A Brief History Of Gqom

Born and raised in Clermont, as part of the Rainbow generation – the children South Africa birthed immediately following apartheid – DJ Lag has been both a staple and pioneer of Durban’s Gqom sound since its inception. His infectious and intricately destructive drum patterns harken deeply to Gqom’s tribal house and broken beat heritage. Yet in being one of the genre’s most internationally prolific DJs, Lag brings with him a universal ear for sounds and bass lines that give his tracks an unmistakably unique flare.

In 2018 his track ‘Drumming’, already a stellar showcase of Gqom’s versatility, became the backbone for a standout international crossover with Beyonce titled ‘My Power’. DJ Lag’s production gives the track an carnal edge that, along with performances from fellow dance music staples Busiswa and Moonchild Sanelly, distinctly separates the song from the pack. Next year he’ll drop his debut full length, Meeting with the King, which explores the evolution of the Gqom sound, or Gqom 2.0., which recognises the genre and its Johannesburg counterpart Amapiano as sonic siblings.

In this interview Lag explores the wild and touching journey of the genre and, as one of its originators, the story of his involvement in its history. This comes with a mix that solidifies Gqom’s place in South Africa’s ever-promising and disruptive sonic future.

DJ Lag’s debut album, Meeting with the King, will be released in February 2022.

Where does your love for Gqom stem from? 

The fact that I was one of the producers who contributed to the creation of the sound means that I am always going to be part of it; the sound will always be part of me however things change along the way. I love making it, I love seeing people dancing to it and I love being part of the change too in the evolution of the sound. My new album, Gqom 2.0., looks a lot into that.

What marks out a Gqom track, compared to the rest of the genres? 

It’s a broken beat on a high tempo. You can rap, sing on it. It is minimal and a great sound for clubs. I think it is also very primal because it is the sound of the drum and that repetition that almost connects you to a spiritual source. 

What Gqom record has left the biggest impression on you as a DJ, and why? 

‘Ree’s Vibe’ by Griffit Vigo. when I started traveling in 2016 that was the song I’ll always finish the crowd with. I’ve been playing that song for 10 years and it’s still the best.

What Gqom record has made the biggest impact on your sound as a producer, and why? 

It’s difficult to pick someone else’s record for this answer, because my influences are where I am, what I am doing and the state of mind that I am in. A lot of my tracks have names of cities in their first demo drafts or names of emotions and that because they capture that moment in time.

Naked Boyz – Hunters Gold

Gqom all started in Durban. We used to have dance crews around the city and they would compete at the end of every month — that’s when Gqom started. Naked Boyz were the first to do a broken beat track and it took over Durban. That’s when I also started producing the same style they were doing but we didn’t realise we were starting a new sound which became what is now known as Gqom.

DJ Lag – Ice Drop

This became the first Gqom track with a music video. The video itself was the first insight to what the underground culture looked like: how we danced, the backyard parties, the kids developing moves and also its deep connection to tradition. The video caught some attention to people from around the world.

Babes Wodumo – Wololo

This also had a huge impact on the growth of the sound. When Babes dropped that track, Gqom became mainstream in South Africa and everybody wanted a piece of it. She is an incredible performer and her dance moves were copied by people all over the country. 

Griffit Vigo – Ree’s Vibe

This track is one of the songs that every time I’ve played it, I’ve killed the crowd, since 2012. The track has been played for over 10 years now and it still slaps every time. 

DJ Lag – Trip to New York

This was one of the tracks that changed my life. When I saw Beyonce using it on her performance at global citizen that led us to making ‘My Power’ and then Gqom made global headlines.

Da Soul Boy – Unreleased
Black Rhythm – Unreleased
Rude Boyz – Master
Worst Behaviour x DJ Lag – Samba Ngolayini
Rude boyz – Unreleased
DJ Lag – Owamabomu (Beat)
DJ Lag – iThuna
DJ Lag – Intongayazi (due for release 5th November)
General Cmamane – Unreleased
Funky Tone – Nanso
DJ Lag – Bopha remix 
No name for artist / unreleased
DJ Lag – Skoro (due for release 5th November)

DJ Lag’s debut album, Meeting with the King, will be released in February 2022.

Photo credit: Travys Owen.

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