Photography by Chris Kets

DJ Lag and OKzharp’s ‘Steam Rooms’ EP is Gqom Like You’ve Never Heard Before

DJ Lag is quickly becoming a household name internationally, with the last few years seeing him touring overseas regularly and more recently co-producing the track “My Power” for the Beyoncé-curated Lion King soundtrack. July 19th saw the release of his latest EP ‘Steam Rooms’ produced in collaboration with OKzharp from the British label Hyperdub, which also released the EP. Locally OKzharp is probably best known for his collaborations with Johannesburg’s Manthe Ribane.

While OKzharp and DJ Lag had initially connected online, the two eventually met and started to make music together. “Whenever I’m on tour in London I stay with him, so we always end up making tracks for fun. This time we decided to put them together and release them in an EP,” explains DJ Lag. The title of the EP is a reference to the clubs in Clermont where DJ Lag cut his teeth and developed his sound. “Steam Rooms are what we call the local clubs we have here in Clermont. It gets very hot and people get really sweaty and it’s kinda like a sauna in there.”

Coming in at 4 tracks, the release is not your typical Gqom record and features new sonics and arrangements that make it stand out from what one might currently hear in Durban. It is experimentation like this that DJ Lag believes will continue to push the genre forward. “In order for the sound to evolve you have to mix it up and do things people wouldn’t usually think of to keep it fresh. A lot of Gqom tracks sound the same in Durban now, because people think if they make what everyone makes, they’ll be successful. I think success comes from doing what other people are too scared to do and making it your own.” Still, working with a producer outside of Gqom proved challenging, yet rewarding. “It was quite tricky, because I would make the stems and he would put together what he thought sounded good. But that’s how you keep things interesting.”

“I think this one came from a fun place, so I hope people will listen to it and have fun themselves.” While Gqom was born in the clubs, DJ Lag feels that this release is meant to be enjoyed no matter what the situation. “It’s music… so it’s whatever you want it to be. It doesn’t matter where you are, but if the music that I make can take you from a bad place to a good place mentally, then I’m happy.”

Regarding future collaborations DJ Lag is keeping his cards close to his chest but can reveal a little: “I can’t say much, but it looks like teaming up with strong women is working for me. I have a new EP coming out this month which is very exciting. It’s got 5 tracks, and features Unti Chicks (a Durban collective of Gqom producers) and Moonchild Sanelly on one track.”

DJ Lag will also be playing a number of international shows including Afropunk Atlanta and Jazz Cafe in London as well as hosting another of his own Something for Clermont events. “I can’t say too much on this right now only that it will be at Uhuru, where I played my first ever show, and it’s where the whole Gqom idea began as a genre and for me as a producer.”

Releases such as the ‘Steam Rooms’ EP prove that DJ Lag is not only a pioneer of the genre, but also one that is looking to keep the genre moving forward. When musical genres become too formulaic they become stale, so seeing stalwarts of the genre continue to work at its evolution hopefully encourages the next generation of producers to keep pushing the genre forward.

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