DJ Lag: Holding Court with The King of Gqom
DJ Lag: Holding Court with The King of GqomFebruary 23, 2022
Since emerging from the Durban townships of South Africa in the early 2010s, the explosive broken beat genre gqom has gone from local to global. And South Africa’s DJ Lag, known as the King of Gqom, has been a pioneer of the sound since its earliest days.
He started producing gqom at 14, and has since played high-energy gigs across Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America while to releasing on celebrated underground labels like Goon Club Allstars, Hyperdub, Swing Ting, and Good Enuff. He’s even collaborated with superstar artists like M.I.A. and produced “My Power” for Beyoncé’s album, The Lion King: The Gift.
After spending a full two years in the studio, DJ Lag is finally releasing his long-anticipated debut album, Meeting With The King, out now via Black Major x Ice Drop. So we met with the king himself to hear more about it.
Thanks for joining us, Lwazi! We hope you’ve had a great start to 2022. What are some of your 2021 highlights?
ADE in Amsterdam was awesome with DBN Gogo and Major League DJz. We played at Paradiso and it was a showcase of South African music. The place was packed and people went crazy. Boiler Room in London in October ‘21 was also really great. It was my first show back in the UK since the pandemic and I had a great time connecting with people.
What were some of your earliest club experiences while growing up in Durban? How did the club scene there inspire you?
The first club I ever went to was UHURU; my last EP with Mad Decent pays homage to that as the home of gqom. I was 16 at the time and had already started producing music and knew I was going to be a DJ. I didn’t know how to play yet, but would go there with my beats on CDs and hand them out to the DJs. Every week I would buy a new CD spindle and record beats for the weekend.
Bring us back to the first time you heard gqom with the track “Ithoyizi” by Naked Boys. What was running through your head?
It was my first time hearing a broken beat like this and I wanted to do something that was inspired by this song. And I just felt like this is what I have to make! It influenced so many gqom producers at the time.
Photo by: Travys Owen
Tell us about your forthcoming debut album, Meeting With The King. How long has the LP been in the works? And how are you feeling now that the release date is nearly here?
Super excited we are finally here. It took me two years to finish. Because the pandemic kept delaying my tours, we decided to delay the album release, which meant more time to make music. In July, when we had to wrap the album, I had more than 100 tracks to choose from and it took some time to decide what was going on the album. My sound keeps growing so it was difficult to not include some of the really new tracks on the album.
What were your main inspirations when writing the LP?
Deep Narrative was an inspiration for the album. They are a Durban artist, their beats are slower — about 123 BPM — and their sound is gqom-tech. I listened to this a lot at the beginning of the pandemic. They are definitely one to watch out for.
Have you had a chance to play any of your album to a crowd? If so, how has the reaction been?
My set at the moment often starts with Destiny, the track we released as a single on the 25th. “Into Ongayazi” and “No Child’s Play” are definitely dance floor favorites. And so is “Lucifer” with Lady Du.
The album features acts like Amanda Black, Sinjin Hawke, Lady Du, Mr. JazziQ, Dladla Mshunqisi, Omagoqa, and more, bringing both an international and South African flavor to the album. How did you choose who you wanted to collaborate with? And were there any memorable moments from the studio you can share?
It was different this time as we couldn’t all be together in one space with all the collaborators. With the ones I worked with remotely like Sinjin Hawke, Lady Du and Mr. JazziQ everything went smoothly and we very quickly got on the same page. The magic happened over various studios. I made a beat here in my studio and then sent it to one of the artists and they recorded it. They sent it back to me again and I finished the track with Omagoqa and Mshunqisi, who were here in Durban with me.
Rather than just concentrating on gqom, the album fuses everything from SGUBHU to tribal house and amapiano. These homegrown South African genres have made an enormous splash in the global music scene. Do you think they’ll continue to grow both at home and abroad? If so, do you think one will end up more popular than the others?
Yes, it will definitely grow! We have loads of producers who are making these sounds and they are popular in different parts of South Africa, every province has its own sound and so it keeps developing. Ultimately, it keeps shifting and that is the most exciting.
How important is South African culture to your creative identity and output?
South African culture as a whole doesn’t connect with my creative identity – it’s the things that are happening in the township, the whole vibe, that is important to me and my output. It’s the taxis and their massive sound systems! It’s the Miss Clermont functions we use to have where the local dance groups performed!
Tell us about your Something for Clermont event. What is the general vibe of the energy and audience at this festival you started? Are you hoping to bring it back this year?
It’s the biggest event for people from Clermont. Everyone is always waiting for the next one and this year we are going bigger! So yes, it will definitely be back this year and we are currently planning for the end of March with a massive lineup.
Something for Clermont is an event I created to thank the people of Clermont for the support they gave me throughout my career. And so I thank them by bringing celebrities they haven’t seen before to enjoy their music. The people in Clermont love to dance so it becomes a huge party where everybody moves.
Aside from the album, what’s on the horizon for you in 2022?
I’ll be hitting the road again. I have gigs booked all around the globe so this is going to be a very big touring year for me. On a more local level, I am planning on starting other businesses in my hometown.
DJ Lag’s debut album Meeting With The King is out now via Black Major x Ice Drop. Check it out on Beatport.