We visit the Rudeboyz at the birthplace of Gqom
By Samora Chapman
Gqom is the infectious, thumping sound currently pumping out of the Durban kasi and threatening to take over dance floors across the world. If you visit Tropic City you’ll hear it spilling from shebeens, clattering out of clubs or flying past in a booming taxi. It’s a deep, dark, broken beat that makes you want to shake until you sweat.
At the forefront of the current Gqom scene are the Rudeboyz, Massive Q (24) and Andile-T (21), who hail from a little ‘hood called Mount Moria, on the outskirts of KwaMashu – a sprawling township north-west of Durban.
Heading out to KwaMashu on a hot afternoon with the Rudeboyz’ new manager, George Kretsos, a local DJ/producer and event man, we find Mount Moria on a small hill crammed with winding roads, container shops and weathered flats reaching out for the sky.
The Rudeboyz wave us down and hop into the car with their backpacks and gear, their silver teeth gleaming. A tall rasta in black robes (Ntuse The Blender) joins us, and we form an unlikely gang armed with cameras, dreams and drum machines, as we head to a nearby studio.
“We make beats everywhere and anywhere,” says Massive Q, who sits up front as we travel the rutted dirt roads past shacks, mangy dogs and kids playing. “We work on laptops and can make beats on the bus, in town or at home, but this is where we come to do mastering and mixing – to have some clear, critical music time.”
A small house perched on top of a hill is emitting an ominously deep thumping sound.
“Relax!” says Massive as we pull up, sensing some uncertainty in the ranks. “This is like our other home.”
Inside the home studio there's a mic, a keyboard, a big monitor and some monster boomboxes. Blood-red curtains and handprints smeared on the wall complete the aesthetic.
This little music haven goes by the name True African Power Studios, and it’s the workplace and abode of OG producer AfrawDeep, who welcomes us by throwing on a groovy Gqom jam to set the mood.
“I’ve known these guys since forever,” says Afraw, who has been making music for 12 years as a DJ, producer, musician and sound engineer. “We used to go on the same bus to school. It makes sense to help each other where we can, ‘cos you never know if it’s gonna be them blowing up or me."
“I used to be a deep house fan,” says Massive. “The first CD I bought was in grade 8, DJ Monde, a deep house legend who passed away. All my friends were into house and as I grew up I started collecting music madly.”
For Andile it was fate that turned him into a DJ, saying that originally he wasn’t really into music growing up. He was more of a footballer, he admits in his soft-spoken way, "but my late uncle was a DJ and had all the equipment. After he passed away I visited my granny in Inanda and she said to me ‘Andile, why don’t you become a DJ?’ I thought it was a good idea and that was the beginning after she gave me all my uncle's gear.”
In 2010 Massive went to Damelin to study sound engineering and began DJing at various clubs around Durban. Soon after he hooked up Fruity Loops he began making his own beats.
“Andile was like a little bro to me,” remembers Massive, with a smile. “He looked up to me because I had more information about music, you know, and skills. I was studying at that time and he was in high school. I was doing some production and gave him the software so that he could start producing too. Soon he was making music and I liked what he was doing. Another guy from my community, Menchess (who recently left the group to focus on a solo career), used to pass by my house on his way to the bus stop. One day he came in and asked me why I was playing the same thing over and over and I explained that I was working on loops. So the three of us joined forces and started this group called Rudeboyz. I wanted it to be a neighbourhood thing, something unique.”
Rudeboyz began producing music together towards the end of 2011, with the sole focus being to get famous in their hood. Driven by the success of the Naked Boys' unique sound called ‘broken beats’, a healthy rivalry was formed.
“We used broken beats and took them further,” says Massive, explaining the birth of the Rudeboyz sound. “We added energy and hypnotic sounds, with all three of us pushing each other until we'd invented a new sound.”
According to Massive, the word Gqom is not new and simply means drum or beat in isiZulu, and as a genre it was pioneered by the likes of Big Nas, DJ Cleo and Bin Laden around 2004 already.
“But when we started this new brand of hardcore Gqom, that’s when the attention came. It’s dark and different. We were the first to mix Gqom and broken beats and make an EP, called The Best, which we released in 2012.”
“We gave our music to everyone we met,” says Andile, “we would carry it around on USB and CD and after a while everywhere we went they were playing our songs –in taxis, buses and shops.”
DJ Lag and Graffiti picked up on the sound and consolidated the scene, and in 2013 Rudeboyz turned their focus to remixing and publishing online with Kasi MP3 where, according to Massive, Rudeboyz had 5 000 downloads a day and crashed the site. That’s when the rest of South Africa started listening.
While walking around the neighbourhood to get some pics and a change of scenery it occurs to me that Gqom is a translation of all the raw elements of the township. The hustle and bustle, the noise, the hard edges of things breaking and being re-built; the eruption of energy when the sun goes down and the dance floor awakens. We climb up on a half-built concrete bridge, which slices through the haphazard umjondolos and looks out across the vibrant landscape.
“Right now we make ends meet mostly by our live shows,” says Massive, explaining where they're at business-wise, “but we’re also doing mixes and remixes for some international artists and labels. We just did a remix of a track called ‘Raindrops’ by Daniel Haaksman.”
Gqom is a unique African sound born in Durban, but it seems that people around the world can really dig it. Andile pipes up: “We recently released a limited edition vinyl EP with Goon Club Allstars, a UK label and it sold out. It is the first Gqom vinyl ever. The guy who owns the label, Felix, is a DJ and he played our music to London audiences. They liked it.”
Back at the lab, Andile plays with their new drum machine and discusses arrangements with Afraw.
Rudeboyz rose to fame in their section through pure DIY determination – making beats with Fruity Loops on their PCs and handing out free music to everyone and anyone in the community (hard copies, eksé).
With a couple of collabs with Okmalumkoolkat in the making and interest from international labels, Rudeboyz look poised to crack the big time. And, if they do blow up, I’m sure that Massive and Andile will always return to this sacred space, True African Power Studios, in the heart of KwaMashu… ‘cos these roots run deep.