The South African producer and gqom frontrunner hands in a mix of all the ‘new stuff that’s hitting the Durban streets right now’
Hailing from the township of Clermont in the coastal city of Durban, Lag began making music in his teens, a more minimal and raw variant of South African house that was dark, spirited, and full of heat. “To be honest, I never thought gqom would gain popularity beyond Durban, never mind to jump the continent,” Lag told Dazed in 2015 in a piece about the burgeoning genre, the name a Zulu word for ‘drum’ or ‘hit’.
Lag found a home at London label Goon Club Allstars for his debut self-titled EP around that time. Tracks like “Ice Drop” and “3 Step Culo” have done serious damage to dancefloors worldwide with their shuddering, springy textures: it’s a rhythm that gets inside you and is impossible to shake. With a growing audience in the west, Lag toured thoroughly, taking the genre in different continental directions via his record bag, and even being singled out by Beyoncé to produce for her Grammy-winning album.
But for someone who’s paved the way for an entire genre to flourish worldwide, Lwazi Asanda Gwala hasn’t had it easy. A track he’d made, “Trip To New York”, was released with minor edits by Distruction Boyz, friends of his, without his knowledge. That track blew up in South Africa under a whole different name while DJ Lag was busy touring. Last year, a beat of his inexplicably featured as the beat of a new track by radio host Megan Ryte featuring will.i.am and ASAP Ferg. He hadn’t been asked for permission to use it (luckily, the SA music scene came to his rescue and outrage ensued, earning him his credit). Although he’s squashed the beef with his friends and is now rightfully credited, two legal battles show that Lag’s sonic mastery is something worth possessing.
Now with his debut album Meeting With The King on the brink of release, that promises a thrilling fusion with South Africa’s biggest sound of now, amapiano, Lag is looking to expand his sonics even further. Below, Dazed asked the gqom king about the forthcoming LP, the current boom of amapiano around the world, and why he’s not jaded about beat thievery.
You’re on the cusp of releasing your debut album – how are you feeling about this milestone?
DJ Lag: Very excited. I have been working towards this for a long time. I have done many releases before but this feels very different. I suppose the anticipation around it is also part of the excitement and things are going really well so far. So much amazing feedback.
What would you like people to take away from it?
DJ Lag: That I have featured some amazing talent from South Africa and that the sound is moving to a new direction. Into the gqom sound I have fused Afro tech, Afro house, and even a hint of amapiano.
It's been described as ‘gqom 2.0’, can you explain what this means? How does this compare sonically to amapiano?
DJ Lag: This style is an evolved version of gqom. I have slowed down the tempo and also many of my tracks have vocal features. The previous generation was more minimal and stripped-down beats. It also has some sounds inspired by amapiano like the log drum. You’ll hear that sound on most of the tracks on the album.
What are your thoughts on the current surge of interest in amapiano worldwide?
DJ Lag: I feel so happy and proud seeing African music reaching the world. This is the most important thing to keep pushing for our music to be heard everywhere. It is also great that for the first time I get to play alongside South African artists on shows. Last weekend I was at Amsterdam for ADE and the lineup featured DBN Gogo, Culoe De Song, and Major League DJs. It never used to be like that before! Four acts from South Africa on a lineup. I am very happy about that and excited that more of us get to carry the flag.
How did growing up in Clermont, Durban affect the music you make today?
DJ Lag: Growing up in Clermont is not easy because of the things that happen in the township. Being hijacked and attacked was our daily reality and a bit of a contradiction to live in an environment of danger when home is meant to be safe. It is easy to end up doing the ‘wrong’ things once you are older when your whole life has been exposed to those dangers.
I thank music and soccer for keeping me out of those things. It is an interesting question that you ask, because it is obviously difficult to pinpoint the exact things throughout life that affect what I do right now. But my life to date is definitely reflected in my music. And if I have to put it down to one thing I guess there is definitely something ominous, enigmatic, and dangerous that comes through in the sound.
What’s your experience of the pandemic been like? Did you spend it focusing on music?
DJ Lag: Lockdown was obviously hard. There were a lot of plans for 2020 for me that I had to accept were off the table. I think me and my team did a great job adapting to the circumstances quickly and focusing on other things. I made a lot of music. By the time we were choosing tracks for the album I had 120 produced tracks which I worked on during 2020. So that kept me busy!
On a personal level, I bought my first house at the beginning of 2020, so I spent time making it my dream home. I also spent a lot of time with my family and connected properly with my friends, which is difficult to do when you are touring for seven to eight months a year.
Throughout your career you’ve had your work ripped off and stolen at various moments. What effect has this had on you, and has it made you jaded about the industry at all?
DJ Lag: Not at all jaded. It is the reality of the world we move in and the best thing to do is be fully prepared to face it when it happens. I just hope that younger producers can see that and understand that you have to stand up and fight for your work even when those players are big. I will keep doing what I do and hope that in the future people will just ask for the beat... (it’s) much easier that way and less expensive for them too!
Tell us about your Dazed mix.
DJ Lag: The mix is the new stuff that’s hitting the Durban streets right now. It is exciting and very raw. So I hope you all enjoy.
How were you feeling when making it?
DJ Lag: Happy! Excited that my album announcement is getting such great feedback and grateful for the opportunity to make a mix for you. Dazed has been there since day one for me!
- Kusasa, “Unreleased”
- Deep Narratives, “Unreleased”
- Black Shanis, “Unreleased”
- DJ Lag x DJ Tira, “Siyagroova”
- DJ Lag x Vanco, “Unreleased”
- ???, “???”
- DJ Lag x Dladla Mshunqisi, “Owaabomu”
- Rudeboyz, “Hard Toms”
- Dankie boy, “Manchisi”
- Omagoqa x Cmamane, “Madness”
- Young Masters, “Unreleased”
- DJ Lag x Sinjin Hawke, “Raptor”
DJ Lag’s Meeting With The King album is due for release in February 2022