Lelowhatsgood chats his bold creative spirit on debut project Next Level

If you know Lelowhatsgood (real name Ntsikelo Meslani) you’ll know that he’s been at the forefront of South Africa’s underground electronic scene for a while now. A pioneer of queer subculture, he has devoted himself to the creation of more inclusive, intersectional dance spaces in Johannesburg, championing the representation of queer creatives with events like Vogue Nights Jozi.

Embedded in drag and ballroom culture, the first of its kind in South Africa, Vogue Nights already gave us a taste of Meslani’s spirit for bold endeavours. Now, joining forces with Dee Traits, he has released his debut EP Next Level a genre-bending project dubbed Isqinsi for its seamless pairing of Gqom and EDM.

“The project started 2 years ago. At the time I had started making beats but I really wanted to shift my direction towards club music, nothing lo-fi,” says Lelo. “I had started connecting with Dee Traits who found me on Instagram and we started working on a collaborative project. We released “Demon’s Kiss” first to really test out the waters, and I think people really gravitated towards it.”

With softly melodic synths and a sharp bassline, the track showcases the duo’s capacity for creative restraint. There’s a minimalism to this that centres only the most essential percussive elements of the music. The rhythm is entrancing, spiralling towards an energetic Gqom-tech core.

Next Level also marks Lelo’s first foray into the realm of music production. “It was very eye-opening,” he tells me. “I think as time goes by and I put my focus on the next project, I’d love to be even more involved [in the production], especially with engineering in the studio – that’s such a skill I’m interested in. I’m looking forward to making music with more friends that I’ve made along the way too.”

Having previously collaborated with industry heavyweights DBN Gogo, Que DJ, DJ Sandiso, and Yanga Chief, Lelo is by no means out of his depth. In fact, this was the next natural step in his blossoming career.

Made for the dark heat of the dance floor, Next Level is a labour of collaboration, a perhaps overlooked quality that is central to Lelo’s practice. “Honestly, aura for aura if you must,” he tells me. “Tinashe asks if there’s anybody who can match my freak and I don’t see it in any other way, lol.”

“The people I’m surrounded by believe in paying forward, and it’s because we all support each other,” he says. Having grown a good reputation between the various cultural spaces he frequents, community is Lelowhatsgood’s greatest strength, and as these tracks begin to infiltrate clubs, their impact will be felt through sweaty, shaking unity.