Gqom: The rise of a subculture


Gqom Wave

Available on Apple Music

Produced by DJ Maphorisa (who also released an accompanying track), Gqom Wave is a 15-minute documentary that sees a panel of producers and deejays discuss the importance of this new movement. While the genre is receiving global attention from the likes of producers Swizz Beatz and Diplo, the doccie comes across as an attempt at selling the idea of gqom to the international market.

The panel describes this sound as an extension of house music, spawned in the townships of Durban. Most of the producers on this list say the genre uses dark nuances in terms of musical arrangement. This is interesting, considering gqom is thought of as being a happy-go-lucky form of music. If you listen closely to the music, you can hear those sinister effects before the drop.

The footage is shot in standard interview style, with cutaways from popular videos by the likes of Busiswa Gqulu, Distruction Boyz and Babes Wodumo – who gets an unexpected shoutout from a man who many would argue is the godfather of gqom, DJ Tira. He praises both Babes and her stable, West Ink Records.

The key to this genre is the drum signatures, which differ from those of contemporary house or even hip-hop.

However, the genre does take certain elements from hip-hop, like the break beat and the art of sampling. Have you ever noticed the looped “hey” that serves as a foundation to some of these beats? The most popular example of this type of looping can be found on hip-hop tracks like Tyga’s Rack City and Swizz Beatz’s Money in the Bank. That one word may be the only bit of sampling on a track, which then relies heavily on simple composition involving a drum that knocks hard, making a similar sound to the one heard when saying gqom.

Easier access to computer software like Pro Tools and Fruity Loops is in part responsible for the rapid rise of this movement. Dance is obviously a closely linked element and this doccie touches on some of the more popular moves associated with the sound, like the iconic vosho.

Gqom Wave is well shot. It represents the essence of the culture and provides insight into it. It plays out as if it’s paying homage to the wave as it grows bigger and reaches the stratosphere of global recognition.

Naturally this film is shot by Pilot Films, who must have monopoly rights to everything visual and related to gqom. On the whole, this is worth a watch. By the sounds of things, gqom is certainly on the rise locally and abroad.

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