Gqom music—a sound emanating from the South African city of Durban—has been on the come-up for a while now. Appropriately for a sound that is both impactful and subtle, gqom's road to success has been steady but powerful. There hasn't really been a huge chart-smashing flagship tune to inject the DIY club sound into the global (or at least U.S./European) mainstream, but that doesn't mean it won't happen. In South Africa, gqom is enormous. Celebrated widely through the country, the sound has its roots in Durban but has since expanded. Thanks to producers and standard bearers of the sound like DJ Lag, the sound is steadily working its way through Europe as he and other artists like Rude Boyz, Cruel Boyz, and Nan Kolè and his Gqom Oh! outfit spread the word across the planet.
While gqom's rise hasn't been meteoric, it has been sustainable at least. DJ Lag, whom we spoke to about his new Trip To New York EP, has been grinding away across the planet as one of the sound's key ambassadors. Just as grime had pirate radio, gqom also comes with its own unique outlets. Much has already been made of the heroic taxi drivers who ferry gqom fans and ravers across the city, blasting the latest gqom exclusives on their way; but there's another crucial element to the dispersion of gqom: WhatsApp. The messaging app has proved invaluable to artists wanting to share their music in the most immediate way possible.
In fact, many hold it up as an intergal reason for gqom's growth in the first place, particularly in Durban where smart phones and mobile data are more accessible than laptops and WiFi. In celebration of those early, DIY days, DJ Lag decided to release Trip To New York for free exclusively through the app. Complex spoke to the increasingly celebrated DJ about the new EP and the democratised, DIY power of gqom.
You recently released the Trip To New York EP via WhatsApp. How exactly did that work and why did you release it that way?
We decided to bring back the old way we use to distribute our music. We used to, and still do, send music to friends on WhatsApp and through WhatsApp groups. We thought it would be a great idea to use WhatsApp to release a full EP, just to the true fans exclusively. It went really well in the end, a dope success — it was distributed to 700 people using a chat platform and that's never been done before.
You've been in London recently; did you collab with any local artists while you were here?
Yes, I worked with producer Okzharp. During the week that I was in London, we managed to write three new tracks.
A few gqom artists are starting to get attention outside of South Africa. Who else should we know about in the gqom scene?
Definitely Rude Boyz. When I went to do the gqom showcase at RBMA Weekender in NYC, they performed too. Distruction Boyz are also doing a pretty good job of representing gqom right now.
When did you realise that gqom was beginning to take off beyond Durban?
It had to be when I did the Gqom Oh! Tour with Nan Kole last year. It was my first experience travelling and playing my music for people internationally. That's when I knew we have something special with this sound and that's when I realised we can take over globally.
You went on a world tour a few months ago—how was the reception to gqom music? Was there a city or country that connected with it better than others?
I've been overseas a few times now, but I can say that New York definitely responded the best. It was the best—the people and their energy. They really like gqom because the tickets were sold out for the show and it was my first time even going that side!
How does a gqom party in a European city compare with a gqom party in Durban?
You can't compare the two—completely different settings. Obviously, you can't compete with a party in your hometown, but I would say that the energy levels are high on both sides. That's just the music.
What have you got coming up now that the EP is out?
I've got a few releases in the works. I'm doing a US tour in September, which I'm very excited about, and I’m playing some great festivals after that like Rocking The Daisies in Cape Town, Lunchmeat in Prague and Afropunk in Johannesburg.