MANDY started young. No, younger than that.
Believe it or not, at 7 years, an age when most of us would still be jamming the "Frozen" soundtrack (#NeverLettingItGo), she was already making her parents proud by going nuts to Jumpstyle: "The reason I started listening to Jumpstyle was because my dad gave me a tuning Jumpstyle CD as a present. When I listened to the songs, I was jumping around at home." We suspect large quantities of sugar may also have been involved, but regardless, it seems quite unusual for someone so young to get into such a niche genre as Jumpstyle – especially considering it's commonly misunderstood or underappreciated even among adults today.
Fortunately, MANDY has never been without the support of not just her family, but her friends as well. "Not everyone is a big fan of the music genre I play, but they see how I enjoy doing this, and that’s what’s important. It's always nice to have my friends join me for a gig, to have them beside me, to have good company and get feedback from them afterwards. And after a while, you can tell some of them do get more into Hardstyle music," she grins.
Growing up and growing into her sound
Her favorite song when she was a kid was "Time Flies" by Jeckyll & Hyde, and time did indeed fly. MANDY started deejaying for fun when she was 15, and found she really enjoyed being behind the decks. "I started practicing more and more, and that’s how it became my passion and my job. I got to know more people in the scene, and eventually signed to the Dirty Workz label," she explains, adding that meeting new artists through the years also helped shape her sound and personal preferences: "These days, I don’t listen to Jumpstyle anymore, as I’m more into Hardstyle and even like some more raw tracks. I just love the kicks and melodies, though."
Part of that creative mingling aspect is also due to the fact that she grew up in Ghent, a Belgian town whose size belies the amount of music talent and uniqueness that can be found there – not just in Electronic music, with names such as her and Charlotte de Witte, but in other genres as well, for example Rock and Metal with Amenra or Raketkanon. MANDY isn't shy to sing her town's praises: "Ghent is a city where a lot of students live, because of the big universities that are based there. This brings together different nationalities, different people, different interests, different genre preferences… Because of the great nightlife in Ghent, many people get together, and this also results in a lot of creativity and many different influences."
Attack of the trolls
The story of MANDY up to this point reads a bit like a fairytale, and not just because we won't stop dropping references to Frozen all the time. (Olaf you who don't like it, snow problem, we'll let it go eventually.) Girl in the kingdom of creativity falls in love with music, dreams of making it big, works hard, and gets that coveted contract on a white horse at a mere 17 years of age. So far, so good, right? Well, that's when the trouble started. When MANDY signed to Dirty Workz, a high-profile Belgian Hardstyle label, many took issue with the fact that her tracks weren't produced solely by her.
"It just is what it is; as a woman, you have to fight harder to reach your goals in the music scene."
Although ghost production is common on the Hardstyle scene, and though MANDY has been open about the fact that she works with a team, the online backlash at the time was severe. Can't have a fairytale without trolls, we guess, but thankfully, she didn't let it slow her down. "I like what I do, music inspires me and brings me to life. I want to keep chasing my dream and doing what I love to do – playing music for my fans. You will always have lovers and haters. There will always be criticism one way or another… Everybody has their own opinion. My fans raise me up, and that’s what’s most important to me. Heads up and keep going!"
Undoubtedly, the hate she faced was amplified due to the fact that she's a woman in a male-dominated music scene, her gender alone making her a prime target for online bile. It's far from the only difficulty she's faced due to her gender, and she's far from being the only one. In fact, this struggle is the inspiration for her newest track "We Are Warriors", a collaboration with Belgian singer Jelle van Dael that starts off with Van Dael's gentle vocals, but turns into a fiercely determined battle cry once MANDY's pumping beats kick in. "The track is made for my fans, who've supported me no matter what. I've known Jelle for a few years already. She was the perfect person for this track, as we've both experienced the struggles of being a woman in a predominantly male industry. It was the perfect moment to combine our thoughts in one track. It just is what it is; as a woman, you have to fight harder to reach your goals in the music scene. We still experience negative comments focused on our gender. We hope to inspire everyone to not give up and chase their dreams, no matter what!"
That feeling when thousands are screaming your name
And MANDY has certainly followed that advice. If tens of millions of online streams aren't enough to convince you, catching a glimpse of her onstage, living her dream, should be sufficient to send any naysayers packing. Her sets are packed with energy and positivity, enveloping crowds all over the world with a euphoric vibe, and it's no wonder she's had 30,000 fans chanting her name at Tomorrowland. But it isn't just Hardstyle crowds that have been taking notice.
With Hardstyle as a whole gaining more recognition among the wider audience, and with genre veterans such as Coone even being booked for Tomorrowland's main stage, more and more mainstream musicians are starting to pay attention as well. MANDY was thus tapped for an official remix of the Tiësto, Dzeko, Preme, and Post Malone collab "Jackie Chan", and her version is even the most successful of the remixes, with over 6M streams and counting. "I do think you reach a bigger crowd when your music genre is programmed at the main stage, and when other great DJs play Hardstyle remixes. Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike even played my bootleg of Swedish House Mafia's ‘Don’t You Worry Child' to close the Tomorrowland main stage both weekends."
As befits someone whose own sound has been shaped by other artists and genres, MANDY doesn't view such musical crosspollination as a negative – in fact, she sees it as the future: "I don’t think it’s bad for the genre, as it will get new influences and will be able to evolve. Hard dance producers are trying different things, because people might be expecting new things. Sometimes you need to come up with something original to stand out, that’s why there are a lot of different sounds in the genre. I think it will change even more in the next few years. But there will always be a difference with Raw, Frenchcore, Hardcore… Those harder genres will remain out of the mainstream spotlight, though I do believe their fans prefer it that way."
"I do think you reach a bigger crowd when your music genre is programmed at the main stage, and when other great DJs play Hardstyle remixes. Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike even played my bootleg of Swedish House Mafia's ‘Don’t You Worry Child' to close the Tomorrowland main stage both weekends."
Happily ever after?
Smashing bangers, peer recognition, loyal fans and a happy kiddo fulfilling her dreams – this would be as good a spot as any for a classic fairytale ending. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, we've all become part of a much larger tale – the Corona Chronicles, if you will. Like most other musicians, the Covid-19 pandemic has cratered MANDY's spring touring schedule, but she has a plan to fill the void.
"During lockdown, I'll continue to listen to new music, get inspiration for new music, be in touch with other artists, entertain people staying at home with some MANDY remixes, practice at home with my Pioneer decks for when we're back at it and able to play great sets for our fans. Bedroom DJ sets, you could say," she says cheerfully. Of course, having no fewer than six Chihuahuas running around the house should help keep her busy as well.
Above all, as expected, she remains optimistic: "If everyone stays safe at home, I believe we can still save the summer. It’s not too late, but that means we have to act now and really follow the strict procedures. Of course it’s not easy, nobody is made to sit at home, me neither. In our society, we're so used to having all sorts of things on our mind, busy agendas, meeting friends, work work work, always keep going. We aren't used to being 'alone', but thanks to all the social media, there's still a way to keep in touch with each other, so let’s use it and be creative. Please, help save the summer!"
We're with you, MANDY.
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