Dbn Gogo mixes a shot of Hennessey with a Fitch & Leedes tonic. “Something ain’t right,” she laughs after taking a sip. She adds more tonic and mixes the concoction with her ring finger.
“Where do you want to do this?” she asks.
Choosing to conduct an interview at Rockets in Bryanston, on the first Friday night of the month, is not ideal because the venue is loud and overflowing. In addition to hosting a dinner crowd, the restaurant-cum-bar has to accommodate the surge of partygoers with fresh pay cheques who would protest if management were asked to lower the volume of the music.
“Should we try the balcony?” Under any other circumstances, we would be having this conversation over breakfast when the acoustics and daylight are more receptive to a one on one. But when, like Dbn Gogo, you have “16 back-to-back gigs to play at” over a weekend, that time is set aside for sleep.
Since 2017, Mandisa Radebe — aka Dbn Gogo — has taken on the civic task of meeting the dance floor needs of South Africans with her unrelenting enthusiasm behind the decks.
During her varsity days at the University of Pretoria, Dbn Gogo saw an opening in the club scene. “I used to party a lot … Guest DJs would come in and they sucked, I thought I could do better,” she says before sipping her drink.
Unfortunately, she had nowhere to practice until five years later. “DJ Venom was like ‘I play at Stones in Melville, just come practice’,” she says. Dbn Gogo explains how he would leave her to “fiddle and figure” things out between 8pm and 10pm before people came in. “He showed me the basics — we had five proper lessons,” she says.
Being from Durban and living in Pretoria, Dbn Gogo’s blend of house, gqom and amapiano sets are influenced by the sonic culture of the places she navigates. “It depends on what time I’m playing and how the promoter sold the event and what the other entertainment for the night looks like,” she says.
The first matter we discuss after settling down is her idea of what’s missing from the DJ industry. Dbn Gogo rolls her eyes and says, “We need more women.” She swirls her drink and explains how this goes beyond the need for feminist transformation in the club scene. “Men are boring,” she scoffs. “Women have a better work ethic. Men get away with doing the same thing all the time. We don’t have that luxury.” Co-founder of Pretoria’s groove stronghold, Homecoming Events, Katlego Malatji attests to this, saying Dbn Gogo’s “drive is currently unmatched, she wants this more than anybody”.
When she gets behind the decks, Dbn Gogo puts on a performance. In between transitioning from track to track, Dbn Gogo hypes up her crowd by leading them in an impromptu choreography. The unconscious way in which she moves while working speaks to how she studies the music she selects.
This is because she doesn’t really prepare her sets beforehand. “I come knowing all the songs I could play; then I read the room before I press play,” she says. “She’s evidently passionate about her craft and that always captivates a crowd. She can read a crowd and elevate them based on where she found them, its like magic,” adds Malatji who gave Dbn Gogo her first paying gig at Tshwanefontein.
Today Dbn Gogo got to Rockets at 7pm even though her set is at midnight. “I just came to hang out and catch the vibe,” she says. However she’ll be leaving soon. Before her set at Rockets she has to go to Zone 6 in Soweto to play another, and this after playing at the Rage in the City Festival at Constitution Hill earlier in the day.
During these intervals Dbn Gogo hypes up her colleagues by responding with her signature ghetto bourgeoisie “the aim is not to sweat” dance moves. One of the most popular moves coined by Dbn Gogo is the #Glazzoff. First she places the base of a champagne flute in her mouth. She tilts her head upward, looking up at the flute in what looks like adoration, then swings from side to side while balancing the drink. Since its debut earlier this year, the dance move has become an Instagram challenge sensation that can be seen on Dbn Gogo’s profile.
With a strong upwards trajectory and a growing demand for her presence, Dbn Gogo gets by with the management assistance of music agency, Nokturnvl, together with Moonchild Sanelly, Langa Mavuso and Asap Shembe. While they book a lot of her gigs, she also attributes a portion of her booked-and-busy nature to her social media presence and having friends who “work in very cool places”.
By the time the rain gets too hard for us to stay out on the balcony, we have reverted to discussing being a woman in the industry. “Before all of those things, being a DJ is hectic, my dear,” she sighs. With so many bookings to fulfil and the need to go the extra mile to prove that she belongs, Dbn Gogo takes only one day off a week.
“My ears are always ringing, I take in a lot of energy when I’m up there. It’s a lot for my mind and my body to process,” she says. What makes it worth the weight is her love for the party scene. “I can’t get enough of our ‘gaan aan’, our need to keep going and how we make ourselves feel better through partying,” she says.