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Gqom Today
Gqom Today
Gqom Today

20 Feb 24 21:00H

Featured Show

Gqom Today

With State OFFF, DJ Lag

Show finale wrapping up a season of Gqom cataloguing, featuring genre innovator DJ LAG.

With Guest: When, early in 2023, DJ Lag announced his intention to take his Alpha Zulu World tour to every continent in the world, it was the natural progression of an artist who has consistently sought new boundaries to break since starting to make music more than a decade ago.

Initially, Lwazi Asanda Gwala - known professionally as DJ Lag - made waves in the fertile creative soil of the South African coastal city of Durban, pioneering a sound that would come to be known as gqom - a Zulu word meaning drum or hit. Using little more than FruityLoops, while still at school he began making original gqom tracks, performing them at underground gigs and sharing them with the city’s taxi drivers who, in 2012, began using gqom tracks given to them by producers to attract customers.

Within three short years, DJ Lag had risen overground, his 2015 G-Star Raw x Boiler Room Sessions in Johannesburg signalling to the rest of South Africa and the world that he was no ordinary talent. In its review New York-based The Fader wrote, “DJ Lag stepped up to the decks to show exactly why everyone’s going crazy for Gqom. The minimal house genre born from the coastal city of Durban is dark, heated, and easy to lose yourself in.” A year later Lag released his self-titled EP through London label Goon Club Allstars and his ascendency into the upper ranks of the global music scene had properly begun.

Through hypnotic original tracks like “Ice Drop” and “Umlilo”, the music that DJ Lag told DJ Mag in an early profile was “made for clubs … made for nightlife” also proved to be made for DJs and electronic music fans across Europe, Asia and the United States. In a report on his self-released 2017 Trip To New York EP (which features another of his big tunes, “Khonkolo”) Pitchfork described him as an “international ambassador for the nerve-shredding thrills of gqom”.

Then aged just 21, in the closing months of 2016 DJ Lag made his international live music debut with a tour that began at the Unsound Festival in Poland and finished up at Seoul’s Cake Shop. Since then he has played an impressive number of international dates (RedBull SonarDome at Sonar Barcelona, MELT Festival in Germany, Afropunk Atlanta and London’s Jazz Café) while his set at Magnetic Fields in India in December 2019 was singled out by Resident Advisor as one of the festival’s top 5 and “a scorcher”. In 2021, with touring once again a possibility after the pandemic, DJ Lag completed a high-profile and acclaimed trek of Europe, including playing the Boiler Room Festival 2021 in London and Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) and he’s not stopped since then. In 2022 his live dates included playing The Nest, a brand new stage for groundbreaking sounds at Dekmantel in Amsterdam, and a Meeting with the Americas tour in November that saw him perform in Mexico for the first time, while 2023 has seen DJ Lag perform and collaborate with artists across the world, through his Alpha Zulu tour take in closing in on 40 dates, from Bangalore to Brooklyn, Brussels, Barcelona and beyond.

Even before the release of his first full length album, DJ Mag anointed DJ Lag “the globe-conquering gqom king” in a September 2021 deep dive cover story that traced what it’s like to originate a genre, tour the world, work with superstars, keep creating and stay connected to your roots. Released in 2022, his debut full-length, Meeting with the King, saw Lag usher in gqom 2.0, a manifestation of his recognition of gqom and Amapiano as sonic siblings, and Afro House and Afro Tech as comrades in musical arms. On the back of a slate of superb singles, Meeting with the King made several best of the year album lists and was described as “nothing short of a grand entrance fit for royalty” (Crack Magazine) and as seeming “like it could be not only career defining but genre defining, as the gqom hero hooks up with collaborators across scenes and continents” (Resident Advisor). The album was recently nominated for Best Gqom Album at the upcoming 2023 South African Music Awards in November.

DJ Lag has also proved expert at understanding the power of visuals in bringing believers everywhere into the gqom universe. The video for “Ice Drop” provided a glimpse into the context in which his gqom tunes are created with several stunning overhead shots of his local KwaDabeka and Clermont neighbourhoods. It was no surprise when, three years later, the acclaimed video earned a place alongside a range of electronic music icons in Electronic: From Kraftwerk to The Chemical Brothers, a landmark exhibition being hosted by London Design Museum from mid-2020 to early 2021. DJ Lag’s expansive creative vision was similarly seen in the stunning video for “Uhuru Dis”, a standout track on his 2019 EP Uhuru (released on Diplo's Good Enuff imprint) and the Travys Owen-directed, Manthe Ribane-starring video for “Raptor 2.5” - a collaboration with Canadian-American electronic music producer and DJ, Sinjin Hawke off Meeting with the King.

Although rightfully known as a gqom pioneer, DJ Lag is a sonic explorer unafraid of moving across boundaries of sound and geography and easily capable of standing alongside the world’s biggest stars. The most high-profile of the latter was when he was tapped to produce “My Power” for Beyoncé’s 2019 Grammy-nominated album The Lion King: The Gift (the companion album to the CGI remake of The Lion King). In a significant recognition of DJ Lag’s reach and musical innovation, “My Power” – which features Beyoncé, Nija, Busiswa, Yemi Alade, Tierra Whack and Moonchild Sanelly – was also included on Beyoncé’s critically acclaimed Black Is King visual album. His musical abilities extend to remixes and in March 2023 he turned in a fantastic remix of Moderat’s “DRUM GLOW” that’s heavy with gqom, melding perfectly with the German trio’s spooky original and appearing on EVEN MORE D4TA, Moderat’s new remix album that follows the release of 2022’s acclaimed MORE D4TA.

The 19 months since the release of his debut album in February 2022 have seen Lag mine the globe for collaborations that showcase his world class talent and gqom’s ability to be both intensely local and international. One of these is 2023’s “Bulldozer”, a track with the UK’s Novelist that was included in The Guardian’s F&M Playlist as well as “Where’s Your Father?”, a track with Que DJ that was released late 2022 and received high praise from the likes of Mixmag and WIRE Magazine.. Live, he remains one of the most compelling drawcards on the global electronic scene and in July 2023, DJ Lag turned in his sixth epic Boiler Room set - this time in New York City. It’s no wonder he was included in DJ Mag’s 100 of the World’s Best DJs – a global celebration of DJ culture.

Back home, DJ Lag has continued to play to a devoted homegrown fanbase, most prominently through his Something for Clermont shows. “The idea behind Something for Clermont came from wanting to create something for my hometown,” he says of these jam-packed live events that keep this one-of-a-kind talent deeply connected to the place that birthed him.