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UE.18: OKZHARP & Ish

UE.18: OKZHARP & Ish
Adam Tiran

This week we’ve got a very special guest mix for you from two London-based DJs who make up an important part of the Atlantic connection between the UK and South Africa’s bass music scenes. 

Gerv, one third of genre-hopping Hyperdub stalwarts LV, has been steadily carving out a solo reputation as OKZHARP for the past few years with a series of staunch mixes that have looked to showcase dusty kwaito jams, often obtained on cassette from taxi drivers, and their increasingly housey manifestations.

Originally from Cape Town himself, Gerv’s roots have been the impetus for LV’s recent divergences into and fusions with the urban styles from his homeland that have become so incredibly widespread since the end of apartheid in 1990. Collaborations with MC Okmalumkoolkat on Boom Slang back in 2010 eventually gave birth to an entire album of kwaito-infused UK bass in 2012, Sebenza, which featured two other key members of the South African electronic scene, Spoek Mathambo and The Ruffest, and put kwaito on the UK map in a big way.

Going back to back with the LV man on this exclusive mix is a lady whose involvement in connecting the dots between the homologous sounds of Cape Town and London has been instrumental in the development of Cape Town’s burgeoning electronic scene. A London-born DJ and promoter first and foremost, Ishsha Bourguet aka Ish moved with her family to the Mother City in 2005 and quickly became immersed in the electronic world, bringing with her the then cutting edge South London sounds of proto-dubstep.

Soon after, along with her brother and another friend, Ish started Step Up, bringing over from the UK the likes of Kode9, Scratcha DVA, Mala, Oneman and LV themselves, in what must have been one of the first authentic dubstep nights to grace the sunny shores of Cape Town. Through a series of successful shows at Long Street’s infamous electronic stronghold Fiction Club, Ish simultaneously cemented her position in a small but nascent scene and maintained a bond with the Hyperdub family which, following a recent move back to London, has been reinforced, most emphatically with her new DJ partner.

Following mixes for Dummy, FACT and Blackdown, it’s an honour to be able to host the next of these fleeting appearances from OKZHARP, a mix which itself documents a new chapter in the sound of South Africa: gqom. But more on that later.

Stream the mix below or download here. Read on for our chat with OKZHARP & Ish ahead of the former’s appearance at fabric this Friday…

UE.18: OKZHARP & Ish by Urban Essence on Mixcloud


Gerv, you’re best known for your work with LV and Ish you’re extremely well connected to the South African bass scene. Tell us a bit about this new partnership. Where did it all begin?

Okzharp: We’ve known each other a while, I played at the party Ish was doing in Cape Town a few times. Then last year we did a couple of back to back sets at our friend’s party here in London. We had a good time and the music we were playing seemed to gel and it seemed like we were gravitating towards some of the same kinds of things. So we got together a bunch of our current favourite tracks and made a mix. A couple of surprises made it in.

Ish: I was promoting a night with some friends, we booked Gerv to play a couple of times, once with Scratcha DVA.. second visit was for 2 shows we were involved in, this time with Kode9 & Scratcha again, so it turned out to be a bit of a Hyperdub showcase really. We even got in the CPT Red Bull Music Studios together and attempted to make some music. I guess the rest is history. We kept in touch. Back in London we’ve played two b2b shows and after that we decided to do a mix together – it just seemed to work as we have a lot of fun and we get each other’s musical direction.

The mix takes in mostly kwaito, afrohouse and a bit of gqom. A lot of people won’t have any idea what gqom is or even how to pronounce it. Can you tell us a bit about this new urban sound that’s been gathering pace in Johannesburg and beyond?

Okzharp: The mix isn’t just SA stuff at all, at least that wasn’t really the intention. I was introduced to Gqom a few years ago by DJ ZharpZharp aka Okmalumkoolkat and DJ Spizee, both from Dirty Paraffin. They are based in Joburg now but they are both originally from Durban, and Gqom music is mainly out of the Durban and Limpopo rave scene. It’s quite hypnotic and edgy, all about the raw, dry percussive sounds. And there’s an anything-goes approach to sampling too, I have an amazing Gqom track that samples that same viral YouTube video of a guy crying as a recent DJ Rashad track.

Gerv, you’re playing fabric this Friday for the Hyperdub 10th birthday. It seems they are still keen to be pushing the new sounds of South Africa largely – how is it that they have become so in-tune with the scene over there?

Okzharp: I don’t know if Hyperdub is particularly in-tune with anything, not even itself! As a listener that’s one of the things I have come to love and respect about the label. I’ve heard Kode9 say that the compilations are a way of trying to retrospectively make a bit of sense out of the music they’ve released. So I’m not sure they’re really consciously pushing the sounds of South Africa, they’re just open to stuff wherever it’s from and they trust their instints. I’ve heard quite a few Hyperdub artists play SA tracks that I recognised, like I remember losing it when Cooly G casually dropped Terminator in one of her harder sets ages ago.

Ish, you’re a Londoner born and bred right? How did you come to be immersed so deeply in this burgeoning new South African scene?

Ish: Yeah, I moved to Cape Town when I was 18 & lived there for 8 years. Its quite funny, because the only reason I started Djing & promoting was mainly due to the fact I missed London & its sounds and there wasn’t anything else like it there at the time (musically & aside from anything jungle/D&B related anyway). Although our aim was to bring something new to SA streets, we were being taught something new at the same time too. We ended up combining the two together (without even realizing it) and before I knew it we were playing SA & UK beats together. It just worked and it still does. We started noticing that particular artist’s music that we were playing out was influenced by Kwaito and Afro rhythms etc too, guys like the Night Slugs crew, Hyperdub etc, then people like Skream, Ikonika & Mickey Pearce were doing official remixes of “Township Funk”. It was a natural progression, I just happened to be on the right side of the world whilst it was happening!

Do you have any plans to introduce London to this style? The affinity for bass music over here coupled with a sizeable South African population could see it crossover with not too much difficulty potentially..

Ish: Introduce isn’t really the right word as a lot of people here are very familiar with it. I  guess it’s something I’d like to see grow. Saying that though, its very culture driven and very much related to South Africa, so the experience here will never be the same as what you’d get in the townships. It’s not like anything else. And its very different to.. say.. dancehall and bashment, because the Caribbean community is so large and has been very influential on ‘British culture’ for so many years. We obviously dont have the same relationship with South Africa here.

How are the next few months looking for you both? Any gigs, releases or new endeavours on the horizon?

Okzharp: News soon on that front … but if people want me and Ish to come and bheng their dance with grimey Gqom heaters and slofast kwaigarage and other things .. they could get in touch.

Catch OKZHARP at fabric this Friday in Room 1 for the Hyperdub 10th birthday showdown.