In a very short time the self-proclaimed post-apocalyptic Afrikaans folk-grunge duo, Die Skynmaagde, emerged from nowhere to online stardom with their first Soundcloud single, "Die Kommunis Sokkie" reaching over 8 500 hits. On "Die Kommunis Sokkie" Afrikaans dance culture bizarrely gets cross-dressed in red capitalist underwear and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see Karl Marx langarm-ing with Juanita du Plessis at a national budget-braai.
Die Skynmaagde (something like The Illuminated Virgins, for the English folk) consists of Henry Cloete on vocals and guitar and Wilken Calitz on vocals, guitar and violin. Rolling Stone had a casual Facebook chat with Cloete to find out more about the duo, their upcoming video and getting the hat-tip from Max du Preez, Anton Goosen and Koos Kombuis.
It seems that Die Skynmaagde have emerged as a fun side project between two friends that quickly caught the attention of a host of online listeners. When did you guys first realise that your side project was mushrooming into something more serious?
I don't think we ever really viewed it as a "side project"; we started toying with the idea for the project at the end of 2011, throwing some thoughts around during late-night beer sessions. We definitely approached it as a project that we just wanted to really enjoy – no proper, serious consideration of whether it would "fly" in the music industry and how we should "adapt" in that sense. The more we thought about it, though, the more we came to believe that we're actually onto something that no one else is doing in Afrikaans. We were curious and nervous about what the response would be like after we released the songs online around March 2012, but it's been really good – loads of plays/hits on Soundcloud, etc and plenty of (friendly!) media attention.
I think it's fair to say that "Die Kommunis Sokkie" is your first hit single (with more than 8 500 Soundcloud hits), with "Winter in my Hart" following hot on its heels. When writing new songs, do you guys feel the pressure of living up to "Die Kommunis Sokkie"'s online success?
That's one of the better kinds of pressure to experience, I suppose! We try to create a completely different "feel" for every song we do, though – it's all satirical, even if only slightly so ... mostly socially aware and hopefully amusing. To give you an idea – we've just finished writing a rap/hip-hop song called "Die goeie Afrikaner in die klub in die klub", yes – loosely based on the 50 Cent track. A big consideration at the moment is that we want to sharpen up our live sets – with but a handful or two of gigs behind us, we're always learning and want to make the shows as diverse, interesting, strange and, well, entertaining as we can. So, when creating new material, we do think how and where it'll fit into the set we want to present at that time.
The last time I checked Soundcloud, there were precisely 50 free allowed downloads left on two of the 6 tracks from your debut EP, Alombemind en Aan Bewind. Are you guys going to bother with CDs? And what's your opinion on the hard copy?
That's right, Soundcloud allows for only 100 free downloads per song/track, unless you upgrade to a premium account or something like that. Damn them Swedes! Those allowed downloads dried up really quickly for some of the songs. All the tracks are now downloadable elsewhere, at Rhythm Records Online and Boom.fm.
We've talked about producing hard copy albums a lot, but the reality is that we're a young band on a pretty limited budget. We want people to hear and enjoy the music (and flock to the shows in their tens of thousands!) as widely as possible – online availability brings everyone equally close to the music. If you're from Dealesville, you don't have to drive all the way to some store in Bloemfontein to get your hands on the music ... not that I'm discouraging it! Printing and distribution costs is something we'll only reconsider once we've been around a bit longer and made some money.
I'm still a big fan of the hard copy – the smell of a freshly-opened album booklet and all that. I think my colleague will disagree with me on this, but I don't believe it's a dying medium, as some people will have it ... so it's certainly in the back of our minds and something we'll definitely be aiming for... maybe only for the next album or EP, though.
That was incredibly cool! It meant that we must be on the right track if these legendary figures are taking an interest. Obviously, it fills one with a bit of giddiness – not sure if that's the appropriate term, but, oh well – when people you look up to so much enjoy and appreciate what you're doing. Breyten Breytenbach happened to be at a function where we were playing. He told us afterwards how much he enjoyed it... This kind of thing makes up for all the times people just stare at you quizically while you're performing.
Die Skynmaagde was selected as one of MK's MVP 12 winners this year - any progress on the video? What can we expect from the visuals?
Ah, I don't want to reveal too much about the video just yet! But we shot the footage over the course of three days, outside Montagu and in Cape Town. The production guys are in the editing phase as we speak, so we're looking forward to seeing the final product as well ... expect instant "rooikoeldrank". Lots of it.
I know that MK assigns a production team to your video when you're a MVP winner. Did you and Wilken have any creative input in the video?
No, how it works – or at least, how it worked for us – is that the band and the production company make the pitch together, the song with the concept. MK base their decisions on the "package" that is presented in this sense ... as far as I understand. But to answer your question, yes, we worked with a company called The Suits, they're a young, very creative and wildly enthusiastic group of people. We had a few meetings before the pitch was made, where we shared a bunch of ideas, some good, some bad, some just ridiculous. We had a blast shooting the video and did a lot of impromptu stuff, everyone was brimming with creative energy and that made for a setup where any and all ideas were explored. I expect the "deleted scenes" and "outtakes" from the video will be enough footage to make a feature-length film...
Die Skynmaagde is originally a two-piece band – any plans to expand to a bigger band eventually?
Not at the moment, no ... we're happy with where we're at and where we're going in terms of the dynamic during writing sessions and performances. That said, getting some friends to come gooi an oboe solo or something equally rock'n'roll on stage at gigs is very much the plan.
When you're not singing in Die Skynmaagde, you're a full-time working journalist and music writer – hypothetically speaking, if you got Die Skynmaagde's EP in the mail, what piece of objective criticism would you give the band?
Hmm, I guess some of the lyrics might sound a tad obscure to the unfamiliar ear! But then, you want to earn your fans' trust and you're not going to achieve that by "playing down" to them. I'd also like to hear a more audacious sound on the next EP/Album – we tried to keep the sound of this one as close to that of a live performance as possible, adding only essential beats, etc. Our tjommie Ben Ludik did a brilliant job of the recording and production – next time we'll try play around a bit with more elements than acoustic guitars and a violin.
Any plans for 2013?
If all goes well, we'll be doing Woordfees and KKNK, for starters. We're only starting to hit our stride now, at the end of 2012, so we'll be sweating our asses off – what a horrifying mental image – to make it a big year for Die Skynmaagde; we'll tackle a tour or five, get back into the studio, hit the festivals, do a wicked online interview with Rolling Stone Magazine ... "The band's gonna make it!"