Saturday, December 3, 2016

foram ao Alvão | partes 3, 4 e 5

Fotos A.DeLima & & J.C.

ENTERTAINMENT | Die Antwoord: The Real Zef Rappers of Beverly Hills

Yolandi Visser (left) and Ninja, who together make up the rap duo Die Antwoord, in Los Angeles. CreditChris McPherson
Ninja, one half of the influential rave-rap act Die Antwoord, is none too pleased that from across the restaurant at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, Quentin Tarantino has cranked up the stereo, blasting Sarah Vaughan’s voice. “Can you not listen to that man and turn the music down,” he says to the waiter in a snarling, Afrikaans-inflected stage whisper. Oh, yeah,” says Yolandi Visser, the shyer of the two. “Thank you,” she adds, as the waiter shuffles over to the stereo.
A few moments later, Tarantino stands, unsheathes an LP and drops the needle on side two of Rod Stewart’s “Every Picture Tells a Story,” then raises his glass to Ninja and Visser in a facetious toast — but they already have their backs to him and, tellingly, the volume is significantly lower.
Engaging in this sort of D.J. battle with an Oscar winner requires either the confidence of an L.A. insider or the carelessness of an interloper. Ninja, 42, and Visser, 32, the duo that pioneered Zef culture — South Africa’s response to America’s so-called white trash — are a bit of both. With matching mullets and meth-chic attire, the seemingly out-of-place pair is also oddly at home.
Accents notwithstanding, Ninja and Visser — who formed Die Antwoord in Cape Town in 2008, and now live between L.A. and Johannesburg — could at times be mistaken for native Angelenos, whether dissecting the menu’s vegetarian options (settling on avocado tartines), or recalling coffee at the home of David Lynch, who, for a while, was their neighbor in the hills above the Hollywood Bowl. The duo’s 10-year-old daughter, Sixteen, chose the house for them. (They co-parent but ended their romantic relationship some time ago.)
Die Antwoord exploded on the music scene in 2010 when videos for two songs from their debut album, “$O$,” became viral sensations. Interscope quickly signed them to a $10-million deal. Things didn’t go well. The label’s executives pushed them to record a follow-up heavy on collaborations and guest appearances. “Lady Gaga, the Black Eyed Peas and Far East Movement,” Ninja says. “And we were like, ‘Who? And no!’”
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The group backed out of the deal, started their own label, Zef Recordz, and went on to release two more albums. They’ve since seized every opportunity to raise a middle finger to the mainstream, in the process cultivating — and perhaps caricaturing — a persona of petulance. Offered the opportunity to open for Gaga, they responded with a video sendup of the singer (an impersonator gives birth to a cockroach, then gets mauled by a lion). They responded to an invite to Kanye West’s house by trash-talking him in a video they made in a bathroom. At their Austin City Limits performance in early October, Ninja dropped his pants and mooned the crowd.
Die Antwoord in Beverly Hills.CreditChris McPherson
Surprisingly, it was collaboration that brought them to Los Angeles last year. “We’d been determined to stay in South Africa ’cause we thought we wouldn’t be able to make music if we moved,” says Ninja. “Every time we came here, it was too — ”
“Sterile,” Visser says. “At first we were like —”
“It’s so organized,” Ninja interjects with clear distaste.
“Like, what would we write about?” Visser continues.
Their process, for years, was to jot down lyrics as they walked around Cape Town. How could that work in a city where, among other things, no one walks? But then, on a visit to L.A., a photographer friend took them to a quinceañera and introduced them to one of their idols, DJ Muggs, a.k.a. Lawrence Muggerud, a founder of the influential SoCal hip-hop group Cypress Hill. It was enough to convince them. “We didn’t move to L.A. to move to L.A.,” Ninja says. “We moved to make music with Muggs.”
“They came to the studio and we just started catching a vibe,” Muggs says. “Nobody pitched anybody on working together — it was just organic. I wanted to push them to places they’ve never gone and they were totally willing to experiment.”
It was the first time Die Antwoord had ever used an outside producer and the resulting album, the new “Mount Ninji and da Nice Time Kid,” is unlike anything the group has done before. A dizzying tour de force, it veers between rave numbers, raw humor (including a cameo by Jack Black), moody gloom and melancholia — which might have something to do with their recent (and very L.A.) study of chaos magick, an occult offshoot that involves spells, sigils and hypnotic music.
Die Antwoord’s founding D.J., known as God (formerly Hi-Tek), began sharing D.J. duties with Muggs, and they pushed each other. “There’s a Zulu saying that goes, ‘Spear sharpens spear,’” says Ninja. “The competition was ill.”
You could say the same about the garrulous Ninja and the reticent Visser. Their intensely codependent dynamic has long baffled observers, leading some to wonder if their behavior is an elaborate form of performance art. “When we laid down our verses on this album, Yolandi burned me nearly every single time,” Ninja says. “I remember thinking, ‘How can I compete?’ I’m in love with the cut of her voice. It’s just the most delicious frequency.” Hearing this, Visser pulls her knees up under her tank-top hoodie, then pulls the hood over her head and cinches it tight.
For an album that contains track titles like “Gucci Coochie” and “U Like Boobies?” the new songs are surprisingly intense and personal. They admit that creating them took a toll. “We hit a point where Yolandi got mad vulnerable — and real emotional,” Ninja says. After Muggs provided them the first beat for the song “Darkling,” he adds, “it took a year before Yolandi knew what to do with it. The beat was so beautiful.”
“How do you open up? I didn’t know how to,” Visser says.
“The one line we had was, ‘Mommy didn’t want me,’” Ninja says, and, in a rare moment of tenderness, locks eyes with Visser, who was adopted at a young age.
“And then,” she says, smiling, “Ninja just helped me write a poem on it.”
The two have given Die Antwoord a finite life span — five albums — making it “a limited-edition sort of experience,” Ninja says. They want to focus on other projects in fine art and film. (They’re working on a feature with the South African photographer Roger Ballen.) Critics and fans have speculated it’s because making music together is too emotionally taxing.
Thinking back on the making of “Mount Ninji and Da Nice Time Kid,” Ninja just shakes his head. “A whole bunch of really big stuff happened in those two years — the most epic things me and Yolandi have ever gone through,” he says. Neither he nor Visser will elaborate, but it’s safe to say their personal lives became intertwined with the process of producing this album. It started with uprooting their lives and ended with a work that, sonically and thematically, is a kind of return of the repressed, the deepest music they’ve ever made. Aside from Visser coming to terms with her adoption, among the memories the duo dealt with during the recording was the harrowing night they were robbed at gunpoint, not once but twice, as they tried to walk to a club in Johannesburg — an event that came to the surface as they wrote lyrics for the track “Streetlight.” These dark memories slowed them down at times, but also heightened the urgency they felt to finish.
“It felt sometimes like everything was gonna fall apart if we didn’t get to the end, if we didn’t reach the top of Mount Ninji. We both came to the top of this personal place in our lives, like, ‘Oh my god, we made it!’ It just felt like this personal, beautiful triumph,” Ninja says. “And now it’s like, ‘O.K., let’s fly.’ We need to launch off there to get to where we want to go next.”
It’s unclear exactly where that is, but it seems certain they need one another to get moving. A short while later, as they stand and begin walking out, Visser, wearing mismatched pink and blue sneakers, turns back to reach for the gold leather handbag she’s left on the chair. Ninja has already picked it up and hands it to her.
“I bought a Gucci bag,” Visser says, grabbing it with a laugh. “On Rodeo.”

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