If Charles Darwin’s words “A man’s friendships are one of the best measures of his worth” took human form, they’d look a lot like the collective known as Until Until.
You’d be forgiven if, while sitting in their company, it escaped you that you were engaging with a group of resolute young entrepreneurs in the Joburg events circuit; their roars of laughter punctuate the air in a way that only a familial bond can. Sandile ‘Shaz’ Shangase, Amahle ‘Jaxx’ Jaxa, Ndumiso ‘Ndu’ Buthelezi, Thulani ‘Thulz’ Dandala, Thandile ‘Honx’ Mafanya, Mfumu ‘Shilly’ Mhinga, and Charles ‘Chuck Tailored’ Lusengo are the seven directors of the Ten Media Group who have taken a friendship and elevated it to a business model to be rivalled.
“We’re just a collective of friends that have a common goal and vision in terms of how the music industry should be in the country. It started off as something casual and we realised there was the potential to grow it and there were more people like us that weren’t being catered for” says Ndu.
“We had always thrown braais that become parties, little things that… We were always those people who were somehow, in one way or another, involved in whatever random fun that was had outside of the conventional spaces of people having fun. We were always those people. This was just the next step.” Thulz says of the very first party they threw.
It’s a Monday afternoon. Mfumu has just returned from Cape Town. The group of friends, chilling at Thulz’s apartment, had been wanting to throw a themed party for a while. Mfumu ventures “Guys, it’s June 16, it’s a long weekend, let’s throw a party.” The suggestions begin popping up. “‘I have a cousin and he can get us sound for like 2k.” “I’ve got the house, my parents said we can use the tennis court.” Thulz, who worked for a popular beer brand at the time said “I’m gonna get some pallets from work with beer.” Mmiso – who was part of Until Until at the time – ventures “I’m gonna get that wigwam tent” from the energy beverage company he worked for. Ten contributions of R700 later to cover costs, and ‘the dumbest flyer I’ve ever seen. Honestly, the ugliest flyer!’ High School Cool was born; the group’s first formally organised party.
The words ‘formally organised’ being open for interpretation, what with a single portable toilet organised on the day, and a ‘hella creative writing piece’ that was the letter to the neighbours drafted by Shaz explaining the disturbance that would take place later as ‘the family has a relative that was now coming back from exile, in 2015, and so we’re celebrating.’ Amidst congratulations from the neighbours, Mfumu befriended the local police to keep an eye on the house mid-groove, and managed an on-air interview with T-Bo Touch on the Friday afternoon to promote the event.
They had initially anticipated about 120 guests but when the gates opened at 8pm, they had filled the yard with 800 people in an hour and had another 400 more curling around the corner in anticipation, including two girls who had driven up from Bloemfontein and were begging to gain entry to the party.
There’s animated chatter and screams of laughter as they relay the self-deprecating story to me but the party that required everyone to pitch up in school uniform was a resounding success and set the tone for events to come.
They decided to try their hand again at parties and celebrated a friend’s birthday by hosting a pyjama party. At a warehouse in Bertrams ‘we took one of the floors in there and we turned it into a groove with, once again, shit sound.’ As with High School Cool, they took half the profits made from the party and blew it at the club to celebrate.
Realising there was a demand for High School Cool, that they’d need to repeat it in the new year, and having not retained their previous earnings to fund it, they decided to do a smaller event to raise money to fund the upcoming High School Cool. They knew the needed to have the event on the Easter weekend as they had wanted it to be a Rugby Fest after party, and began brainstorming ideas.
The one idea that started as the ‘After Tears’ party, being that it was on the Easter weekend and it was Jesus’s ‘after tears’ – yes, you read correctly – ended up as the All Black party as mourners at an ‘after tears’ are typically dressed in all black attire. Thus, the Genesis All Black party was born. I howled with laughter as they relayed that particular anecdote.
Their formative years used as a learning curve, they differentiate themselves in the event organising space in Johannesburg from the rest of the crowd by creatively pushing boundaries. “Being a part of the Until Until consumer group journey [means] you’re with us every step of the way. It’s entertaining. It’s more than just me saying ‘Here’s a line-up, come to this place, spend money’” says Jaxx. “When you engage with Until Until, you feel like you know Until Until.”
“It’s very much that you’re partying with us and not for us” adds Thulz. “It’s more of an immersive experience from beginning to end. You’re very much a part of this greater journey. I remember with the first or second Genesis, we made personal flyers for the people that were asking for them on Twitter. You feel like you’re a part of the party. You’ve played your role in throwing this party.”
Honx feels like because they never had intentions of formally pursuing events planning and fell into the journey organically, it’s given them an edge over brands who pursue textbook models of event planning. “Everything we do is based on what we like as individuals and what our friends like and what we know other people like because that’s what brought it together in the first place; it was natural. I think that comes across in things like doing the hoodies with personalised flyers on them.”
Shaz adds “Another competitive edge we have is that the industry didn’t make us. That’s probably one of the biggest edges that we have in the game; the music industry didn’t make us. We all come from different musical tastes and we unashamedly like that. A lot of people at that time didn’t understand why Das Kapital would be in this space, or PHFAT, and we just like their music. That’s why the music industry has been consistently trying to catch up to us. We’re like ‘this is what we like’ and we’re not just chasing a trend. The industry didn’t make us and it always allows us to say no to certain things, a lot of stuff, because it doesn’t resonate with us.”
In marketing to a particular crowd, Jaxx says “There’s something that we call the impossible dream. The impossible dream is, like I mentioned to you earlier, Thulz really loves electronic music and house; I really like jazz, for instance. The impossible dream is to have a holistic South Africa, that’s the target market. So I want the white kid who goes to Saints, and the white kid from Boksburg, and the coloured guy from Eldos, and the coloured guy who lives in Sandton City, and the Jewish boy from Illovo, and the black kid from Soweto, and the Braam lord; I want them all in one space enjoying each other and that’s how we curate our line-up.”
“I think it’s more of a mindset” says Charles. “If you look at how it started, there was a collective who were anti what was happening in the industry and then we created an alternative lane saying ‘We’re gonna fix what’s happening here’ and people resonated with that and then it blew from there.”
Until Until were given the opportunity to curate a stage at Oppikoppi 2017. As a continuation of that musically-diverse mindset Jaxx says “When we finally got Oppi, that’s exactly what we did. To try and convince all these people who thought that Oppi was just Afrikaans, dusty, white, camping; to prove to them that it’s actually an experience that can be all-inclusive for all people and all races.”
“On another scale of importance of the Oppikoppi thing, is bringing ‘our people’ that side. When you speak about Oppikoppi to someone who hasn’t been there, there are those fears and those stereotypes. Just from us going there, not even having a stage, there was a ripple effect and a growth of more representation coming to the festival” Charles adds.
With plans to grow Genesis into a cultural explosion, the hands-on experience of working at Oppi has given the group a bit more insight into the work needed to grow the culture. Working on Bacardi Holiday Club has allowed them the opportunity to apply those insights gleaned from the Oppi experience. “Apart from Rage, there are a lot of people who have never experienced ‘I live at the party, when I wake up I’m still at the party.’ For us to be the first to break into a market that has never experienced that [is] clean stuff” says Thulz.
I ask if Ndu feels like his brand as the rapper 2LeeStark has been helped by being part of the Until Until collective or if it was peripheral to the public’s perception of him. “I’ve had to earn the right to perform. I wasn’t necessarily handed any favours and I’ve never been shy of that.” he says. “Having said that, I think it does make it more special that I’ve gotten to this point and I perform at festivals that I curate with my friends. All of the festivals that we do, that I do happen to be on stage [for] are that much more special because I had to work that much more harder.”
The transition from exclusively doing events to going into advertising and solidifying the group as an agency was a function of presenting to brands to acquire sponsorship for events. “Our first thinking was ‘There’s no point [in] just sending a presentation that says we can move this many units and this is how many people are gonna come here and we wanna try this thing at Constitutional Hill’ because that’s not enticing” says Honx. “If someone had to come say that to us, we’d never put money into that. We have to have a creative strategy behind how we sell this event to the market and how we incorporate this sponsor and brand that we’re approaching to make it more than just an event, but a journey from when that first tweet or Facebook post comes out on social media till when the doors close. We wanted to create that whole journey and have the sponsor envision that journey.” says Honx.
“From that we realised that our ideas are dope. Outside of the event in itself, the type of things we’re thinking of doing and the ways in which we’re aligning ourselves and our event properties with brands, it’s bigger than just an event. So maybe there’s an avenue for us to take these ideas and try give them and sell them to brands as ways for them to build their brands or rebrand themselves or market themselves to the consumer.”
They registered a company after some internal deliberation and zoning in on what they were passionate about, which was “doing the events and being a creative brand activations agency.”
In an interview with Roland Martin for NewsOne in October last year, Issa Rae said “We have a tendency to network up but it really is about networking across. Who’s next to you? Who’s struggling? Who’s in the trenches with you? Who’s just as hungry as you are? Those are the people that you need to build with.”
I ask the Until Until guys how important that vision is to them as a group. “I think it’s so important, especially as black people, to share work because growing vertically, by yourself, you don’t create that systematic change.” Shaz offers. “Watching these relationships grow gives you a certain enjoyment of what you do every day because they have a certain vested interest in how far you go. I really enjoy what we do because we’ve built it as a family business and that’s for everyone that we work with.”
Charles adds “Also, with content creation, there are a few collaborators that have been with us almost since the beginning. The likes of Austin [Malema], there’s a lot of guys who we’ve come up with. It’s quite great to have some people that you can work with, and at certain times you can ask for favours and they can ask you for favours. You guys can grow together in an environment that you’ve built together.”
“I also think in that journey we’ve seen a lot of people fuck up but we learn from that. I think the nice thing about this creative community is that it’s not as gated and behind closed doors as other industries. We’ve learned from a lot of other event properties, event owners, suppliers who’ve had what seemed like good ideas but didn’t work, or what seemed like a terrible idea but actually popped off. I think the learning in this space and community is crazy and that’s why we need to pool these other creative minds that are on the same level and playing field as us.” Honx says.
In discussing what I view as South Africa being on the brink of a creative renaissance where creative content creation and ideation is starting to come from black creatives specifically and that pull been taken away from corporates, Honx says “It’s the first time black people have been able to communicate and express the information that they’re knowledgeable on, on such a mass scale. Especially in South Africa.”
Ndu says “As much as this revolution is already in place, we have a bigger job if we’re going to be custodians of advertising, to teach South African consumers how to consume information. This revolution will happen, but it will only happen if there’s numbers. And we’re not a consumer market, we don’t advocate for purchasing power. Albeit because the climate is not enough for sometimes people to afford that purchasing power, but nonetheless even within the affluent market it’s not a thing to support black business, it’s not a thing to be advocates of black things. I think once, whoever it is, fixes that conundrum, you then know how to operate in the market. I think that, for me, is the big thing. Which guy is going to be the guy that figures out how to get people to buy, more than us creating content. I think there will be a plethora of content creation but will the numbers also be there to consume this content creation.”
For a group of creatives under 30, Until Until is making definitive strides in the creative space in South Africa. Game changers in their own right, more than a company, they feel like a family. If the measure of a man is the friends he surrounds himself with, the members of Until Until are drenched in gold.
Photography: Max Mogale
Design: Mzo Gcwabe
Creative Direction: Nick Kaoma
Editorial Assistant: Tiffany Lekuku
Make-Up: Mbali Nyikazi