Rudeboyz have all the makings of a kinda rags-to-riches story. Three friends who live on the same street in KwaDabeka in Durban, KZN, Massive Q, Menchess and Andile T, get together and start playing with a new experimental form of music called Gqom. They take their music to a small dive bar in the Durban CBD, 58 on Albany, and the crowd gets into it. That music takes off and they find themselves at the forefront of a new scene in their hometown. The three friends put their music on the internet and it gets found by a label in London. That label, Goon Club Allstars, then puts out the first ever Gqom record on vinyl and the Rudeboyz start to receive worldwide recognition with media buzz from the big names like The Guardian, Boiler Room and Vice. Next comes the fame and the fortune right?
No. Well, not just yet. Maybe soon, but that all depends…
By now, half of Durban and most South African music aficionados with internet access – or, apparently, a phone with Bluetooth – have at the very least heard of the Rudeboyz. Hell, you might be one of their fans, you’ve probably tweeted about how much you love Gqom, but maybe you’ve never actually been to a Gqom gig. That might not be all your fault though.
“In Durban, I won’t lie to you, our fan base support us, big time. You can put us anywhere in Durban and if Rudeboyz are playing, it’s going to be packed. It’s just that the sponsors or people who do events don’t involve us.” Massive Q told me. It seems that despite their underground success and love from the internet, the bigger promoters aren’t giving Rudeboyz a chance to shine in their hometown. Durban has always been like that though. As Massive Q (real name, Lionel Msabala) puts it “People from here focus more on things from outside of here and people from outside of here focus on things coming from here. It’s a problem.”
According to Rudeboyz, Gqom came out of Broken Beat in 2012 and was a way for Rudeboyz to stand out of the pack. They were developing the sound out of Broken Beat alongside DJ Lag, Sbucardo and Xtra Large, amongst others. “At that time we were competing with people who were major in Durban. We wanted to be ahead of them, we wanted to be the new art of Durban. So actually we wanted to be above them. The music that we did, we did it to create a new experience for new people, a new-age sound. The three of us did it. If we were alone, we couldn’t have done it.“ Massive Q tells me. Now though, the pack wants to stand out from them. Even though there are now producers in the Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga, many of the early Gqom producers in Durban have moved on to new sounds. Andile T (aka Andile Gumede) breaks it down like this “The genre has changed. 2012, 2013, 2014, Gqom was being pushed. Everyone is trying to do their own thing now. They’re seeing us doing Gqom so they want to get away by doing something else.”
It’s a strange dichotomy. While Rudeboyz have been interviewed on radio, their music isn’t played on the radio. The promoters know them and that they pull crowds, but don’t book them. And while they have a record out on a London label, they haven’t seen how a London audience reacts to their music. When I asked them how they feel about their music being a thing overseas, Menchess (aka Menzi Ndumi) replied “Eish, brah, we don’t even believe it. We want to see it for ourselves. Are we really being played there? We must get more gigs in UK and see for ourselves. But we’re really crazy about it. The idea that a song came from here and it’s now being played in the UK or France even. We’re excited about it, brah, we’re excited about it.”
It seems absurd that Gqom is a thing in London but according to this article by The Guardian, “gqom’s sharp kickdrums and shadowy atmospherics share a synchronicity with Chicago footwork and London’s grime” that give it it’s foreign appeal. In the article Jack Mumdance says he feels “Gqom is resonating with a UK audience as it harnesses a similar feeling to grime, while coming from an entirely different and completely independent angle.” Basically, they like it because it’s dark and fucking heavy but with off-kilter beats. It’s a sound that could only originate from the townships of Durban but it resonates overseas because it’s both strange and familiar.
The Con debated whether there was an exploitative nature to the relationship between Europe and Gqom that brought up some great points; one of which questioned dipping into underground South African music culture and making money off of it in a whole other scene without investing in or contributing to the original culture. There are only 3 copies of Rudeboyz EP in South Africa and each of them belongs to one of the Rudeboyz. That the record isn’t even for sale in South Africa is a problem. They’re getting royalties from the sales overseas (plus cool points for releasing a new genre from a foreign country), but it would go a long way if they could distribute physical copies in South Africa. It’s a part of our music history but we have to import from overseas. Still, there is value in Rudeboyz expanding beyond Durban whether it’s through international releases or finding new audiences around the country. They’ve recently started throwing their own parties – the first one was at Kitcheners in Joburg – called “Gqom Gqom, Who’s There”, and their CTEMF debut was hyped to the max. If the Durban promoters won’t book them, then they’ll go where they’re wanted.
Rudeboyz want to make Gqom a global phenomenon made evident by Massive Q telling me he imagined a world where Beyonce is on a Gqom track. It’s a bold vision, and boldness has been what’s gotten many forms of South Africa’s music on the global radar. Gqom will grow thanks to the internet and foreign promoters, but will Rudeboyz and other originators in Durban be the poster kids for it or will European producers or other South African producers take up the mantle?
In a recent unrelated interview with True Africa, Cape Town’s live electronic music pioneer Sibot said “I would like to see a bunch of South African labels starting off and releasing music abroad. We need international labels to help but we need local labels to rep us too.” It’s imperative that South Africans nurture homegrown sounds so those sounds don’t get exploited at the artists detriment. There’s plenty to be gained by selling our music to the rest of the world, but who sells it really matters.
Watch closely where Rudeboyz go from here. You’re definitely going to be hearing a lot more from them, not just online but IRL too. They’re dedicated to pushing their music everywhere they can and they’ve picked up new management to help them get where they want to go. They’re currently on a Joburg tour where they’ve played some gigs, recorded a mixtape for Radio Comeme with Matias Aguayo and co., and worked on a collab with Stilo Magolide earlier this week. After chatting to them, there’s no doubt that they’re not going to stop until they take Rudeboyz and Gqom as far as they can go. How far they go will be very telling of the possibilities and limitations of the regional music circuit to support hard-working and pioneering artists, but that progress will most certainly be interesting.