There are some things that you are pretty much guaranteed to see in a club. It doesn't matter if you venture to a 'secret' warehouse in East London or a Mayfair sleaze den, you'll still encounter the same glammy babes, the same lads who shout at you incessantly in the urinals and the same people who try to pay you 20p for a quick drag of your cigarette in the smoking area.
There are some things, however, that you probably wouldn't expect to see. For one, you'd think it would be pretty unlikely to come across a live drummer decked out in shiny sunglasses and a tight V-neck playing live improv sessions on a set of glow-in-the-dark bongos. But that's precisely what Michael Fish, aka Afishal, does for a living, a self-styled nightclub drummer whose custom-built drums are programmed to enable him to perform live – which he's done in front of Beyoncé and the royal family. Both are pretty huge gigs, so I decided to reach out to Afishal, to find out if there was more to his act than just a brash visual spectacle, fluorescent gloves and bad puns.
THUMP: So where did the idea to do live drumming in clubs come from?
Afishal: The idea came to me about seven years ago after watching a local legend in my area called Bongo Dave. In Huddersfield he used to perform at all the local clubs and people loved raving to his bongo beats, myself included! After training as a percussionist from the age of five and then seeing somebody perform with a DJ instead of just an orchestra or live band, I was amazed. I couldn't believe how much fun it looked and the fact that the guy actually got paid to do it!
I can't believe it either. How did you make your act different to Bongo Dave?
I was one of the first to do it in such a visual and energetic way, making it more about the performance and a show rather than just taking a back seat and playing funky grooves. I worked out very early on in my career that when you're on stage if you smile people smile back, if you dance and jump around people do the same. So every time I perform I make it as visual and energetic as I can, never being afraid to take centre stage and show people that I absolutely love what I do!
So are there any other nightclub percussionists around at the moment?
There are yes, especially after I got a bit of airtime on the Britain's Got Talent semi-finals I noticed a lot more popping up. The exposure I got from the TV performance created greater awareness for what we do. The demand for percussionists to perform alongside DJs increased and so did the number of drummers buying a pair of bongos and becoming nightclub percussionists.
Do you see yourself as more of a visual than a musical spectacle, then?
I see myself as both. Even though I do perform in a visual and energetic way with the use of LEDs and fire sticks to grab everyone's attention. Once I have it, the funky grooves and bongo beats are what keep people dancing.
I bet. Why would people want to listen to live drums in a club?
I think there's something tribal about it, some people just can't help but dance to the rhythms. Other people just like the sound of bongos over a track, it reminds them of summer and beach parties. Also I've noticed that people just love listening to and watching live musicians perform. Most of the time watching a live band perform is much more entertaining than watching a DJ. So having that live element on stage alongside club music really brings it alive!
Right. But do you think people prefer dancing to DJs or to your drumming?
DJs no doubt, but people always like variety and that's what you get with the addition of a nightclub percussionist. A variation on the track you're used to hearing, kind of like a live bongo remix. I have a lot of people telling me they find themselves dancing to my beats rather than the DJ sometimes but people will always prefer dancing to songs they know.
"Live Bongo Remix", three words I'm always pleased to see next to a track title. What's the worst reaction you've ever had to a set?
I think the worst reaction would have been at this outdoor event I did a few years back. The tent was setup on a hill so the stage I was performing on was on a pretty steep angle and wasn't level, not even close! So I cable-tied all my drums together to try and make them more stable. I opened my first set with a big drum fill and hit the cymbal: the cymbal toppled straight off the wonky stage, pulling with it every one of my drums I had cleverly cable-tied together. The front row weren't too happy!
You previously performed for Beyoncé at an afterparty in Egypt. How did that go down?
That was amazing, they literally built a nightclub in the desert next to the Red Sea just for her afterparty. It went down really well and I could just about see Beyoncé and her entourage, through all the spotlights, dancing to my bongo beats!
Must have a been a night to remember. Tell me more about your patented lazer gloves.
I make and customize all my own instruments/props myself. For the lazer gloves I imported some lazer diodes from China and stitched them into a pair of drumming gloves, then wired them together to a nine-volt battery held in a wrist strip I made. I created them because I was looking to make all my arm movements more visual and it worked! But I've now made some lazer sticks, which look great so I perform with those instead.
I guess now people can see you beating off from a distance. What producers would you most like to collaborate with?
I'm a big fan of Showtek's music; I remix a lot of their stuff with my DJ drums. Also Knife Party, Martin Garrix and DJ Fresh. I've always loved his music and when I first launched the DJ drums he contacted me on Twitter asking to buy them! I said they weren't for sale but by chance the next month I was supporting him in Zante and he remembered me. We ended up having a very messy night followed by an epic day out at sea on a speedboat we hired. So since then we've kept in touch and there are talks of working together with the DJ drums in the near future.
Good luck mate.
You can find Afishal on Twitter or in your local club, performing a drum solo over that track you really wanted to hear on the sound system.