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ARTICLE
By Mandla Sibanda.
My very first vinyl was the theme tune for Thunderbirds Five. If you remember this, please message me on Instagram, we’ve got a lot to catch up on!

As a kid I loved listening to pirate radio, with both famous and up-and-coming DJs who introduced me to new tracks and remixes. Listening to the way their DJs blended tunes was amazing. I loved that two tracks could be put together and sound like one. I also loved the MCs, the shout-outs and their MCing over tracks. Some of them were really creative and even made sound effects with their mouths, they inspired me so much. My mum used to say, “what is that rubbish you are listening to, it sounds like noise!” It's funny that I now think that about some of the new tracks I hear!

At the age of 14, I would to go to my friend's house after school and sometimes during lunch break. He was the only person I knew with a set of decks at home. They were belt-drive turntables and even then were borderline antiques.

The mixer had wooden edges and an analogue sound level meter, so you know it was old. But we were just having fun playing our favourite old-school garage records which we had bought with saved-up pocket money. This is where my love for DJing was cemented. It’s also where my DJ name came from. My friend’s mum would tell me “you are always around here playing on those decks 24-7”. Hence, 2FOUR7.

We were well known in our area and got our first paid booking playing at a friend's house party for her 16th birthday. It seems crazy that we took turntables, mixers, amplifiers and speakers on a bus and got paid almost nothing, but we loved it and felt like celebrities. We also used to go to a local youth club and would practice with other up-and-coming DJs.

During one summer, our youth club was trying to fund raise for a trip to France, so we organised an under-18 event for local schools and colleges. This was the first time I saw my name on a flyer and it gave me a massive confidence boost.

This was how my DJ career got started, but it was my sister that gave me a leg up. I told her all about my DJing passion and how I was going to become a superstar DJ. After talking her ears off for hours and hours, she kindly offered to give me some money so that I could pursue my dream and get my own DJ equipment. I bought a pair of Numark Axis 9s, a cheap 2-channel mixer and a CD duplicator (which came in handy years later). And this kit got a lot of use – I remember when up to ten of us would be in my small one-bed box room, DJing and MCing, just like the pirate radio stations.

So now I was a little celebrity, I decided to have my own club night, which I held in Shoreditch and which was called ‘Milk and Honey’. The social media ‘My Space’ was big at the time, and I used that a lot to help promote the event. I also distributed a lot of flyers in the local area,and told all my friends and family. The turnout was terrible, I ended up getting embarrassingly drunk before the night had ended. The next day, all thoughts of becoming a superstar DJ went out the window, I was going to give it all up, my self-esteem was on the floor. I started drinking and became a bit of a recluse, I felt that everyone was laughing at me behind my back.

The turning point was probably when a local youth club got in contact as some of the kids who attended knew I was a DJ. They asked if I could provide some DJ classes. This in turn led to me becoming a youth worker. Fast forward 20 years and in my day job I’m a youth counsellor for hard-to-reach young people in secondary education. My role is very fulfilling as I can relate to many of the experiences young people face in the area I grew up in, North London. In some of my sessions, I use music and DJing as a way of self-expression, and escapism from the issues they face.

Anyway, back to my DJ journey. I was DJing regularly in bars and clubs in and around London. The idea of having my own club night returned, but I wanted to be different from all the other promoters, and I obviously needed a better strategy than my last attempt. This was the starting point of ‘Team Pac Distribution’. I created a new way to promote club nights, using packs and flyers for upcoming events.

(I must thank my friends, my family, and also the kids at the youth clubs I worked at for helping me put my packs together.) This is how my CD duplicator was put to work. I made mix CDs and put one in each pack, the secret winning ingredient was the addition of a sweet in each pack.

Party goers couldn’t help themselves when they saw our charismatic team with matching t-shirts and jackets outside their favourite venues. At the time, I was already working closely with name-brand promoters and spoke to them about this new advertising opportunity. We distributed around 3,000 units each weekend and did additional advertising via Blackberry messenger, something that was popular at the time. The promotors bought in, and having my events aligned with more prominent names was a clever move for Team Pac Distribution.
I named our event ‘Purity’,
a smart dress night club event, playing house and garage in one room, and hip hop and RnB in the other. Our brand was known for hosting events in prestigious and elegant venues and we had several successful club nights in Essex and East London. Hosting our events got the brand and also my name out there, we even had a few celebrities attend which propelled my career and in turn attracted more people to our nights.

Community has always been at the heart of what I do. For me, bringing people together is what it’s all about. I once wanted to do a family outdoor event, which I called ‘Jerk and Drinks’ - this was about delicious barbequed jerk chicken, good music and chilled vibes. I created a Facebook event page which went viral (it’s amazing what the words “free chicken” can do). The numbers were insane. The police and local authority heard all about it and got in touch, threatening to shut the event down. This meant we had to scale it down and also change venue, from Finsbury Park to a local community park. The events went well and further secured my name in my community as someone who always gives back.

Shortly after starting those events up, I secured a place on House FM hosting a weekly radio show. This opened even more doors for me; the bookings started coming in, I became a resident DJ with the brand ‘Back to 95’ and was booked at the Ministry of Sound, We Are Festival, Groove Odyssey in Ibiza and 51st State Festival, to name a few.

Always looking for more, I then wanted to do my own festival. Never one to take the easy route, like a day festival or even something in the UK, instead, a full-on five day extravaganza in Malta.
With a small team of just me, my partner (Lucy) and my then business partners, we named the event ‘Chasing the Sun’. This was held in a huge water park with its giant wave pool and waterslides.

We booked headline acts, flew them over, and advertised in the UK and Malta. We wrote and signed contracts with artists, and set up with sound and drinks companies in another country a long way from home. Even having to get insurance for an event on this scale was all very new, we were doing things we had never done before and just learning on the fly. Despite how I made it look on social media, our event didn’t do well financially, and we lost a lot of money.
Nothing is worse than walking around your huge event with a fake smile, knowing that you are losing thousands of pounds each and every hour. Returning to the UK financially crippled, my self-esteem was low and my mental health took a battering. I was in a lot of debt and fell into a deep state of depression.

I knew I had to reset and refocus, and fitness played a big part in helping me build back. I started going to the gym and I got into boxing classes. The boxing class played drum and bass music during the workout. Me being me, I asked the trainer if I could DJ during one of the classes. A new brand called ‘2FOUR7 Pop-up’ was born.
I built a full battery-powered compact and mobile DJ setup. I then spent hours on Instagram messaging gyms all over the place, letting them know about this brand-new concept, perfect for any gym. Soon, I was DJing at a number of them, playing high-energy music in all sorts of classes. It was soon after this that the first lockdown happened, we were all housebound. Lucy and I started doing live workouts from home using the 2FOUR7 pop-up platform.

We also started our family with the addition of a son, he would sometimes feature in our videos! When lockdown rules were relaxed we invited personal trainers to our house to make content for YouTube and Instagram.

Around this time, I was also DJing in various parks with my portable DJ setup and on one occasion did a set in London Fields, Hackney. We were still in a kind of lockdown, bars and pubs could open but only serve drinks from their doors or windows. Incredibly, what started as DJing to a few people in less than 1 hour, turned into a mini-festival with over 1,000 people all having a great time.

It was insane. It even ended up on the news and got painted in a bad light due to restrictions at the time. A lot of people understood I was just trying to bring some hope and joy during what were still uncertain times. But as you can imagine, a lot of people were completely against the whole idea and were hammering my social media pages. I made a public apology in an attempt to quieten things down.

Still with a lot of debt from the Malta festival, I was on the lookout for ways to earn extra income to start paying back what I owed, I got added to a DJ WhatsApp group where bookings were being shared. This led me to DJ in places that wouldn’t have been reachable before, such as a fish and chip shop in Soho, a silent disco night in a mansion and a Brighton casino. And then I got to do a whole new thing. It was an opportunity to play at a wedding with a band who needed a DJ. This is when I started working with ‘The London Function Band’ and I started to regularly DJ with them.

Social media has always been a big part of my life: Snapchat characters (that’s a whole other story), Instagram and YouTube, I’ve always loved making content. I started getting enquiries from Instagram about playing at weddings as a solo DJ. This is when ‘2FOUR7 Events Group’ was born, we offer a wide range of entertainment for private hire events and hosting, mainly for weddings. Our group collaborates with saxophone players, bongo players, live singers, LED dance floor companies, photo booths, plus many more. This helps me to offer my clients much more, while assisting others to get work they might not have got on their own.

During the last few years I’ve learned a lot from some of the American DJs on YouTube, and I have recently started my own journey online sharing my knowledge with others. I now use TikTok which is slightly differently from Instagram, I build reels that showcase what I do. I believe I have a lot of knowledge that others can benefit from, and the feedback tells me that new DJs sometimes get inspiration from my output.

More recently, I have been doing product reviews, unboxing videos and I do a weekly live show (the 2FOUR7 Download Show) where I discuss various topics important to the DJ community. I’m a firm believer that you must never stop growing and learning. I have attended SEDA meet-ups, Pro Mobile conference, the UK Black Business Show and the Photo Booth Expo Europe this year. I’ve learned a lot in a relatively short space of time though I know I still have lots to learn and I have far to go.

My journey has been a hell of a rollercoaster with huge highs and extreme lows, but I look back with a sense of achievement, even the loss-making Malta festival. I’ve done so much but I’m excited at what’s to come. I have no doubt that there is a lot more craziness to get involved in, my brain is always coming up with new, exciting ideas which keeps life interesting!

A question I’m always asked is how I have so much energy. Writing this profile has answered that question for the first time. I’m happy to be alive, every day is an opportunity to experience new things and push boundaries. Being able to meet new people, bring others together to learn, to grow or just to have fun. I love quality time with my friends and family who I love dearly, and I enjoy reminiscing about the old days and attacking life’s many new challenges. Mostly, I get my energy from being grateful!
The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 122, Pages 14-20.
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