Upfront 037 / September 28, 2015


Volatile and sardined with enough energy to burst your tweeter and then some. Durban's DJ LAG warms the Upfront plate with 68mins of gqom.

About this mix

I’ve been making gqom since I was a teenager. Perhaps you could call me one of the sound’s founders.

It all started with us trying to emulate and produce hip-hop. It was just for fun, and mostly with a close rapper friend called SCRIBY. One day it just so happened that we were fiddling with Fruity Loops and the sound happened to change — this was hip-hop made at a house tempo.

Gqom is our take on combining all the raw, bassy and brooding variations of South African music. The timbre of most of the sounds is more like a ‘bang’ or a ‘hit’ from the hollow drum sounds we use all over the tracks. There’s a real group of people who are involved and they always have my back. I’m talking about the likes of SCRIBY, Tempo and Lusiman. These guys have really helped to take gqom across SA and beyond.

Our sound has now reached radio stations, taxis, private cars and you regularly hear people playing it while walking down the street. Even more importantly, the clubs go crazy when we press play.

Its UK time now! And with the help of people like Skinny Macho and Moleskin, I think we can take the sound even further.

DJ Lag

Boiler Room says...

Gqom is a ‘commercial’ but unofficial take on house music from Durban. To the untrained ear, it’s easy to assume that this is actually Kwaito or tribal house (a blanket term used in the UK Funky house community to describe a house beat of a raw African nature) — and to be honest (we’re) not far off.

Their version of broken beats (not to be confused with the London sub-genre) is usually without vocals and doesn't follow the rules of the standard 4x4 structure. Raw, usually unmastered and over compressed more often than not, it’s basically an audiophile/sound engineer nightmare. It sits heavy in the speakers though.

Whether intentional or not, this raw element is what I like the most. In this rare case, mastering really waters down its raw aesthetic which I'm deeply in love with.

It’s reminiscent of when grime/UK Funky house first came around. For example, the notion of playing/sharing files via Bluetooth on our phones on the back of the bus or at school/college is replicating on the streets of Durban. Even the cab drivers have them on their USBs, blasting gqom out of their cars. That blew my mind a little.

Most of the people that produce gqom are relatively unknown. Durban is a very competitive place. There have been times when people starting stealing and renaming tunes as their own and nobody can prove who made it. It’s down to the producers not labelling the tracks very well.

But since their music has reached local and international fandom. In their track names you’ll often see the whole shabang (name, phone number, sometimes Instagram or Blackberry pin) spread on the web via Datafilehost links posted on FB groups and via Twitter.

There's also the laborious task of digging through the producers’ (NakedBoys, Rudeboyz, DJ Sox, DJ Lag, Audioboyz etc) discographies on kasimp3.co.za.

Internet access in SA isn’t the best either so not everyone has the luxury of streaming/uploading tracks on Soundcloud. I can't help but feel like if they had better access some of these guys’ careers might have sky-rocketed a lot quicker. They make do though, which makes thing s a lot more interesting I guess.

I haven't been to Durban myself unfortunately; I came close though. I’m told the atmosphere is like no other city in South Africa or possibly the world. I can only imagine, but for now I have to imagine it through people’s stories. After all, it’s a place which has birthed some of South Africa's biggest stars and one of it most popular genres in Kwaito. I would like to see recognised in the same way.

There is support but not enough. Just like with Shangaan, Barcadi or Sgubhu - which are relatively unknown to the majority of South Africans - I’m aiming to raise awareness alongside my peers. Props to heads like Okmalumkoolkat, Spoek MathamboJumping Back Slash, OKZharp!, Bok Bok, Nguzunguzu, Kode9, Blackdown, Goon Club Allstars, Blackfoot Phoenix, Neana, Branko, Sahin Meyher and not forgetting labels like TOWNSHIPTECH releasing this stuff too.

With parties like Party Time Shandees, Kartel, Swing Ting, Banana Hill, Hipsters Don't Dance, Club Rez & GQOM party "Zhambeez" (run by Blackfoot Phoenix, Goon Club Allstars & OKZharp), I hope at some stage it'll be appreciated in it’s entirety on a global scale.

If anyone's got a link to Rick Rubin so he can try mixing down GQOM to near perfect rawness, that would be ace. Y’know, like that Yeezus album he made.


Big thanks to Richard Rumney at (Redbull Studios Capetown) & Ian McNair (naas)

Recommend you watch Spoek Mathambo's 'Future Sound Of MzansiPart 1, Part 2 & Part 3

Skinny Macho

Skinny Macho

is one of the Lead Programmers & quite possible some guy you met at some thing once