The story of gqom, and of electronic music from Durban in general over the last half-decade or so, has been an impossibly good one. Or at least it should seem good, better than it should be, to anyone who has been watching the intricate dance of globalisation in world music (by which I mean music from the world and not “World Music”).
At one point, each time a new genre of music appeared on the scene, flashbacks and feelings that we’d seen the movie before often followed, a movie we knew the plot twists of far too well: excitement at a new sound emerging from somewhere “remote”, that sound being seen as underground while it actually thrives in its own spaces, European labels and fading personalities attaching themselves to the style in a bid for relevance and finally the formal handover of ownership to (at best) the “global” underground music scene or (at worst) Diplo.
The release last week of the Distruction Boyz’ debut album Gqom is the Future, though, represents the firm resetting of this script and all its tropes. The fact that the most popular gqom (or sghubu, depending on who you ask) song to date is still one coming from Durban – the Distruction Boyz-produced Babes Wodumo star-vehicle ‘Wololo’ – is immense. The fact that the producers of said song have been able to waylay its success into genuine hype for their own work is a minor miracle. That this is all still happening on their terms, with a style and musical sensibility they and their city own and control is amazing.
Even though Gqom is the Future is the duo’s debut album, it’s tracklisting and content plays more like the victory lap to a studied career win than anything else – reframing past successes and shining a light on future directions. Singles released way before any thought of an album came up (such as ‘2 O’Clock’) sit right besides obvious candidates for December anthems like label-pushed ‘Shut Up and Groove’. Rising but still underground artists like Tipcee and Prince Bulo feature alongside the Distruction Boyz’ new calibre of peers like DJ Tira.
While the project is called Gqom is the Future, the title ‘The Future of Gqom’ would have been just as apt. The album bobs and sways between templates that have come to define the genre – such as the signature darkness, austerity and broken beats – to the necessary expansions of this initial template that happened since the style first appeared. Overblown, staccato synths adorn late album highlights like ‘Last Kick’, while fleet-footed guitar noodling forms the basis of the opening track.
What this album is, though, is a dance record released just in time for the South African summer and the inevitable tour dates the Boyz will soon find themselves on – and in this specific task it succeeds without overstaying it’s welcome at only 13 songs.
The week before it’s release, Distruction Boyz went on a campaign asking South Africans to help the album go streaming gold on it’s release. It doesn’t seem an impossible bar to set, given their current and growing status, but when it does it will mark another high watermark for the genre, and it’s most celebrated ambassadors. Qgom really is the future, and long may it live.