The Gqom King Returns

DJ Lag has completed a world tour, released an EP and dropped a new video

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photographs: Andrew Aitchison

Ever since their documentary for G-Star RAW, producer Andrew Aitchison and videographer Chris Kets have been planning on making a music video with DJ Lag.

Life and the 2000km separating them got in the way, but when the time was absolutely right they decided to go in with the small budget that they had scraped together and make it happen.

The week leading up to Lwazi Asanda Gwala releasing his first EP with the Goon Club Allstars and then heading overseas with Gqom Oh!, saw Andrew and Chris head to Durban so that they could collaborate on a piece of art that would stand up to the other things happening in the young artist’s life.

DJ Lag had mentioned a sendoff party at home, and so the team decided to use that to fuel the narrative. The result is something that’s almost like a home video. The treatment is shot chronologically over the course of the weekend and we get to meet DJ Lag’s twin cousins, his granny feeding chickens, his friends hanging out at the hostels, another musician from the community, and a sangoma giving Lag a blessing – all insights into the artist’s life, which one wouldn’t normally be privy to.

“What you see in the music video is what we normally do in Durban on a daily basis,” says Lag. “Dancing, throwing parties in our backyards, chilling as a group of friends and listening to gqom. I'm a guy who doesn't like to portray the wrong image to people, so having the music video in my hood with people in my life and also gqom life in Clermont was important.”

This being DJ Lag’s first video meant that it was important to establish a visual identity for the sound. 

“It was important to be in Durban, in Lwazi’s neighborhood, KwaDabeka, and to show where he’s from and the people in that scene," says Andrew. "The video is almost like a tour that Lag is taking you on, introducing us to the people who have supported him."

Because gqom is as much the environment that it’s played in as a sound, videographer Chris Kets wanted to do something that was authentic.

“We made a gqom-style video,” says Chris. “This is what we have, so lets use that to try and make something of an international standard. Babes’ ‘Wololo’ has been a huge commercial hit and has blown gqom up, but there’s never been a music video for the underground gqom sound. Doing a video for this track was important and I wanted to establish a style. Like grime has an aesthetic and a kind of raw run and gun style of music video, hopefully this can inspire more gqom videos to be made by people in Durban who might just have a phone.”

KwaDabeka in Clermont is a clash of two worlds where rural pockets close to the CBD are cleared out from the thick tropical bush and are surrounded by a concrete jungle of hostels that rise up from the rolling hills.

“From the ground you don’t get that sense of scale as to how big it is,” says Andrew. “These units almost zigzag through the hills, connected like dominos, and when you drive in you see a few, and it’s epic, but it’s only when you get onto the rooftops that you see the full perspective. It’s insane.”

“Gqom references ancient stuff,” says Chris. “That's its roots – these tribal sounds – so that’s something that we tried to show off in the video: a mixture of these worlds with the spiritualism of the sangoma and meeting with the elder Bheki, with this very futuristic music.”

The blessing you see in the video happened after Lag met with a maskandi singer from the area, Bheki, who has travelled extensively overseas and whose travel advice for the young musician included that he communicate with his ancestors before his trip.

“I had never had a chance to travel outside the country,” says Lag. “My traveling has always been within the country. In our tradition it's important to get a blessing, it paves the way for you. The sangoma, they connect you to your ancestors and you are able to ask for the blessings as well.”

The party at Skotties was something that the crew who made the video will remember for a long time.

“There were DJs playing with toasters emceeing over the tracks,” says Chris. “Similar to the Dub Soundsystem hype guys and shouting repetitive phrases like, ‘Bye-bye Bruce Lee’ and ‘Let’s do this’. That became the catchphrase of the trip. When you’re shooting you get tired, you’re feeling a bit down, and someone will shout, ‘Let's do this!’ and then you’re up again.”

“It becomes something of an attitude,” explains Andrew. “Whenever we needed to hustle, nothing was ever a problem and the attitude was always, ‘Let’s do this!’”

This is an important time for DJ Lag's career, and besides being a great piece of art this new music video has captured an artist on the rise.  Music is more than just sound, it’s something that speaks across language barriers and represents the energy of the time. Let’s do this!