I’m originally from Cape Town, South Africa, and growing up as child in the 70s, access to the music I loved was somewhat restricted by the state-controlled media. Luckily, my English mother and her friends were into more progressive music than what was being played on the radio in South Africa, and I could be found listening for hours to anything from Queen to The Beatles and Pink Floyd to Led Zeppelin.
Mine is typical of many DJ’s starting point, I already had a massive obsession for music and started collecting vinyl at a very young age. My first ever album was ‘C’est Chic’ by Chic and my second was ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ by the Sex Pistols and from these early days I’ve striven to seek out the best music from every genre.
There comes a time in teenagers’ lives when they want to start having parties and they need someone to play the music. I was always the natural choice in my peer group – the spotty, speccy geek sitting quietly in the corner but with all the latest tunes. I absolutely loved it, for no other reason than being able to share my music. I relished getting the chance to introduce my friends to new tracks that I’d hunted out on my very regular visits to the records shops (in fact every day after school I would drop into one or another record shop on the way home … if I wasn’t going surfing!
At the age of 15 I set up my first mobile disco with two of my best school friends, Carl and Neil. We built our own console using Garrad decks, speaker boxes and basic lights. Our long suffering parents then spent almost every weekend fetching and carrying us to various house parties, school halls and Scout huts. As our reputation built we were even asked to DJ at weddings and other ‘grownup’ parties. Having started at such a very young age, by the time I left school and went to University at 18, I was already a seasoned pro!
I entered University to study law and at the same time was asked to audition as the resident DJ for a new nightclub that was opening in Cape Town. I got the job and was involved in programming one of the most musically progressive clubs ever seen in South Africa – ‘The Mix’. I then proceeded to work in the best nightclubs in Cape Town and during that period was cited as being ‘the best DJ in South Africa’. I played four nights a week for an average of ten hours a night, with my sets ranging from Post Punk, early Electronica, Electro, Reggae, African music, Funk, Disco and early House in ’86 – there were no musical boundaries, if the music was good, it got played.
So, how did I end up in the UK? To cut a long story short, and without being too political, at the time all white males in South Africa had to undergo compulsory military service, which only served the interests of the white minority regime and whose goals and beliefs were the complete opposite of my own. In January 1987 I found myself in the UK with a bag full of South African records and a hope that I could share my music in a new land. I applied for, and was granted, political refugee status based on the fact that I had been an activist in South Africa fighting against the apartheid government.
Although I tried, I found it very hard to get DJ work in the UK, and it possibly didn’t help me that a certain Spitting Image song was doing the rounds! I still pursued music and immersed myself by attending as many live gigs as possible seeing some amazing bands such as The Pixies, Jesus and Mary Chain and Burning Spear. I also regularly attended some of the original Acid House/Balearic clubs in London such as ‘Future’, ‘Love At The Wag’ and ‘The Trip’.
A trip to Manchester and ‘The Hacienda’ in 1989 resulted in an epiphany and within three months I found myself living there. ‘Madchester’ was just kicking off in a city that was undergoing major transformations and I found myself at the centre of another significant youth movement as I now had a women’s clothing unit at the uber-cool ‘Affleck’s Palace’. I could be found at The Hacienda at least three nights a week or at various live music gigs around the city.
I started DJing and promoting nights and in 1991 founded ‘Luvdup’ along with a likeminded music obsessive Adrian Gent, thus becoming the ‘Luvdup Twins’. We strove to go musically where others feared to tread, whilst continuing the values that if the tune was good, we’d play it, without following fashion. Music that could be heard in the early days of Luvdup ranged from Italo Piano Anthems, Balearic Belters, Gay Disco and I wasn’t adverse
to throwing in The Knack’s ‘My Sharona’ from time to time! We became known for huge end of the night mega anthems created by mixing two copies of the same tune by such artists as Madonna and Duran Duran. What started off as a very small night for friends soon exploded after a chance meeting with the editors of ‘The Face’ and ‘ID Magazine’ on a clubbing trip to Amsterdam. They loved the concept of Luvdup and started to feature us regularly, which really launched us, especially when the students came back at the start of a new academic year.
‘The Venue’, our new fortnightly home, had queues around the block and we began to create a real buzz with a progressive guest DJ and live act policy. We gave The Chemical Brothers their first ever live gig, when they were known as Ariel, and we were at the heart of the Balearic network. Our attention to detail and our aim to create an event experience meant that we would spend hours decorating the club and did things like handing out free lucky bags full of handmade heart pendants, sweets and general fun items.
We soon came to the attention of other promoters across the country, which led to Adrian and I playing out on the guest DJ circuit. We secured monthly residencies at some very high profile nights and even started our own bi-monthly residency at ‘The Milk Bar’ in London. This led to bookings further afield and I have been fortunate to have played in almost every corner of the world on numerous occasions as well as almost every notable club in the UK.
We were then asked to go into the studio to do a remix and out of these sessions came our debut single ‘Good Time’, which became Pete Tong’s ‘Essential New Tune’. Following this we were signed to Warner Bros. as artists and had a very successful remix career twiddling the dials for artists such as M People, Charlatans, Womack and Womack, Corona and many more. We also put together some commercially available mix CDs, put out by Fantazia, and I’m the proud owner of a couple of gold discs for the sales of these.
By 2003 I was starting to see a shift in the music scene, Adrian and I had parted ways and I knew it was time for a new challenge. I moved back down to London after answering an advert in ‘Music Week’ for a Project Manager to run a new business delivering music video compilations to DJs – I got the job and MixMash was born.
From humble beginnings MixMash became Europe’s market leader within 18 months and forged new ground in many areas. The brand is now at the forefront of the global video DJ scene, with many innovative initiatives aimed at assisting video DJs. Our core customer base at MixMash has always been mobile DJs, so I started to have daily contact with them as well as keeping up with current trends through this esteemed publication. Running MixMash also opened up my eyes to a broad range of music once again, after being consumed with dance music for so many years, and I have great fun and pleasure researching and putting the compilations together. Ithe meanwhile I continued to DJ, creating my own events and teaming up with Adrian again to do private boat parties and the odd festival. Then, about 5 years ago, I was asked to DJ at a wedding at ‘The Zetter’ hotel in London. I relished the chance to go back to my roots and thoroughly enjoyed the evening – so did the hotel and they asked me to become their resident DJ covering all their weddings and corporate functions on the spot!
I continued to DJ at The Zetter and as my reputation began to spread through word of mouth I was asked to DJ at more and more events and weddings. My naturally entrepreneurial brain saw an opportunity to create another business out of my lifelong passion for music, DJing and managing events, which led to the birth of ‘Mighty Fine Entertainment’. I’m in the enviable position of having being voted in the ‘Top 25 DJs In The World’ by readers of DJ Magazine and this has really helped in the marketing of the business as I use it as a unique selling point.
One of the underlying principles of Mighty Fine is quality and, with this in mind, I have invested in top-of-the-range sound and lighting. I also set out from the beginning to run Mighty Fine as a business proper and not as a hobby (although some may argue that’s what it is as I also continue to run MixMash). I thus built a very good team around me of a designer, website guru, SEO expert, copywriting king and video editor. Some of these skills I have myself, to a certain degree, but I’ve always believed in paying professionals if you want a job doing properly rather than trying to be a ‘Jack of all trades’. One’s business website is a window to the world and you’ve got a very short chance to get your message across to potential clients, so for this reason I also prefer to go with people who know what they are doing. When doing my research into what makes a good mobile disco website, I came across some shockingly bad design, build and functionality and wanted to make sure I didn’t make the same mistakes. A brand image was developed, a website built from the bottom up (no WordPress for me) with some bespoke functionality (check out the Playlist Builder) and lots of useful content and finally launched in July 2011. To say things have gone well would be an understatement – the diary is extremely full for this year and I have already taken on another two very experienced DJs to help fulfil all the bookings – I could take on more but (again), my business model is quality not quantity – I also don’t want to run before I can walk!
We treat every booking as our own personal event and show due care and attention to each detail surrounding that booking. We’re extremely client-focused with a proactive, can-do approach, and are able to offer very high levels of expertise and experience. We go the extra mile to ensure our clients have the event of their dreams and try to personalise every event as much as possible by giving them choices – from the music they want (and often more importantly don’t want) played, to the type of DJ setup and lighting etc. It is very important to us that we work together with each client towards the same vision. We will not DJ at a wedding unless we have met the bridal couple beforehand and, if we haven’t worked in a particular venue acquaint ourselves with the space so that come the day of the event we know exactly what’s in store. Wedding DJing is all about preparation and careful planning and also having a backup plan. I would hate for anything to go wrong on a client’s special day and, although challenges have presented themselves on the odd occasion, all events have always gone swimmingly (because of our planning) as the testimonials on our website bear witness.
Since launching Mighty Fine I have secured recommended/ preferred supplier status at many prestigious venues in London and the South East. This stems from the venues hearing us play and also being witness to our professional and very much businesslike approach – we ensure that we make them look good if they recommend us. To me it’s all about service – anything is possible and if it can be imagined it can usually be done. I have great plans for the future of Mighty Fine and want to develop the business into a fully-fledged events company capable of handling any type or event from the most intimate wedding to the largest awards ceremony – all with the same attention to detail, quality and skill that are our hallmarks.
It’s funny to think that I have gone full circle from my early days on the old Garrard SP25s – from mobile DJ to club DJ to international superstar DJ and recording artist/remixer and now back to being a mobile DJ! I really would not want to change a single thing; I still love every second of it. I was born to DJ, and long may it continue, as there is nothing more rewarding than being part of the team delivering memorable and fantastic events for our appreciative clients!