Get Familiar: STATE OFFF
Interview by Passion Dzenga
Allow us to introduce STATE OFFF, an exceptional Gqom producer and DJ based in our home city of Amsterdam. Revered as the genre's "foremost curator," STATE OFFF has cemented a distinct reputation for his undeniable talent and passion for Gqom music. Hailing from Zimbabwe, STATE OFFF has embraced the infectious rhythms and unique sounds of Gqom, a genre originating from Durban, South Africa. With an innate ability to curate mesmerizing Gqom beats, STATE OFFF has captivated audiences with their electrifying performances and studio productions. Known for his club edits and meticulous attention to detail, STATE OFFF has masterfully crafted a signature sound that blends traditional Gqom elements with innovative sonic textures. His compositions not only pay homage to the roots of the genre but also push boundaries, forging new paths within the Gqom landscape.
As the genre's "foremost curator," STATE OFFF is dedicated to promoting and sharing the vibrant spirit of Gqom with the world. Their relentless pursuit of excellence has led them to collaborate with esteemed artists, both locally and internationally, elevating the genre's global reach. On the eve of his performance at Lente Kabient Festival on the kanaal40 stage, we caught up with STATE OFFF to get familiar with where he is and where is going.
How did you first become interested in producing and DJing Gqom music?
I began producing music when I was 18 starting with hip-hop beats, as a lot of young producers do, and I started producing Gqom around 2017 having fallen in love with the genre about five years prior and finally finding time to explore my own sound. I landed on edits being the primary way in which I could express my love for the genre while finding my footing as a producer.
Can you describe your creative process when producing a new track?
When making original music I come up with the song ideas in my day to day and I'll open my voice memo app and record that idea for a song. More often than not I will forget the song ideas when I sit in front of my computer but on the off chance that I do remember to open my voice memo app I will play the audio back and lay a track down in FL Studio, my DAW of choice. Gqom is a genre that relies heavily on sampling and for the Gqom that I make I use a sample pack by Durban producer Kiing Bhutie to make songs in the way that I think fits with where the genre is now and also is inline with where I'm taking my sound. When I'm making edits I first hear a song in any setting, sometimes in a restaurant, and think to myself, "this could really work nicely with a Gqom cadence." I'll then write this idea down in my notes app and typically the day after which is often a Sunday I will sit down and start to put a track together around the concept again in FL Studio.
What do you think sets your music apart from other Gqom producers?
DJ Waxfiend said it so succinctly, my sound is unique because of my exposure to global club music in Europe and I think that's what sets me apart from other producers.
Your debut EP, "GQOM TODAY," has been described as introducing a futuristic take on the dark, minimalist sound. Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind the EP?
I wanted to make the Gqom Today project come to life because I felt the world needed to hear what Gqom sounded like outside of the bubble that had been created by their insistence on club promoters to book one or two globally-visible Gqom artists consistently over the past years. It was my thinking that in order for the genre to grow and become a mainstay in global club culture there needed to be more faces visible in order for it to be taken seriously as a genre that could find its peers in evergreen genres such as techno and house music. I owed it to the world, based on my proximity to the culture and the music, to create a platform for the artists I felt were driving a new sound and hero the innovators pushing the genre forward. Artists like Omagoqa, Kiing Bhutie, ZVRI, DJ Emotic, DJ Alpha and Dee Traits.
You have played at some iconic Amsterdam venues and events, such as Paradiso, Garage Noord, Appelsap, and Melkweg. What has been your most memorable performance so far, and why?
I have so far enjoyed my performance for Tribes at Paradiso on the 1st of January in the Grote Zaal the most. It was something that I had been wanting to tick off my career bucket list for quite a while and I'm again grateful for the opportunity to close one of my favourite parties on such a grand level. I also really enjoy every time I play Kanaal40, I love how the crowd is always open to new sounds and trust the DJs to take them to a place they have never been to, one they will undoubtedly call home the next time they hear it. Internationally, getting to play Tresor in Berlin for BPM has been my biggest milestone to date and quite possibly my favourite crowd so far, I'll never forget the energy in the room when I played my closing track.
As a Gqom producer and DJ based in Amsterdam, how do you see the genre evolving in the global music scene?
I have a show called GQOM TODAY on Oroko Radio whose purpose is to highlight and give a platform to the Gqom producers around the world that are creating music either directly inspired by or within the same vein as Gqom. I think the future of the genre will be one that, for lack of better phrasing, will be decentralised. Gqom has the potential to become a staple in clubs and this resurgence would be driven by producers around the world that take learnings from the genre's sonic leaders such as DJ LAG and Que in expanding on the potential of the genre.
Who are some of your musical influences, both within and outside of Gqom?
I really enjoy listening to DJ LAG every time I have the opportunity. I really love how he's been able to stay ahead of the curve so late in the game and consistently demonstrate his capabilities as an innovator. I also, in the same breath, appreciate the stylings of Vigro Deep, one of Amapiano's most innovative artists who has consistently pushed the envelope in that regard. I'm also obviously inspired by genres such as Baile Funk, Jersey Club and Drum and Bass, you can hear this in the music I've released as well as in my music that's still yet to find its way to dance floors.
How does your heritage show in the expression that you have?
I come from a culture, the Ndebele people of Zimbabwe, that places a high importance on percussion and drum-led rhythms and this shows in both my affinity for Gqom as well as my production style. It also shows in the kinds of music that I play, rhythm is always a very important factor as well as the ability for the drums to connect with one's spiritual core.
Can you walk us through a typical day in the life of State OFFF, from waking up to going to bed?
I work on several projects at any given time and a day in the life of State OFFF at present involves waking up; having breakfast (I'm big on breakfast) and having an espresso. I then get to responding to emails (I am a creative technologist and I have several artistic collaborations going on) so I will typically have meetings during the day to coordinate all activities around the successes of each respective project. As a buffer, I find time to produce music later in my day (around 6pm) and towards the end of the day, which for me starts around 10pm, I write code for the different projects I'm working on, usually until 2am.
You work also with technology, what projects have you worked on recently?
I built a version of a Metaverse that is decentralised and uses dance as a means of forming connections for people in both physical and remote locations and have been working with a talented group of people as part of a project called the Toolkit for the Inbetween to run workshops on human digitisation that culminate in dance parties happening within this Metaverse environment.
I'm also working with Prospektor, Cigdem Yuksel, and affect lab on a project called Ctrl. Alt. Img. that brings to light the effects of media biases in generative machine learning models such as Dalle-2 and Stable Diffusion. Part of which is an interactive installation (my first) that I've been working towards debuting in Hamburg next month.
What was the inspiration behind the virtual club project that you worked on?
What was the inspiration behind the virtual club project that you worked on?
My practice explores the nexus of emerging technology and the needs of underrepresented communities, most recently exploring the concept of the Metaverse and what it means for people who do not have access to the devices that a lot of the big tech companies driving the narrative around the Metaverse are insisting are necessary. I work on finding ways in which I can connect people who grew up where I did, the poorer parts of the world, to this global conversation around different ways of connecting digitally and finding low-fidelity ways in which people can form connections in meta environments. I am deliberate about doing so in a way that doesn't require proprietary platforms or devices and caters to people with limited access to the internet, you can learn more about it here.
What role does collaboration take in your creativity process?
I'm very cautious about collaboration because my calling professionally has been one that has to hero underrepresented people, almost primarily black people, in tech spaces in which have never catered to them by default. Collaboration for me has to happen in a safe context that takes into consideration why my work is important because a lot of people don't understand why it is important that the first AI use case for desirable tech must centre around the needs of, for example, a geriatric nursing home in Zimbabwe. I try to create in isolation as much as possible because of how political my work is and only collaborate with people on work that I feel shares the same goals as mine or allows me to expand on my practice in a way that will then ultimately increase my capabilities to support my community.
You are not creating in isolation when it comes to music, what artists are around you and who should we be looking out for?
I'm absolutely loving the music that Jailo is putting out, he's definitely number one on my radar of artists to watch. I also am enjoying Lamsi's music and I'm really grateful to have recently found an opportunity to work with him. I'm of course always inspired by artists and DJs such as Half Queen, Bambii, Jarreau Vandal, DJ LAG, Juba, ZVRI, and Uniiqu3 in both my production process as well as in how I structure my DJ sets.
You play at Lente Kabinet in just a few days, what can we expect from your show?
Expect a lot of new music that I've been working on specifically for the set, expect the closest feeling to summer you'll get.