It’s tempting to call gqom—the ecstatic, frenetic form genre that’s emerged from the heart of Durban, South Africa over the past few years—a fusion genre or dance music subgenre, but the truth is a little more complicated than that. Less than a decade old, gqom music typically comprises a heady punch of bruised hip-hop samples over Zulu maskandi drums that are beat in rhythms resembling techno or house. The end result is wild, beautiful and thrilling; although each component gestures towards something familiar, gqom is distinct and experimental. As producer KingIce told Noisey last year, "People assume it's all just a mashup of broken beats and drums, but when we started this sound we made a conscious choice to do something that didn't exist before.” And while gqom is only beginning to touch international stages now, the genre is already shifting into new forms and areas, proving that it’s as much a movement and scene as much as it is a genre classification.
Leading the global takeover is DJ Lag, the self-proclaimed godfather, inventor, and king of gqom, whose caustic and hypnotic anthems have taken him everywhere from Afropunk NYC—where he played between Tyler, the Creator and PUSHA-T—to Unsound’s late-night programming in Krakow and Adelaide. As one of gqom's elder statesmen, Lag keeps his feet in the worlds of both traditional gqom—the intoxicatingly chaotic music that you’ll hear blaring out of taxis and mobile phones on the streets of Durban—and new splinter scenes giving birth to subgenres like sgubhu and dombolo. While he was one of the first artists to properly cross over into Western scenes a couple of years back, 2018 has still felt like something of a banner year for Lag; aside from releasing Stampit, his third EP for London-based label Goon Club Allstars, this year also found the producer dropping “Going Modd,” a new collaboration with Epic B, and appearing on TAKE ME A_PART, THE REMIXES, Kelela’s Take Me Apart remix record, also featuring reworks from Kaytranada, serpentwithfeet, and Gaika.
To celebrate his upcoming appearance at Unsound Adelaide, DJ Lag has put together a Noisey Mix that outlines gqom’s vibrant origins as well as its future. The 45-minute primer features plenty of Lag, as well as tracks from some of gqom's most important producers, including Biza Wethu, WesternBoyz and Terrace. Get to know gqom—and read an interview with DJ Lag about the mix—below.
NOISEY: How are we meant to enjoy this mix? What’s the perfect setting?
DJ LAG: The mix is a combination of two styles of gqom: the gqom we all know and love and sgubhu, which is an evolution of the sound. In my view the best place to experience this mix is in a club or parking lot with your friends.
Was there any specific concept to the mix?
Not really I just try to let each track develop into the next one, creating the best vibe possible. My mixes are influenced by my settings and surroundings. This one was done the day after a show in Los Angeles, where Kelela came to watch my set. I was so excited as we had worked together on a remix of her track "Onanon" but never met in person before. The mix the next day was a combination of excitement and touring adrenaline.
In Durban gqom is huge. When you have to travel abroad to play music, does it feel strange translating it to niche or underground clubs or festivals like Unsound?
My consistent experience is that people dance along to my sets because the sound is new and exciting to them. They connect on a very real level. They don't know what to expect and often are not able to follow the patterns of the sound, so they have to let go and find a very primal connection point. I see people of all ages and backgrounds having the same reaction to it, to me that is exciting too. So my audiences and I exchange on a very real and honest level. This is different from South Africa where Gqom is now mainstream, with sing along choruses and A list artist features.
You’re pretty much the face of gqom at this point; do you feel like your music is most representative of gqom's truest form?
Well yes I can say that because I was there from the start and I can produce any style of Gqom from sgubhu to dombolo. I also work very hard on growing the community worldwide. I spent most of this year on the road doing shows all over the planet converting people to followers of the sound. So I am happy to be considered the face of gqom and will sure as anything continue to work hard to keep things interesting for my fans.
You’ve included other gqom artists on this mix including Terrace, Western Boyz, Biza Wethu and Ceeya. Why did you choose to include them on this mix?
They are some of my favourite producers currently making music in Durban. Some are my friends too. I am happy to be the facilitator of people around the world being introduced to them.
1. Umshudo - DJ LAG ft. Charlie
2. Asphakamanga - DJ LAG ft. DJ Athie
3. 3 Turns - DJ LAG ft. DJ Funky Qla
4. Jika - DJ LAG ft. Vumar and Biggie
5. Woza - DJ LAG
6. Macala - Biza Wethu
7. Dis Rude - DJ LAG
8. Izwi - DJ LAG
9. Khuza - Ceeya
10. Chessa - Western Boyz
11. XXXX - Terrace
12. Ukushisa - Biza Wethu