a plane, lit it on fire, and sailed it into the kerosene sea. A great encompassing flame leaped up, devouring the darkness. Two trillion fleas cried out minuscule screams. Ninja woke, shooting out of the dream in a pounded flash.
It was a Wednesday. Ninja got out of bed, put on shoes, and took a bus to the University of Cape Town library to look up meanings for the answer in the South African language Afrikaans. There, in the reference section, doing research for her second erotic novel, stood the blond trash-swan beauty Yo-Landi Vi$$er. Ninja said hello and thumbed through various encyclopedias for the answer. In Afrikaans, the answer is die antwoord. Pressed into the crease of one of the pages Ninja came to was a dead flea. He saw it, ate it, and turned to Yo-Landi to ask if she'd ever rapped.
Four years later, Die Antwoord have become one of the more polarizing, recognizable electro-hiphop acts on the planet. But are Ninja and Yo-Landi fake? Are they real? Is it an act? Are they sexy or not? Are they good or bad? Do you care? Questions abound. Whatever Die Antwoord are, when people see and hear their music, they can't seem to look away. Die Antwoord are a true sign of hiphop's worldly spread and evolution, with grimy, hi-fi/lowbrow rawness that would rather be dead than play it safe. Die Antwoord prefer taboo and tension, they want the ugly and the odd. They're different. They're entertaining. They are all-out, pushing whatever edge they come to. Interscope Records thought enough of them to sign them, before a split due to creative differences over the single "Fok Julle Naaiers." Last month, they released their second full-length album, Ten$ion, on their own Zef Recordz. Ninja and Yo-Landi spoke from a farm near Johannesburg.
For people who want to become a ninja like Ninja, what are some things they can do?
Ninja: First, you have to become the enemy. If a thief breaks into your house, they are the one who must be fucked. If someone tries to rob you or kill you, it should be the biggest mistake of their life.
I read that one of the astronauts on the International Space Station is a big Die Antwoord fan. I bet the space station never gets robbed.
Yo-Landi: They're bumping our shit on the moon.
Ninja: In outer space. Are you joking? I say to them, "How's it hanging?"
If you were a sex toy, what would you be? Who would you be used on?
Yo-Landi: A dolphin.
Ninja: Yeah, a dolphin. A real dolphin. That would be nice. I'd be used on you, Trent, I'd fuck you in the ass!
People can't figure Die Antwoord out. They don't know whether to love you or hate you, or to be attracted to you or disgusted. They don't know if you're dumb or genius. You make what you do look easy.
Ninja: I like getting mind-fucked by things. It's very rare. That kind of pure reaction. I want to do that, to bewilder and be bewildered. I want to make songs that make people think, "What the fuck was that?" I wish people did this more often.
What blows your mind?
Yo-Landi: The video for Duck Sauce's "Big Bad Wolf" blew my mind. Have you seen it?
Ninja: I started crying, seriously, when I saw this video. It made me so happy that there were other people doing weirder things. Things that are on our level. Whoever is reading this, watch this video. We went to visit that fucking weirdo Marilyn Manson, and we played him the video, and he was like, "Where did you guys find this? I love it." We said, "We found it on the fucking interwebs, dude."
Talk about visiting Marilyn Manson. Did he have the one scary contact lens in?
Yo-Landi: We went to his house, and he wouldn't let us leave. He locked the door and hid the key. I think he had the contact in, I don't know. He made us drink a lot of this stuff called absinthe. He makes his own brand in Switzerland. It's called Mansinthe. It has 66.6 percent alcohol. He lives in this house-castle, and it's all black inside. There's no light. He has a cinema, and a studio, and all these paintings, and a bar serving only absinthe. He got us really drunk and then asked Ninja to spray-paint something on the ceiling above his bed.
What did you spray-paint above his bed? Die Antwoord should do a song with Marilyn Manson.
Ninja: I spray-painted an evil boy. I was so drunk, I didn't know what to do. We tried to do a song with him! It would be peachy. We went into his studio and everything. But we were just too fucking drunk. I couldn't stop laughing. It sounded stupid. Maybe we'll try again. Marilyn Manson is a warped-ass motherfucker. I love him.
What do you all think of Justin Bieber?
Ninja: Justin Bieber is cool. Kids out here are totally obsessed with him.
That surprises me, Ninja. I would think you wouldn't like Justin Bieber.
Ninja: Why? He's just a cute little kid. He's doing his thing. He's a sweetheart. It was a little stupid of Ludacris to rap such a dork verse on his song, but Justin Bieber is cool.
Could Justin Bieber someday become a ninja?
Ninja: Maybe. He's too much of a pretty boy now. He's a kid. Not ugly enough to be a ninja. I don't know if he has what it takes. He's Walt Disney and shit, man.
If you were to train Justin Bieber to become a ninja like yourself, what would you make him do?
Ninja: I'd make him cut his face open on both sides like a Zulu warrior. Then he'd have to circumcise himself and live for five months in the bush. Then we would hunt hyenas. If he doesn't run away and get scared, we can take him to the next level.
Let's do some wordplay. I'll say a word, and you all say the first thing that comes to your mind.
Yo-Landi: Kick it.
Ninja: I don't know what the fuck that is. I'm from South Africa. A dog made out of corn?
It's a hot dog on a stick, surrounded by breading, corn bread.
Ninja: Where's the corn?
Yo-Landi: Why is it on a stick?
Next word: urethra.
Yo-Landi: What did you say?
Ninja: A venereal disease?
It's the tube in our bodies that carries off the urine from the bladder.
Ninja: I say biology class.
Yo-Landi: I say Aretha Franklin. And linguini.
Next word: fetish.
Ninja: Hot-air ballooning.
Ninja: We're vegetarian.
Yo-Landi: Hot-air ballooning.
How does Die Antwoord write songs?
Yo-Landi: We don't have a recipe or a specific mixture. We have an idea, like a name or a chorus, and we'll fuck with it for a day or two days, and we'll finish writing. Or sometimes we'll fuck with it for like a month, until the right thing comes up. But there's always an idea, or a mood, or a word as a starting place, then we flow out of that. The music, and the beats, and rhyming is based on the mood of the song that we want to explore. But it's always mysterious how songs happen. I can't really tell you, "This is what we do" or "This is what we don't do." It can be complex, over a period of time. Or it can be simple and come together in seconds.
Ninja: Sometimes it's really fucking easy. And sometimes it's really fucking difficult. I think of Yo-Landi's method as being accidental. She likes to mess with stuff, to break it down, to take things apart and see how they come back together.
What's an example of one of these moods?
Ninja: The introduction on the new album. I wanted it to be like The Lion King. Like you are in Africa. Lion King mixed with apocalyptic warfare, kind of the vibe of Africa at the moment. Then we move to the next track and the next mood, "I Fink U Freeky." I wanted that one to be like music at a party or someone partying in the parking lot playing music loud out of the trunk of their car, something people could fucking get down to. We wanted to see how pop we could get and how dark we could get. The video for "I Fink U Freeky" is just that, as dark and pop as we could conjure. For "Fatty Boom Boom," we wanted it to be a soundtrack to a voodoo ceremony.
"Fatty Boom Boom" is my favorite song on Ten$ion.
Ninja: We're doing a video for that one next. It was such an accident, the rhythm of that song. Such a freak-out. I made this retarded beat box. We were like, "Jesus." And we tried to get all these drummers and shit to play it. And they were like, "What the fuck are you doing?" We wanted to get a live drummer to play it, but no drummers could play it. Then DJ Hi-Tek broke it down and made a beat out of it.
Where did you all record the album?
Ninja: At Hi-Tek's studio in Cape Town.
Yo-Landi: Before we decided to drop Interscope records, we got a bunch of money, and Hi-Tek went from recording in his bedroom to having a real studio with a lounge, with a proper sound booth and shit. And good microphones. We don't have to record next to his stinky mattress anymore, with panties all around. And he still makes us buy him lunch and coffee. He never wants to pay for shit.
What do you think of the United States? Do you like it here?
Yo-Landi: Yeah, we like it. It's so fucking organized. Jesus, it's like the most organized shit ever. And people make sense when they talk. Like you. I like you. If someone tells you something, you understand it perfectly. Everyone is so nice and polite. And then we ask them to enter the dark depths of Die Antwoord. Let's have some Mansinthe. Wait, so we have a question for you. What does it mean in America when you say "Jimmy crack corn"? Eminem has a song about it. Is it about being corny? Or because he's a cracker? What the fuck does that mean?
There's multiple meanings. It's slang meaning to either sit around chatting or crack open a bottle of liquor, corn liquor back in the day. It's from an old song that dates back to the 1840s, an ugly time in our country's history. What is Die Antwoord's deepest darkest fantasy?
Ninja: Like, we living it, Nigga.
What does Die Antwoord have to say to all the people who think you are a joke?
Ninja: I say they are totally right. I laugh myself to sleep every night. We'll see them at the show.
Yo-Landi [singing]: Wankeeee.