The dance music community is one of the most voracious when it comes to seeking out new and innovative sounds ready to be remixed and played out across the globe.
One of its most recent discoveries is a subgenre known as Gqom – a darker, low-riding modification of South African House exclusively coming out of Durban. After being picked up by UK selectors such as Kode9 back in 2015, Gqom really started turning heads with the release of Goon Club Allstars four-track mixtape ‘Rudeboyz’ – featuring self-styled ‘King of Gqom’ DJ Lag.
Since then, DJ Lag has released two solo EPs through Goon Club as well as being the first Gqom artist to bring his show to Europe and the US. The latest release ‘Trip To New York EP’ acts as an audio scrapbook for Lag, a significant release coming from a young artist tasked with carrying the flame of this unique dance music blueprint across international borders.
On first listen this EP showcases the dark edge of Gqom – an onslaught of bass drones providing foundation for the layers upon layers of rhythmic percussion echoing above. The two originals both take the same traditional S.A. vocal shouts as a sample but title track ‘Trip To New York’ stands out as the real floor-filler. Piled high with snares and a menacing string section, the track creates an intense atmosphere driven forward into the unknown by a jazzy bassline.
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In Durban, the crowds of a DJ Lag show are known for being particularly wild and help capture the essence of Gqom – a word meaning ‘hit’ or ‘drum’ in Zulu. Lag himself has talked about the deep-rooted rhythms in his genre, saying:
“In Durban people love dancing so when there’s gonna be a dance battle on the dancefloor for sure. [The dancers] make a circle in the dancefloor and start battling; we even have our own dance name which is called Durban Bang.”
The second original track of the EP ‘Khonlolo’ seems more subdued than the first but plays out nicely on the offbeat, again the snares and toms explode above that tribal bassline in a arrangement close to Reggae/Moombahton style.
Although’ Khonlolo’ is more stripped back than ‘Trip To New York’, the moody break around the 4 minute mark reminds the listener Gqom is not a genre to be slept on – building in intensity until all that energy is released into the drum set once again.
A remix of ‘Khonlolo’ by S.A. producer Okzharp (recently signed to London’s Hyperdub Records) somehow takes the track even deeper underground, coasting on hypnotic synths and keeping that menacing bass drone throughout.
Trip To New York EP was distributed by Lag via WhatsApp weeks before its release date. The press release emphasises the ‘pivotal role’ WhatsApp has played in the emergence of Gqom in Durban, where the number of mobile phone subscriptions vastly overtakes the number of home internet subscriptions. With a genre this determined to be heard no matter the obstacles, it’s probably best you take a listen.
‘Trip To New York EP’ is out now and is available to be streamed in full on DJ Lag’s Soundcloud.