Every once in a while there comes along an act so bizarre and culturally fascinating that it's hard not to stare at, whether you like it or not—like a fatal car wreck. An act like Die Antwoord. Hailing from South Africa, this Africaner rave-rap duo—trio if you include DJ Hi-Tek—has exported to the world a contagious, over-the-top cultural phenomen known as "zef." Rather than define zef, I'll let Ninja tell you all about it.
Ninja is half of Die Antwoord (meaning "the answer"), a slim fellow with gangsta tattoos, a mullet-y coif, and a histrionic glare—though he's quite genial when you meet him in person. Die Antwoord's other half is Yo-Landi Visser, fierce and tiny, with a twee voice, severe beauty, and an inimitable haircut. Actually, I take that back: Lots of Yo-Landi's obsessive fans have copied her do. Together, Ninja and Yo-Landi are outrageous, funny, sexy, twisted, and often unapologetically offensive.
If Die Antwoord started out freaky with their debut album $O$—which landed them a lucrative deal with Interscope Records, they've only gotten freakier with Ten$ion, their new release, over which they parted ways with the label. David Letterman was left nearly speechless after DA's recent appearance on his show: "Well, by God," he said afterward, perhaps ruffled by Yo-Landi's off-putting new insectoid-alien look. (Lucky he didn't hear Ten$ion's more provocative fare—for instance, a track featuring DJ Hi-Tek's repeated threat-promise to "fuck you in the ass.")
In any case, there's something about Die Antwoord that inspires the hell out of artists. Okay, sure, a million kids have probably sketched that one photo of Jim Morrison, and there've been countless portraits of Hendrix, etc., but Die Antwoord has been on the scene a relatively short while and has already inspired a prodigious pile of fan artwork ranging from napkin sketches to surrealistic paintings to spray-can murals. "It's fuckin' cool and super unexpected," Ninja told me in an email this past weekend. "It's cool that you noticed this. We were thinking about this today. It's kinda beserk that our fans bust out so psycho. We obviously love it. It's such fierce interaction we got going."
So what is it about them? Part of it, I think is the fact that Ninja is a talented visual artist who incorporates that side of himself into every aspect of the performance—onstage and off. Check out this twisted little pre-Die Antwoord clip that my seven-year-old daughter loves. And consider the "Evil Boy" video, which she'll be free to watch when she's a grownup: Die Antwoord designed the set and costumes—the awesome rat coat, the forest of penises. They spend a lot of time thinking about the art direction of their videos, and they bathe their clothing and recording spaces in Ninja's distinctive Keith Haring-on-crack graffiti, which features so prominently in "Enter the Ninja."
In his email, Ninja described his multidisciplinary approach:
I love films so much and I have had coffee with one of my favourite directors of all time, David Lynch, who likes our videos (which still totally fucks my head up if i think about it). I have also worked closely with Harmony Korine and Neill Blomkamp who are also fans of our work and also my favourite film makers alive on the planet. I love electronica and I've stayed at Aphex Twin's house for a week and are about to tour Oz with him. Aphex also loves our shit and i fuckin worship his shit. I love music videos and I'm about to hit a project with Chris Cunningham who is the Master Of The Game. Chris loves us and we love Chris. I love photography and I've just made a video with Roger Ballen, which was an experiment to make his images move with high energy. We started Die Antwoord because of Roger Ballen. I love Mr Ballen's work as much as I love Salvador Dali or Bosch, and Mr Ballen loves us like his own children, and says the style of art we make is the same as his. I love the pop music / gangster rap / rave music in Yo-landi's iTunes playlist. I think Die Antwoord's tunes play beautifully alongside the best of the best in these 3 genres. We are about to launch our own toy range, and our own video game. We are working on a full length feature film and a full length animated film. We hit all these things with equal force.
Of course, part of the inspiration may simply be DA's unique look, which screams "Draw me!" Basically, the group demands attention on every level, which is not merely clever marketing, it's something that drives others to create.
Behold these 100-plus fan homages to Die Antwoord. Ninja says his favorite at the moment is this drawing by Jatinder Singh Durhailay, who has a series of pieces in this slideshow. The file names on the images indicate the Facebook handles of the people who posted them to Die Antwoord's page, though not all of them are the artists. I'd love to hear in the comments from some of the people who created this stuff, explaining what inspired them.
I'll leave you with the official video for "I Fink U Freaky."
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