This article was originally published on VICE Netherlands.
My nomination for meme of the year goes to those dancing Ghanaian pallbearers.
For the nine people left on Earth who haven't seen it, the video comes from a 2017 BBC report on coffin-holding dancers who you can hire certain areas of Ghana to lighten up your loved one's funeral. The meme format is as follows: something terrible happens (a person falls on their face or makes a dumb statement about COVID-19) and the pallbearers pop into frame, happily dancing to this person's misfortune.
But the music is the icing on the cake. After a serious build, which perfectly introduces the smiling pallbearers in their sunglasses, EDM banger "Astronomia" cuts in. The original track is by Russian DJ Tony Igy, but Dutch DJ-duo Ruben den Boer and Victor Pool, AKA Vicetone, made the remix. I called Ruben to discuss what it's like finding success via a morbid meme.
VICE: So the BBC report is from 2017 and your remix is from 2014. Who put the two together?
Ruben den Boer: I don’t have a clue. I asked our management team to do some research, but they haven’t found much beyond some links posted on Facebook. It probably started in India or Italy.
It’s all very bizarre. We were in the middle of cancelling all of our summer plans, tours and shows. It’s the worst feeling you can have as an artist. Suddenly we got word that our track was being used in memes. At first you think 'whatever' and don’t think about it. But then you look at the numbers on Spotify and realise they’re skyrocketing. A Shazam screenshot made it real – we were in the top three most-searched songs, together with Drake and The Weeknd. Then you really start to wonder what the fuck is going on.
What do you think of the meme itself?
Well, at first I was shocked by it. At its core it's about people having an accident, and I wasn’t really rolling on the floor laughing. But then I started to see less extreme versions and I thought those were funny. Artists are often purists; we want our music to be heard only in a certain way. And I get that, but there is no way you can control it.
What’s the story behind the song?
It came out in Russia around 2010, but I don’t think anybody knows it, unless you spend your whole day listening to electronic music on the internet. And that’s exactly what I was doing at that time, when I was still in school. I put [the song] in a playlist, but still wasn’t clear on who made it.
Vincent and I started making music together in 2012, and a year later we were already professional DJs and had entered the DJ Mag Top 100. Two years later, I still liked the song, but it didn’t exactly fit into our live sets. So I created our own version. We politely sent it to Tony Igy in Russia. I think he liked it. His English isn’t great.
We did want to officially release the track on a label, but Tony’s old label didn’t sign off on that. At that point, we were doing so well professionally that we released the track anyway. For free, as a little gift for our fans.
Hold on, I hope you are actually making money from the meme?
Well, those first two years [after we made the remix] we didn’t make any money at all. But then we released our track "Nevada" in 2016 and it did very well, and that really propelled our career forward. It garnered interest from labels, and we got asked if we wanted to do an official release of "Astronomia".
The song has been a fan favourite from the moment we released it, so it’s not like it appeared out of nowhere. Before the meme it had been streamed 65 million times on Spotify and had 34 million views on YouTube.
What is your favourite version of the meme?
Someone sent me this version [featuring footage of the Netherlands’ annual World War II commemorations] yesterday, which honestly also kind of crosses the line.
This article originally appeared on VICE NL.