In just six years, DJ Lag has established himself as a world-class sonic innovator and taken one of the exciting electronic music movements of the 21st century from South Africa into the global spotlight. Remarkably, Lwazi Asanda Gwala has achieved this while not yet 26 and while remaining deeply connected to the source of his creativity – the township of Clermont in the coastal city of Durban.
The movement that DJ Lag has pioneered is gqom, a Zulu word meaning drum or hit, which he began making – using little more than FruityLoops – and playing while still at High School.
Propelled by DJ Lag’s prodigious musical gifts, this defiantly geographically specific sound has also found a devoted – and fast growing – international audience with DJ Mag anointing DJ Lag “the globe-conquering gqom king” in a September 2021 cover story.
It was DJ Lag’s 2015 G-Star Raw x Boiler Room Sessions that signaled to the rest of South Africa and the world that his was no ordinary dance 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.” A year later he released his self-titled EP through London label Goon Club Allstars and DJ Lag’s ascendency into the upper rank of the global music scene properly began. Through hypnotic original tracks like “Ice Drop” and “Umlilo”, the music that DJ Lag told DJ Mag 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.
Aged just 21, in the closing months of 2016 DJ Lag made his international live music debut and since then he has played an impressive number of international dates (RedBull SonarDome at Sonar Barcelona, MELT Festival in Germany, Afropunk Atlanta, London’s Jazz Café) and is on the lineup of he Boiler Room Festival 2021 in London mid-October. Other highlights that showcase DJ Lag’s deep-seated creativity include the video for “Ice Drop” being shown 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
Although rightfully known as “the king of gqom”, DJ Lag is 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 produced “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 Nija, Busiswa, Yemi Alade, Tierra Whack and Moonchild Sanelly – was also included on Beyoncé’s Emmy award winning Black Is King visual album and its trailer.
An enviably innovative participant in the global scene – Pitchfork described him as an “international ambassador for the nerve-shredding thrills of gqom” – late 2021 sees DJ Lag once again mining exciting new music terrain. Releasing on November 5th, his debut full-length, Meeting with the King, is the sound of Gqom 2.0 that sees DJ Lag manifesting his recognition of gqom and Amapiano as sonic siblings and also drawing on Afro House and Afro Tech
Q&A with DJ Lag
How did your career in the industry begin?
I started making music in 2009, but as a producer initially. My cousin was a rapper and he needed someone to produce for him and I was keen. So, there I was, producing for him. This was the start of my journey to Gqom, a sound that at the time, was very different to everything else out there.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
My grandma always told me to respect everyone – I live by it.
Tell us something about yourself that nobody knows.
I like to laugh, it explains my love for comedy, and also, I really enjoy cooking.
What is your biggest career highlight so far?
My biggest highlight so far has been working with the queen – Beyonce. But amongst these highlights are opening for Tyler the Creator in New York city and playing back to back with Diplo in LA.
What projects are you currently working on?
I am always working to find fresh, exciting sounds. For now, once I release my album, I am going back to the studio to work on a few more tracks for the Deluxe version of the album which will be released in July.
Read more FAMEous Friends interviews here