A Journal Of The Dark Arts
You know the game ‘dominos’? How all the effects have when we are falling and we all are effected? That’s what I wanted to do with my music. Once i affect one person, they can tell everybody, and it will have a domino effect on my music.
– Dominowe – FACT Magazine Interview
House Music might have come farther from its lowdown origins in a Southside Chicago warehouse. What once was a soundtrack for queers, punks, disco queens, and inner city residents would go on to become the soundtrack for white sand beaches, palm trees, white sneakers – the very height of lifestyle accessory. Stripping it from the people who created it, of course. (as always)
For those that like to boogie, gliding on an air cushion over bouncing, backlit dancefloors, this simply is not acceptable. Many offshoots and permutations of House have emerged, in the 21st century – knackered, lo-fi, outsider. Some of it is good, some of it is abysmal.
Gqom (also called igqom), and the attendant ‘sgubhu’ styles, however, is THE BEST.
Gqom is a drum-heavy form of South African house music that doesn’t really sound like house at all. Rather, it sounds like some kind of futuristic drum circle beneath a freeway overpass, with Zulu warriors in neon and day-glo singing their praises to the old gods.
Dominowe is a producer from Durban, South Africa, and one of the emerging emissaries of the Gqom Oh label. ‘Africa’s Cry’ opened up last year’s spectacular compilation Gqom Oh! The Sound Of Durban compilation, calling the corners and summoning the circle with banshee-like wails and dry, digital beats. ‘Africa’s Cry’ sounds more like Raime jamming with tribal warriors and gangsters firing weapons into the air than Frankie Knuckles or, Goddess forbid, Deep Forest. That’s a lot of what’s so great about Gqom, and Dominowe in particular.
SiyaThakatha (which translates to ‘witches’) continues and develops on ‘Africa Cry’s’ template, with spartan, simple beats layered to mind-boggling complexity, which are then overlaid with traditional chants and cries of the Zulu Nation.
According to Dominowe, in that FACT Interview linked above, he “just wanted to tell different stories,” calling up the traditional music of his surroundings, to represent, broadcast, and spread the Durban seed. It makes all the difference in the world – leagues and millenia away from the bullshit globe-hopping appropriation of the mid-to-late-90s, which often has all the charm and cheer of an inquisition or a colonial invasion, in retrospect.
Of course, a producer’s samples or backstory don’t matter one lick, when it comes to listen or freak out on the dance floor. Dominowe dominates in that department, with a stripped-back, drum-heavy pallet, where everything has its place, sublime sequences for maximum panic and dancefloor mayhem. Take ‘Umzabalazo’, the second track in, built around a tick-tock tom-tom and one lone, thudding kick drum – heavier than Haphaestus wearing lead underwear. Rather than remaining static (and boring), like many digital producers are happy to do, Dominowe’s drums are constantly shifting, evolving, and morphing, going from a simple 8th note pulse, to a funky syncopation, finally erupting in a coiled, freneted dotted 32nd. Just try to stand still, i dare you. This music gets inside yr bones, speaking to yr DNA, making yr blood sing.
It’s not all grim militarism or dark forest magick, either; ‘Bhenga Nezinja’ (feat. Chaotic Boiz) brings in a bit of melody, with a two-note keyboard riff looped to abstraction, like some intrusive memory, while distant vocals murmur in the distance. There’s also the three bonus digital tracks, starting with ‘Club Killer’, which carries on the disembodied bass and low-slung kick drums but pairs it with a warm, nearly-emotive synth melody that still somehow also sounds like sonar from the bottom of the Marianas Trench. ‘Instrumental’ sounds like Dominowe taking on dubsteppy trap music, finally culminating in ‘City Rise’, which sounds almost downright cheerful – kind of like Carnival Season, but maybe in 2046.
At a mere 18 years old, Dominowe is almost humble to a fault. In that FACT Interview linked at top, he speaks of his origin story, talking about how he “was just making music for his friends and for Facebook,” and he was more surprised than anybody when it caught the ears and feet of overseas DJs and dancers.
He needn’t be. There’s never any way to predict how popular one’s own music will be, but he’s surfing the Zeitgeist like none other, at this particular moment. This rambling writer, for what it’s worth, predicts that we’ll see more and more of these micro-scenes and regional movements will catch on, as we continue to be overwhelmed by the immensity of the mainstream.
SiyaKatha is out now on Gqom Oh as a digital download. The vinyls are already gone – sorry folks!
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Tune into every Sunday night/Monday morning for Morningstar: The Light In The Darkness @ Freeform Portland! Exploring the dark side of techno, hip-hop, shoegaze, metal, psych, folk, and soundtrack. You can listen to the archives online at mixcloud.com/for3stpunk.