Welcome to the very first Rising Star feature here at Drum Faster! Mikaela Swan is a perfect example and we are so happy for her to be our first feature. These articles are here to feature the best up and coming drummers we think you need to know about.
Mikaela Swan has exploded online in 2020 with videos getting millions of views on both TikTok and Instagram. Today she now has over 100,000 followers on both platforms!
It is easy to see why her videos have blown up. Each performance is full of passion and energy. It is infectious! And of course, great drumming.
Let’s find out more about Mikaela Swan and her drumming journey so far.
Q. Who is Mikaela Swan?
My name is Mikaela Swan, and I am a female drummer that is all about changing people’s perceptions, providing entertainment, and expressing my creativity through my social media. I enjoy playing various genres such as rock, indie, heavy metal, pop and classic.
I first started the drums when I was young when my parents gifted me with a High Five musical kit. From there, I was instantly drawn to the little drum.
I started taking lessons to read and play music in grade 3 and continued through school with it. Unfortunately, I was a little bit lazy and did not take it all too seriously and fell a bit out of love with the drums.
That was until grade 9 when my dad said to me that they would sell my drum kit if I weren’t going to practise and play at home, which I wasn’t. From there, I picked up my game and has been taking it seriously, learning and pushing myself to become a better drummer.
Looking back, it has now; it has been 6 serious years of playing the kit, and I am excited to see my progression evolve even more and to make a career out of it.
Q. Who are your influences?
The two drummers that have had the biggest impact and influence on my drumming have been Dave Grohl and Emerson Barrett.
I have grown up my whole life watching Dave play the drums, and it has honestly blown me away to see someone go that crazy on the drums; he is an animal. Dave feels the music like no other and goes headfirst into the music. He has been the main reason I started the drums, and also influenced my crazy and animated playing style throughout my drumming journey.
Emerson Barrett has influenced not only my artistic style but also my drumming. He has inspired me to take myself to the next level and to push myself as an individual artist. His ability to do immersive himself in both the art of drumming and drawing makes me want to take that direction, hopefully inspiring and changing the lives of others around me.
Q. What is your playing style?
I love to play a range of different genres such as classic rock, right down to heavy metal, funk, classical music and even pop. I love to give myself a challenge and keep an open mind to playing different styles and a range of music, this way I am building my drum vocabulary and my skills on the kit.
My playing style is often described as very animated and lively. I can not help but feel the music and really get into playing the drums. I always got to be moving around and bouncing on my seat.
I have three bands I play with who are Happy Valley, Big Blue Eyes and Bronze Age. I am also known for doing some session work with local artists. The people I have fortunately had the opportunity to play with were Oskar Campbell, Tom Dron & Lucy Francesca Dron.
Q. What gear do you use?
The drum kit I predominantly use in my videos Is a Roland TD-27KV, which I also share an endorsement With. Aside from my electronic E-kit, I also use an acoustic mainly used for live gigs and occasion acoustic covers.
In addition, I have a Matt Black Pearl Master Series with Custom Hyrbid Zildjian K’s and a mixture of both Evans and Remo drum heads. I also have custom drawn artwork on my skins to fulfil my artistic needs.
Benny Greb is a prolific drummer but he is more than that. He is an artist at the kit who can make you feel like most drummers can’t. His playing oozes feel and groove and luckily, he has the tools to teach you his talents.
Here you will get to know about Benny Greb, his music releases, and educational releases.
Benny Greb is a versatile artist known for being a creative drummer, clinician, and singer. Benny Greb was born on the 13th June 1980 in Augsburg, Germany. From a young age, he was enthusiastic about music and started playing the drums when he was only 6 after receiving a kit as a gift.
In the early years, Benny was self-taught and he would learn by playing along to his favourite songs. He drew influence from musicians such as The Police, James Brown, Tower of Power, Billy Joel, and James Taylor.
It wasn’t until later in his childhood he took lessons starting at the age of 12.
Benny progressed quickly now he had tuition and began to play in some local bands. At this younger age, he was mostly a punk player but he then went on to discover rock before transitioning into jazz.
At this stage, Benny knew that he wanted to become a full-time drummer and musician. Benny’s mum saw this and pushed him to study full time to further progress.
In 1997 Benny began to study music full time in Dinkelsbuhl and then in Hamburg. It was here Benny rounded out his knowledge of music as well as getting the opportunity to gig and jam with other musicians.
Transitioning from studying to a full-time drummer
After finishing his studies, Benny set himself a target to be living off drums financially within one year. If he failed, he would move back to his family and begin a traditional career. This was the start of his session drumming career. He would perform drums live, record in the studio and teach.
Benny was a bit different to most players though. He would listen back to his performances and critique them. What did he like, what didn’t he like and how could he have done things differently?
This is an important step that most drummers skip. How are you supposed to know what worked or where you need to improve if you aren’t your harshest critic?
As a full-time professional drummer, Benny Greb still spends a lot of time practising his craft. Not as much as he used to, but more productively.
Benny has a 3-month cycle of what he is working on and what he wants to achieve and makes the most out of every practice session.
When he practices, he knows what he is going to work on and avoids distractions. Many drummers sit down to practice but just end up playing things they already know. Not Benny.
For each session he documents:
What he practised
What tempo he practised at
How he felt about the practice session
This makes tracking progress simpler and more effective. Especially when working on more complex concepts that need multiple sessions.
Where is Benny Greb today?
Today Benny is a drummer very much in demand. His ability to pick and choose flavours from different drummings styles gives him a wide scope for the drumming he can do. This vast palette of styles allows him to create grooves and feels many drummers couldn’t offer.
Benny Greb has performed with several musicians including:
The Ron Spielman Trio
Strom & Wasser
The Influence of Benny Greb
Few people have that persona to influence the world with their work and personality. “Grebfruit” proved to be a turning point for Benny’s career as it marked his success internationally. He got popular because of his creative sounds, grooves, and his never-ending passion for drums.
If we talk about his talent, he has given multiple music tastes to his fans. He is capable of playing:
As well as being a fantastic drummer, Benny Greb has also released a lot of music. Some as solo releases and some with his band “Moving Parts”.
“Moving Parts” consists of Benny Greb on drums, Chris Montague on Guitar and Chris Hargreaves on Bass.
If you are wanting to listen to Benny Greb’s releases, check out the albums below.
Two Day Trio
There are also plenty of singles and features to check out also.
As Greb is passionate about drums, music, and clinics it was a natural progression to release his educational content.
He released his educational DVDs, two of them so far called ‘The language of Drumming’ and ‘The Art and Science of Groove’. These have become hugely popular and this is down to the combination of the topics covered and the excellent delivery.
Benny is not scared to delve deep into complicated topics some drummers would stay away from. This is because he has an impeccable way of presenting extremely complex things simply and in an entertaining way. It is a joy to watch Benny as he teaches.
2009: The Language of Drumming
“The Language of Drumming” by Benny Greb is evidence of his talent and amazing sense of music that he produces with the drums. The Language of Drumming enables you to express emotions through the drums.
Benny Greb has introduced his 24-character system and taught how to use binary and ternary rhythms in developing timing, dynamic control, technique, and speed.
After the release of The Language of Drumming, Greb expanded his creativity by a complete system of drum-set methods in his book. This book is a stand-alone companion to the DVD.
The book is a complete source of guidance. It delivers different ways of learning the basic steps of drumming. As we learn a language with basic letters, similarly drumming steps are the same. As we know books are always helpful to all. So, this drumming book helps you think, understand and play the rhythms. It will facilitate you to decode other educational material and you will be able to come up with unique exercises.
2015: The Art & Science of Groove
The Art and Science of Groove is one of the best educational releases by Benny Greb. It’s an influencing and unique release that will help all drummers to get the undeniable feeling and emotion−groove.
In 2014, Greb launched a crowdfunding campaign that was the most successful in achieving all of its goals. All the contributors were enthusiastic about getting insights from Benny Greb. The campaign gave confidence to Benny for the release of an educational DVD that ascended the production levels to new heights.
The Art and Science of Groove have the best techniques and exercises that give energy and confidence to all those, wanting to learn and experience groove.
In The Art and Science of Groove, Benny Greb has introduced the five key elements: Time, Feel, Sound, Body, and Mind. He added sets out to shatter the myths about elusive, misunderstood to groove. Benny’s approach is a great influence for all levels of drummers. The Art and Science of Groove DVD have revolutionized the preconceived concept. It has provided an emotional connection to drummers so they become consistent while performing.
Benny Greb’s drum setup
At first glance, Benny Greb setup looks like a traditional setup. It features one rack tom with one/two-floor toms. You will then notice the second snare and an interesting selection of cymbals.
Benny likes to use various stacks to get unique sounds as well as darker cymbals that are full of character.
When you look at Benny’s kit you will notice everything is almost flat and the cymbals are very low. Over time it seems that Benny’s cymbals have gradually lowered.
As well as the art of playing, Benny loves creating unique sounds. Benny possibly has the most signature products of any drummer. He has been lucky enough to work with fantastic companies that believe in him and want to help him achieve his sound.
Vic Firth Benny Greb Signature Series Drum Sticks
At its core, these drum sticks are a 5B. It features a medium taper with a shortened tear drop tips. This creates a focused and defined cymbal sound whilst providing enhanced rebound.
They also feature a unique green print rather than black. Nice.
This is the first signature cymbal released by Benny Greb with Meinl. It is made using Meinl’s high tech computerised manufacturing.
Although labelled as hats you are more than likely going to want to use them as a stack. These hats are fast and crisp with a clear trashy sound when loosened.
Meinl Byzance Vintage Sand Series
This isn’t just one cymbal, it is a whole line of cymbals. Benny wanted a full set of cymbals that he could use to complement his playing. These feature a beautiful vintage finish with varying degrees of rawness depending on the cymbal.
These have been designed to be transparent without being harsh, full of nuance without being weak and having character and personality without overpowering the rest of the band.
Greyson Nekrutman is a drummer who has exploded in popularity during 2020. His determination and passion ooze out of every drum performance. It is clear to see why he has amassed such a following in such a short time.
Let’s find out more about Greyson Nekrutman and his drumming career so far.
Greyson Nekrutman is a drummer born on the 13th June 2002 from Long Island, New York, USA.
Greyson started learning drums at the age of 4 with tutor Justin Gallow.
Justin would teach Greyson a bit of each different genres. Latin, jazz, rock etc but never diving too deep into any of them. Justin wanted Greyson to become an all-around drummer with knowledge of everything.
This gave Greyson a strong foundation and knowledge from which he could build upon. When he was ready, he could deep drive into particular styles and narrow his focus.
As Greyson got older he focused a lot on rock and prog-rock becoming a big fan of bands such as the Dave Matthews band.
It wasn’t until later jazz started to become of interest. At first, like many drummer Greyson had the impression jazz is this quiet genre with a lot of brush playing and it wasn’t of interest.
When he discovered drummers like Buddy Rich and big band jazz, it all changed.
Greyson Nekrutman is currently studying at The New School in New York City.
Studying the greats
One way Greyson Nekrutman has improved his drumming is by studying his influences on a deep level.
Not just a bit of reading, learning some songs and moving on.
Really deep research into what drove these drummers. What were their inspirations? What about their style is unique to them?
Greyson will call around to find people who knew the drummer he is studying. He wants to know them and what drove them. How did they develop their style? What did they listen to?
Greyson wanted to be able to recreate these drummers. This has led to many comments online about how it is these drummers reincarnated.
His photographic memory
Greyson discovered in school that he had a photographic memory. He could take maths formulas, remember them and recite them back in exams.
This memory has helped him create some of his most popular videos to date.
In these videos, you will see Greyson reenact a drum performance, part for part with all the nuances. It is impressive to see.
Of course, the photographic memory helps him digest and memorize the parts faster than the average drummer but the hard work and practice are still needed to play everything perfectly.
The challenges of being a young drummer trying to start a career
Like many drummers, Greyson has faced challenges trying to get his career going. Greyson had a unique challenge though.
There is no doubt about it, Greyson is an incredible drummer. But with him being so talented at a young age, it made it hard for older peers to accept him.
No matter how he played, he would get criticised. Even when he would perform a classic drum solo perfectly note for note.
It was either too hard, too soft, too busy… you get the point.
No matter what he played he was always put down by older players. Not because of his skill but because of his age.
Sometimes older drummers feel like because they have been doing it longer they are on a superior skill level and it can create egos. Even if you are the better older player, you should be helping and encouraging the fresh up and coming talent.
Of course, with being older you have the respect of your peers and career experience. Only time can get you this.
This issue has even led Greyson to not be invited to an audition for a college he applied for. Even though, he had the skills and drive to thrive.
This fueled Greyson to go, “I am going to play the way I want to play and if you have an issue with it, sorry, I don’t care”.
This is when Greyson started releasing his incredibly popular play-along videos. In these videos, he will match classic drum performances note for note.
These prove his skill, dedication and passion for the great drummers that have come before him.
The main thing you need to know about Greyson is that he is a hard worker. He practices, a lot!
While most of the world shut up shop when Covid 19 struck in 2020, Greyson got to work. Practising on average 8 hours per day over two or three sessions.
To push through long practice sessions Greyson uses several methods to keep his focus up. When working on difficult pieces he will slow down the songs and parts so he can fully learn each note.
If he feels his mind starts to wander he will crank up the tempo. This does two things. It switches up the challenge making the brain reengage with the task at hand.
It allows Greyson to determine how close he is to complete a section. This allows him to then dial back the tempo and refocus on the bits that need work.
If this doesn’t work, he will simply step away from the kit and come back to work on it again after a break. Sometimes your brain needs a break to process what it has been working on.
Using social media to launch his career
Greyson Nekrutman had a strange introduction to the power of what social media can do for drummers. Initially, his mom would get him to record drum videos so she could upload them and manage his profile.
At the time Greyson didn’t realise the power social media could have. When you have the talents he has, you are going to stand out from the crowd and gain attention.
Greyson soon realised the power and it became a serious focus.
Initially, Greyson was uploading playing to songs that he wanted to because he enjoyed them and it is what he wanted to hear. Logically, this always seems like the best move but what happens when these videos don’t get a lot of views. You have invested a lot of time and effort for little reward.
Once Greyson realised this, he decided to take it seriously and work extremely hard on the types of videos people want to watch.
That was jazz. People loved the content and it created space in the market for him. Not many people do jazz drumming videos so this created a space for him to gather an audience.
Greyson is extremely focused currently on using social media to launch his career and get his name known. He knows that is the goal and is making the most of it whilst the world doesn’t have many other opportunities.
When the world reopens his socials will transition with him. They will act as an insight into his career and his drumming journey. With the occasional cover video for good measure!
One of the things Greyson gets asked a lot is about his left-hand technique. It is a variation of a classical grip.
Greyson is a believer in doing what feels right and works for you, not use technique X or Y. This has led to this hybrid style.
Depending on the tempo and the application on the kit varies up the grip.
Here is a great video of Greyson Nekrutman explaining his left-hand technique.
Greyson Nekrutman’s drum kit
Greyson plays a fairly minimalist drum kit but he plays some beautiful gear.
His setup is very classic. 1 tom, 1 floor, 1 kick and 1 snare. Hi-hat, ride and crash. Occasionally you will also see a splash or some extra toms.
Anika Nilles has taken the drumming community by storm over the past 6 or so years. A true drumming powerhouse full of groove and chops no matter the time signature. It is easy to see why Anika Nilles has become a favourite drummer of many players.
Let’s find out more about Anika and her drumming career so far.
Anika Nilles is a professional drummer from Aschaffenburg, Germany born on the 29th of May 1983. Anika is best known for her drum performances and her original music.
Where did it all begin?
Anika first started playing the drums at the age of 6. Her father taught her a groove and that is where the passion began. Anika had a family full of drummers so she was surrounded by inspiration.
Anika was determined to give becoming a musician a try when she finished school.
A diversion from drumming
Like many people, Anika’s parents warned her about becoming a musician and to get a “real” job. Anika did this and studied social work for the next 5 years.
After her studies, she accepted a job at a preschool and soon when on to become the head of the preschool.
Throughout this time Anika was still taking lessons and playing in bands. The passion was still there to become a musician.
At this stage, she was in her mid-20s and started doing private drum tuition. Anika was lucky as she was one of the only private tutors in her area and soon took on enough students to go part-time with her preschool job.
Anika wanted to do further studies to help advance her playing. She auditioned for a place at a vocational music school. Underprepared for the audition Anika failed.
Although this was a hit for her confidence, she started taking lessons from a nearby drummer, Claus Hessler.
Claus greatly helped Anika improve her theory and skills as well as introduce her to a drumming program.
This program was full of drum teachers and drummers and helped inspire her to continue her journey.
As well as private tuition, Anika managed to launch her workshops as well as starting to get some gigs. She was now a full-time drummer.
This didn’t stop Anika from wanting to progress. Anika decided to apply for the Popakademie Baden-Württemberg in Mannheim to study popular music and music business.
This time she was successful.
This wasn’t an easy time for her as she was surrounded by incredible musicians that filled her with self-doubt. So much so, she also quit during the course but due to some encouragement from her parents.
Anika went onto complete the degree and proceed to do clinics.
When Anika started to perform clinics the self-doubt started to come back. Anika suffered badly from stagefright which would cause her to struggle to be present and fall back on what she practised.
People still loved the performances but it left Anika feeling like she had just sucked and put on a poor performance. She was hard on herself.
To overcome the stagefright and doubt, Anika worked with Norbert Saemann from Meinl. Norbert would record the clinics, then after the performance with Anika, they would review the performances.
Slowly but surely, the confidence came back.
This interesting technique is also used by other drummers. For example, the excellent Benny Greb.
Anika Nilles is also a songwriter and has been releasing songs during her professional drumming career.
Anika first released the track “Wild Boy” in October 2013 on her YouTube channel. The follow-up song was “Alter Ego” released in February 2014.
The music videos for both of these tracks are of Anika playing the drums in the studio. Anika writes and produces the music with guest musicians playing the parts.
These videos racked up millions of views and gained Anika recognition globally. This led to clinic performances across Europe, American and China in 2015.
Anika released her debut album “Pikalar” in 2017. The album consists of 10 instrumental tracks.
Have a look at this video of Pikalar performed with hand band Nevell.
Most recently Anika released the album “For A Colorful Soul” in 2020. This album features her full time touring band Nevell. The group consists of Patrick Rugebregt on synth and key, Jonathan Ihlenfeld Cuñado on bass and Joachim Schneiss on guitar.
As well as performing her music they are also her full time touring band.
Anika Nilles educational releases
Anika Niles has released a few different products to help you improve your drumming or to learn her songs.
This book features several transcriptions of her solo releases. This includes Alter Ego, Wild Boy, Queenz and more. Anika’s songs are very complex so having a written transcription can certainly help make things easier.
This features several practice pad exercises for drummers who don’t have a huge amount of time to practice behind the kit and want to improve. Or for those drummers who want to dive deep into improving advanced hand technique.
A few things make Anika Nilles drumset different to that of a standard kit.
Firstly you will notice that the cymbals lean away from the kit. Almost making them look like the stands are set up backwards. Because the cymbals are set up low this means that the cymbals are still getting hit correctly with the shoulder of the stick.
The second thing you will notice is the toms are reversed. So they go from low to high rather than high to low. Anika mostly plays the kit as a single tom setup but the extra high tom is there for more options.
In some configurations of her setup, you will also notice that a second snare is used in place on the floor tom. This is tuned low and is being used as a snom drum. This gives you a floor toom or snare sound depending on if the wires are on.
Many drummers have signature practice pads but many just consist of a standard pad with custom graphics.
Not with this pad…
The Mein Split Tone Practice Pad from Anika Nilles features three different zones for different feels.
This has been done so that you can hear what is happening between hands from the different tones. This is a great practice pad for drummers who tour a lot and don’t get as much time behind the kit as they would like.
There is no doubt that Anika is an incredible player. I think her story is very inspiring. It shows you that passion and determination are incredibly important, but so is being able to see where you are weak and take the time to improve those aspects.
Anika has pushed through so many boundaries that would have stumped other drummers and it is great to see that she has succeeded.
I can’t wait to see where Anika goes next on her drumming journey.
Gabe Helguera is most well known for being the drummer for the band I Prevail and his website Drum Beats Online.
But where did it all start?
Gabe first began drumming at the age of 12 when he got a drum kit for Christmas. This was a complete surprise but Gabe was stoked as you would expect. He started trying to figure things out by himself at first before starting lessons a few months later.
At the age of 13 things started to get more interesting for Gabe. This is when he started a band with his older brother called “Lookout Gabe”. The band got their name after Gabe managed to poke himself in the eye with a drumstick. Now that sounds painful!
Being in the band opened Gabe up to the world of playing with other musicians and performing on stage. This ignited his passion.
Between the ages of 15 and 18, Gabe started performing with a variety of local bands of different genres.
Correcting early learning mistakes
Gabe fell into a trap that gets many drummers.
At the start after a few lessons playing the drums came naturally with what seemed like little effort. This meant skipping many of the foundations drummers would learn such as rudiments and technique.
At age 18 after being rejected for a church audition Gabe decided to go back and work on these foundations so he could progress his career.
Been critical of yourself isn’t easy, but Gabe knew this is what he would have to do to have a career as a drummer.
From the ages of 18-21, Gabe stepped up his practising dedicating as much time as he could to becoming a better drummer.
Gabe also didn’t go to college so he could work to fund his career path as a drummer.
These weren’t easy years though as manual labour jobs aren’t easy and most of his bands at the time broke up. Unfortunately, this happens as people go in different directions starting careers etc.
This made Gabe want to have something that was his to control.
Starting a YouTube channel
With bands coming and going starting a YouTube channel gave Gabe something, he could control. The channel was called Drum Beats Online and initially had a mix of covers and lessons for beginners.
Although it was slow progress at the start, it was something that was his and continuously worked away on it.
The YouTube channel later evolved to become more than just traditional drum lessons. The channel now covers a wide range of topics such as making progress in the music industry, a day in the life of a drummer and gear reviews.
In recent years the production value has increased drastically on his videos and they are some of the best on YouTube.
Take a look!
Performing in church
After originally being rejected for the church band at the age of 18, Gabe had now developed enough skills and got the gig.
Like many drummers, Gabe Helguera got his break playing in a church band. Church bands have big production value and excellent musicians.
This experience is invaluable for any drummer looking to become a professional.
If you have experience in any big production on your CV, this is going to help you stand out when auditioning for gigs.
Gabe was also extremely smart and made the most out of the opportunity to network with other musicians. This is so valuable and important if you want to be considered for other gigs.
Becoming a full-time drummer
Gabe took a different approach to become a full-time professional drummer than a lot of people. Many drummers hope that one day an opportunity will come along and this will become their full-time gig.
This isn’t what Gabe did…
Gabe worked out what he needs to cover his expenses and worked to cover all of that through drumming. Between church, YouTube, gigging with local bands and starting in-person lessons, Gabe achieved this.
It probably isn’t what most people would class as a professional drummer but he was making a living just from playing the drums.
I think this is amazing and an incredible achievement.
Joining I Prevail
For the next few years, this is how Gabe lived. Until he received a call to audition for I Prevail. The band had been recommended Gabe through the sound technician that worked at the church.
Ah, the power of networking…
Since joining I Prevail Gabe has toured across the globe and recorded one album so far, “Trauma” that released in 2019.
Currently, Gabe has two main focuses, I Prevail and Drum Beats Online.
Drum Beats Online
Drum Beats Online began as Gabe Helguera’s YouTube channel but it quickly evolved into a full online instructional website for drummers.
DBO Academy focuses on 4 pillars of learning.
Courses – these are all the lessons from beginner through to advanced. Each course has a video and full notation.
Progress tools – as you can view the courses you have completed and track your practice sessions.
Incredible community – get the support from other drummers going through the same journey as you.
Your drumming path – when you complete a course you are presented with the next course taking you on a logical path to improve your drumming.
The main difference you get when you join the DBO Academy is that you are learning from Gabe’s methodology.
You are on a journey with Gabe to make you the best drummer you can be.
When compared to sites at the other end of the spectrum, such as Drumeo where you are getting a series of masterclasses from different drummers, having one tutor can be extremely beneficial.
This is especially important in the early days of your drumming. Learning from one tutor gives you the chance to build a solid foundation before looking into a wider spectrum of techniques and methodologies.
The good news for you is that the DBO Academy has recently gone through a big refresh updating the website and its content.
There is currently a waiting list to join the site so make sure you go and sign up to the DBO Academy!
Gabe Helguera’s gear
As far as kit configuration Gabe can be seen often switching up his gear between I Prevail and Drum Beats Online.
Most of the kit formations do follow the setup of a modern rock kit. 1 tom, 1 floor and a selection of cymbals although he does sometimes use a larger kit as pictured below.
I admire what Gabe Helguera has achieved so far in his drumming career.
He had a clear goal, practised hard and worked logically to achieve it. It is great to see a drummer be so honest with his journey and the steps it has taken to get to where it is.
There also has to be a special shoutout to the DBO Academy. Gabe has created a great service that drummers love. Not to mention the dedication and commitment Gabe put into this whilst touring with I Prevail is no small feature.
Gabe is a true hustler.
I can’t wait to see what Gabe gets up to next in his drumming career.
Okay, I’m off to join the waiting list for the DBO Academy…
George Kollias is an extreme metal drummer born on the 30th of August 1977 in Korinthos, Greece.
Before George started the drums, he did play the guitar for two years. This is something that will help him later in his career.
At the age of 12, George got his first drum kit. In 1990, he began taking lessons with Vasilis Baxevanakis and then learning from the jazz drummer Yannis Stavropoulos in 1999.
In the late 90’s George joined his first band Extremity Obsession. Like most musicians first bands, they played some local shows and recorded some demos but had no great success.
Nightfall allowed George to get some great experience under his belt. During his time in Nightfall, he recorded the albums “I Am Jesus” and “Lyssa – Rural Gods And Astonish Punishments”.
Nightfall also played a lot of shows around Europe including one of the worlds biggest metal festivals, Wacken Open Air.
Forming Sickening Horror and session work
Sickening Horror was formed by George and was his first extreme metal band. The band recorded a promo CD in 2003 with the debut album “When Landscapes Bled Backward” coming out in 2007.
During this period Goerge also took on select session work from several projects across musical genres. George was selective during this period though, only taking on projects he had an interest in.
Taking on a selection of projects during this period grew George’s reputation as a drummer.
In 2004, Nile found themselves without a drummer after Tony Laureano quit the band. To help find the new drummer they called on extreme metal drumming heavyweight Derek Roddy for some help.
Derek sent the band some videos of George Kollias and recommended they reach out to him. The band did and in August 2004, George Kollias joined Nile.
At the time Nile was a very well established band and had already released three albums and was keen to get working on the next one.
George flew out to America and worked with the band for two months writing Annihilation Of The Wicked before heading to the studio to record.
Straight after this, the band headed out on a world tour that covered many of the largest metal festivals. This included Wacken Open Air, Graspop Metal Meeting and Hellfest in Europe as well as Japan’s Loudpark and the legendary Ozzfest in the US.
George Kollias went on to record five more albums with the band so far including Ithyphallic (2007), Those Whom the Gods Detest (2009), At the Gate of Sethu (2012), What Should Not Be Unearthed (2015) and Vile Nilotic Rites (2019).
Being a part of Nile has increased the profile of George Kollias allowing him to do drum clinics and festivals around the world as well as successful instructional DVDs.
George Kollias instructional DVDs
In 2008 George Kollias released his first instructional DVD, Intense Metal Drumming. As you can imagine from the name of the DVD and George’s playing, this shows you everything you need to become an extreme metal drummer.
The DVD was very successful and was quickly followed up by Intense Metal Drumming II in 2012 that featured even more in-depth advanced metal drumming.
As well as being a great player, George is an excellent instructor making even the most complicated exercises easy to follow.
George also released his first book in 2014 called The Odyssey Of Double Bass Drumming. This is set to be a trilogy all focused on double bass drumming. Each book released will go into more complex details than the previous.
George also offers online lessons and private lessons via Skype. You can find all the information you need for these on his website.
In 2015 George Kollias released a solo album “Invictus”. On this album, George recorded every instrument allowing him to showcase his talents on the guitar from his pre-drumming days.
The album was received well among the metal community and Kollias has hinted on his Instagram that he is working on new music.
What is unique about his playing?
If you have listened to George Kollias playing the first thing you will notice is the mind-blowing speed. His hands and feet are blisteringly fast and extremely precise.
When you see George’s feet you will quickly notice that he is using the swivel technique and he is a master at it. The tip of his feet remains on the pedals with the speed coming from the left and right ankle motion over the pedal.
For those that are blast beat aficionados, you will see George always does a single foot blast. This is the preferred method of old school death metal drummer but is becoming less popular as younger drummers are emerging.
Using a single foot bast does give Kollias some room to be creative. Even whilst blasting at extreme tempos, the left foot is free to play unique patterns and ostinatos.
This gives a lot of George’s parts a unique feel which can be difficult to come across in extreme metal.
George takes this a step further with his handwork. Whilst some parts need a straight-up blast beat, George creates various beats that sit over the main blast beat.
An example of this is playing a blast beat on a secondary snare and using the main snare to hold a backbeat.
George Kollias’s drum kit
George Kollias has a massive drum kit. It features multiples of everything you would expect on a drum kit.
The size of the kit does serve a purpose allowing George to add as much flavour into his blast beats as he wants.
Aquiles Priester is a Brazilian drummer born on the 25th of June 1971. Although Brazilian, Aquiles was born in Outjo, South West Africa (now Namibia) to Brazilian parents before moving to Brazil in 1977.
Aquiles was originally introduced to music at the young age of four in the form of a jazz ensemble that performed on television. It wasn’t until 1985, where he attended Rock In Rio that he decided he wanted to become a drummer.
In the early days, Aquiles didn’t have much to work with as he learned. He had a small kit that consisted of a snare, bass drum, hi-hat, cymbal mounted that he mounted from his roof and a tom that he borrowed from his school. If that doesn’t scream dedication and passion I don’t know what does!
The early days
Aquiles got his first break when he was discovered dubbing drums on a local TV broadcast. The group Tropical Band were impressed with his performance, even though it was mined, and offered him the chance to come and perform with them. Aquiles accepted the gig and was thrown in at the deep end having to play a show on his first time meeting the band.
This pattern formed the very early days of Aquiles drumming journey. Being discovered performing with one act and being asked to join another. Things weren’t easy for Aquiles though as it was hard to find a band committed enough or making any serious progress.
One thing was certain during this time though. That was his love for the band Iron Maiden and Nicko McBrian becoming his biggest influence.
Taking drum lessons late
During this period whilst trying to make it as a musician Aquiles decided it was time to take some lessons seven years after starting to play the drums.
This isn’t common as most musicians will start with lessons and then proceed to pursue drums as a profession. Professional drummers do take lessons though but this is more often in the form of a coach who helps you push your learning.
Aquiles Priester took lessons from Mimo Aires, Thabba and Kiko Freitas. As well as teaching him the technique behind the kit, they taught him what it was to be a professional musician. This is often overlooked when learning an instrument.
Making music a hobby
At the age of 24, Aquiles faced something that most musicians face in their career. You know you have the passion and drive but you haven’t had your break yet. You can’t afford to keep up the lifestyle you are living so you have to make the tough decision to get a “reel” job.
Aquiles made this choice and put drums on the back burner making it his hobby. This is what he did for a couple of years and was happy during this period, although something was missing from his life.
In 1997 Aquiles formed Hanger. Originally they were a metal cover band but proceed to write original songs. Something was different with this band though. Each member was dedicated and they had a vision of where they wanted to go. This could be a big opportunity.
Hangar proceeded to build up a good local following and had the opportunity to open up for Brazilian melodic metal band Angra. This was the bands biggest show to date. After this, they went on to record their debut album “Last Time” which was released in May 1999.
Aquiles Priester joins Angra
In late 2000, talks begin on the chance for Aquiles to audition for Angra. The band that inspired him and that he has previously supported with Hangar.
After much back and forth and some tests to ensure he was a good fit, Aquiles was in.
Angra was the big break Aquiles Priester was looking for. Aquiles recorded 5 albums during his time in the band and toured the world. Aquiles was a member of Angra up until their hiatus in 2007.
Releasing instructional material
In between touring with Angra Aquiles found the time to work on his drumming profile. He released his first drum DVD in 2004 entitled “Inside My Drums” and held over 100 workshops.
When in a successful band, it can become common for drummers to forget to raise their profile. Performing workshops and creating a DVD was a very smart step for Aquiles.
Aquiles then went on to create his first book “Inside My Psychobook – 100 Double Bass Patterns” in 2007. This book focused on developing double bass.
By raising his profile, Aquiles got the opportunity to perform at the Drummer Live Festival in London and host workshops across Europe and South America.
After his time with Angra, Aquiles went back to work with Hangar as well as taking on many other musical projects. This includes:
Tony MacAlpine (2012–present)
Vinnie Moore (2013)
Primal Fear (2014–2015)
Edu Falaschi (2017–present)
Aquiles Priester was also invited to audition for Dream Theater upon the departure of Mike Portnoy. Unfortunately on this occasion, Aquiles wasn’t chosen and the band went with Mike Mangini.
What is unique about Aquiles Priester’s drumming?
Aquiles Priester has a few distinct characteristics in his drumming.
The first thing you will notice is how relaxed he is looking. He never seems to be straining himself whilst playing and he will normally be chewing gum. He is comfortable and in the zone.
Secondly, you will notice how tight his playing is. He has extreme precision even when playing complex double bass patterns at high tempos. A lot of practice must go into everything he performs to be this precise and relaxed.
Aquiles also fits a lot of open-handed patterns into his parts. Either this is between his two rides, various toms or effects cymbals. Sonically, this is what makes him stand out from other drummers.
Aquiles Priester’s drum kit
As soon as you see a picture of his kit, you instantly know it belongs to Aquiles Priester.
Besides it being massive it has a few distinguishing features.
The cymbals are almost symmetrical and are set up in layers. At the top, you have all the cymbals for the big hits. The chinas and crashes. You then have an effects layer full of splashes and mini chinas. And at the bottom, you have the “beat” layer which consists of a hi-hat and ride each side.
There is also some symmetry to the tom setup. There are floor toms and gong drums on each side of the kit. The toms aren’t symmetrical in sizes as they go smallest to largest left to right but there are fairly symmetrical in placement.
When I look at Aquiles Priester’s drum setup it makes me think of a modern version of Nicko McBrian’s setup from Iron Maiden. You can tell this is one of his inspirations.
The latest version of his kit also has some stunning colour combinations going on. Vibrant red cymbals and red drumheads against a silver sparkle finish kit. Beautiful.
That is an impressive list. It is interesting to see that although he uses Mapex drums he doesn’t use the hardware, instead opting for Gibraltar and DW Pedals. I guess if you find something you like you stick with it.
Aquiles Priester signature products
Like most successful drummers Aquiles has had the chance to work with manufacturers to create some signature products. Let’s have a look.
Paiste 18″ 2002 Giga Bell Ride
Aquiles is known for his open-handed ride patterns. If you want to get the same sound as him you are in luck. Aquiles worked with Paiste to create the 18″ 2002 Giga Bell Ride. Although smaller than the average ride these feature a large bell and have a great ping sound. It also has a unique black dipped finish.
Aquiles Priester has had an inspirational journey. Once full of highs and lows, passion and determination.
He has achieved what most professional drummers aim to achieve and more. He is known as one of the worlds best metal drummers as well as being an accomplished instructor. What else could a drummer ask for?
I am a big fan of his style of drumming. The combination of fast double bass, big tom fills and interesting grooves are always exciting to watch.
I can’t wait to see what Aquiles Priester gets up to next.
Chris Turner is a drummer from Birmingham, United Kingdom born on the 26th September 1993. Chris first discovered the drums at the young age of 4 at the first concert he went to. The drummer that night was his dad. He instantly decided he wanted to become a drummer.
As Chris’s dad played the drums he initially tutored him for the first few years. This worked fine at the early stages but when learning from a family member there is no structure to what you work on. To help improve his drumming he Chris took lesson for three years at the local drum centre in Birmingham before stopping at the age of ten.
Chris’s dad wasn’t the only musical member of the family though. Almost all members of his family played some form of instrument and this allowed him to gain a strong understanding of music, not just the drums. Something that would benefit him in the long run.
One of the benefits of being from a musical family was the ability to jam with other musicians at such a young age. Something that many other musicians don’t experience until their teen years.
And with having a musical family, they were of course very supportive of Chris actively pursuing drumming.
More than just a metal drummer
Growing up Chris mostly listened to groove focused music as that is what his dad played. Bands such as The Matthews Band, Sting and The Police.
It wasn’t until his later year Chris discovered heavier music with the stand out being Linkin Park. But this was just the start of the rabbit hole.
Chris Turner later came across the band “Between The Buried And Me”. They play progressive metal music that is technical and full of drumming Chris has never heard before. Although not initially a fan of the vocals he pushed through to pursue the challenging drumming he hadn’t heard before. Blast beats, breakdown and double kick patterns.
These became new parts he wanted to learn and master before discovering the next more challenging metal band.
Although that became an obsession Chris doesn’t consider himself just a metal drummer. He lists his top influences as drummers such as Chris Coleman and Jojo Mayer. When he’s at home he rarely listens to metal and mostly listens to jazz or chill out music.
Starting Oceans Ate Alaska
Chris Turner is a founding member of the band Oceans Ate Alaska along with four other friends at Birmingham University. Although the band was formed in 2010 it has been around since approximately 2007 under a different name on the local scene with members coming and going before the decision to change the name and take the band seriously.
The band initially released two single “Taming Lions” and “Clocks” which gathered almost overnight traction receiving millions of plays and plenty of media attention. The band used this momentum to release EPs “Taming Lions” in 2011 and “Into The Deep” in 2012.
The success of these EPs gained them interest from Fearless Records, signing with them in 2014 and releasing the debut album “Lost Isles” on the 24th February 2015.
From here the band went on to tour across the USA and Europe to support the album.
On the 28th of July 2017, the band released the sophomore album “Hikari”. This album was heavily inspired by Japanese culture and saw the band go in some unexpected music directions. This gave Chris the chance to use brushes and jazz drums on certain sections. Something was not often seen on metal albums.
One of the main things to note about Chris’s role in Oceans Ate Aleska is that is more than just the drummer in the band. He does all of the pre-production and engineering on the music they release. As the band is also very drum focused, Chris writes the majority of the rhythms on the songs. The writing process is still very collaborative but he likes to class himself as the primary composer.
Chris Turner Drummer – solo music
As well as working on Oceans Ate Aleska Chris has taken on a brand new project. His solo album “Steezy”. This is described as a unique and daring album for heavy music lovers.
Chris used the platform Indigogo to fund the project smashing his goals and successfully funding the project. Chris states that the album “Steezy” will first be released as an instrumental album with a version featuring vocals to follow in the future. So far Chris has released two tracks. “40 Roll” and “Triggered” featuring Thomas Lang.
Check them out here
Chris Turner – 40 Roll
Chris Turner – Triggered featuring Thomas Lang
The reaction to these songs has been huge with them receiving hundreds of thousands of plays already.
It has also been interesting to see the drumming community reacting to the videos. The tracks have become a must-have video on the “drummer reaction” style videos that are popular at the moment. These have without doubt helped spread the popularity of the tracks.
Chris has also been smart with the release of the track Triggered. He gave pre-access to select YouTubers so they could drop their reaction videos at the same time as the main video. This helps spread the hype and interest in the new release with very little time and effort needed from Chris. This is a very smart move and I am intrigued to see if more people follow this trend going forward.
Chris Turner has also performed on other tracks and albums, most notably for I Am Abomination.
Chris also does engineering for other bands when he isn’t on the road.
What is unique about Chris Turner’s drumming?
When you first see Chris Turner play the drums you are going to notice that his style is unique. When you watch him play it is like watching a robot and he does look a little awkward.
He has a pure concentration on what he is doing and has a death stare focused on what needs hitting next. He also looks a bit stiff and tilts his head to the side. You have to see it to appreciate it.
When you get past how he looks at the kit you will start to appreciate the extreme accuracy of everything he is playing. The notes are almost perfectly placed, you would have to slow down his playing to notice any inaccuracy. It is impressive.
You will then notice how smooth and consistent his dynamics are. They are so consistent Chris seems to be constantly defending himself again the use of triggers and sampling his drums. Chris himself isn’t a fan of triggers and likes the natural sound of the drums. It is easy to see why drummers may think he is using something to enhance his sound as it is that good.
When you watch Chris play you can see the power he is hitting his kit with. Especially the bass drum. In the fast sections, you can see him pushing himself off his throne from the downwards force.
To see how Chris Turner develops his bass drum speed and power watch this clip from his Instagram.
When he practices on a pad he doesn’t use any pedals. He just uses his feet. This way he isn’t dependent on a pedal. All the power and accuracy is coming directly from him.
Chris Turner’s drum kit
Chris Turner has a fairly minimal drum set when it comes to the drums. One tom, one floor tom, one snare and one bass drum. The cymbal selection is more elaborate and does vary between projects.
When you see Chris’s setup you will notice that everything on the kit is very low and Chris sits very high. He likes to sit high to make playing the kick easier. When sitting high he can focus more on the downwards motion rather than having to raise his leg for each note.
Because he is sitting so high you will also notice that some of the cymbals are facing away from him. This is so that when he strikes he is still hitting the cymbals correctly. If the cymbals were flat he would be hitting them with the tip of the stick rather than the shoulder of the stick.
Chris Turner is an extremely impressive drummer. You know you are doing something pretty special when people can’t believe what you are doing is real. His power and accuracy is something every metal drummer wants.
I can’t wait for the release of “Steezy”. I’m looking forward to seeing what other drummers feature and how crazy the drumming gets. Hopefully, the release of this solo album will give Chris the chance to perform it and appear at more drum festivals and clinics.
We can’t wait to see what comes next for Chris Turner.
Arin Ilejay (Richard Arin Ilejay) is a drummer born on the 17th February 1988 in Palmdale, California, USA. Arin is most recognised for his time in the band Avenged Sevenfold.
At a young age, Arin was introduced to music by his father who was a session guitarist. At age 10 Arin began to learn the drums at his local church where he progressed to play worship services. This introduced him to playing with other musicians at a young age.
In school, Ariv did join the jazz band and marching band. Although his real passion did lie behind the drum kit. Luckily his father did own a music store and was kind enough to create a small space for Arin to practice. This small space became the place where Arin would practice, develop as a drummer and play along to bands that inspired him. Arin learned “Unholy Confessions” by Avenged Sevenfold in this space unaware he would one day be playing with them.
Professional drumming career
Arin Ilejay has had a varied career since his days of playing in his practice space.
At the age of 19, Arin joined the band Confide through mutual friends. Arin recorded drums on the debut album “Shout The Truth” that released in 2008. The remainder of 2008 was spent touring with Confide to promote the album.
In January 2009 the bands recorded label Science Records was eliminated by its parent company, Warner Bros. Records. This left the band without a label and an uncertain future.
Arin wanted to become a family man and an uncertain future with the band wouldn’t be able to support these aspirations. Arin decided to leave the Confide in 2009.
Changing career to TRX Cymbals
As an artist for TRX Cymbals during his time in Confide he had an in with them for a position. Arin became Artist Relations Manager in February 2009.
Arin loved the products and knew a lot of artists through his time on the road. It was a perfect match and a great move for Arin and TRX.
Arin seemed to be happy with this role until a bigger opportunity came knocking.
Joining Avenged Sevenfold
In 2010, Arin was approached by Mike Fasano with an opportunity. Arin knew Mike through recording the Confide debut album. Mike was the drum tech for the album to help Arin get the best sounds possible.
When Mike originally reached out, he explained to Arin he had a great opportunity for Arin to audition for a band. Arin was happy at TRX at the time so declined the audition.
Things went quiet over the coming months until Mike got back in touch again to try and persuade Arin to audition again. This time around he mentioned the audition was to join Avenged Sevenfold.
Arin decided that if he was going to give up his career at TRX for anything, Avenged Sevenfold was big enough. So Arin took the audition and got the job.
It was announced in January 2011 that Arin would be touring with the band from that point. In 2013 Arin was confirmed as a full-time member.
Arin recorded drums for the album “Hail to the King” which was released on 27th August 2013. The album was the first to be released without any contribution from The Rev. The album went to number one in the USA, UK and many other countries.
The band proceed to tour the world headlining festivals and arena headline shows.
After this, the band planned to create another album but decided Arin would not be the drummer. Arin was fired by the band and this was announced in July 2015. Avenged Sevenfold cited the reason as creative differences. Brooks Wackerman was later announced as the new drummer and full-time member of Avenged Sevenfold.
Life after Avenged Sevenfold
After Avenged Arin quickly joined the band, Islander. At the time Islander has gone through a major lineup change and upon seeing the news of Arin becoming available they knew they wanted him in the band.
Arin recorded one album with the band, “Power and Control” which released in 2016. Arin was only a member of Islander for a couple of years departing in 2017.
Since Islander Arin has been very quiet on the band and drumming front. As Arin has already wanted to be a family man it seems he has stepped away from touring and is focusing on that.
Arin has mentioned in interviews that he likes to have a symmetrical setup to allow him to perform cross-handed playing to enhance the live performance. This is visible in his cymbal set up on the kit.
Find out more about Arin Ilejay
Arin is on most social platforms although he is very quiet and not posting often. To keep up to date with what he is up to check out the links below.
Arin Ilejay is a great drummer who was faced with one of the biggest challenges in metal drumming. Filling the shoes of the much-beloved Rev. Almost an impossible task.
I think his live performances were full of energy with extremely tight playing. I enjoyed his drumming on “Hail to the King” but it was a shame Arin didn’t get to put more of himself into that album. From the outside, it seemed more like he was a session drummer there with a job to deliver rather than having creative input.
What do you think? Do you think Arin could have done anything differently?
Whatever Arin does next we are excited to see. Hopefully, he will get behind the kit again but who knows.
Raja Meissner is a metal drummer from Frankfurt, Germany born on 6th March 2000. At the age of 13, Raja took up the drums teaching her self how to play. Like most drummers, Raja joined a school band playing cover songs but quickly progress and played shows across Germany at the age of 17 with the band Psychovillage.
In 2019 Raja took the move to start uploading her cover performances online. Instagram is her main channel but many of her videos can also be found on YouTube.
If you are a fan of metal music you will know the vast majority of metal drummers are males. It is no small feat to break the boundaries and grow as fast as Raja has. This is a true testament to her playing and passion.
Raja Meissner on Instagram
Raja has a massive following on Instagram sitting at 415,000 followers at the time of writing. And this is for good reason. She plays the drums with conviction, energy and passion. It is clear to see the Raja loves playing the drums.
Most of her videos are drum covers of bands such as Slipknot, System of a Down, Avenged Sevenfold and various other metal band but you will come across lifestyle content as well. This allows Raja to break the boundaries and make a personal connection with her fans. Something that is often lacking from online drummer personalities.
If you are looking for longer versions of Raja’s covers, check out her YouTube channel. Even though it isn’t her main focus she still has a staggering 172,000 subscriber and over 8.5 million views.
Now Raja has a large following she has taken to decision to go professional making drumming her full-time career. This is a big move and she is still very early into her journey.
If you want to support Raja through the early days of her career check out her Patreon page. You can gain access to exclusive content and merch as well as get lessons from the songs she covers.
Currently, even though Raja has a large audience she is yet to leverage it in such a way that other drummers have like 66Samus for example.
Bands played in
Raja Meissner is currently a member of the band Risen from Shadows. They are a metalcore band from Germany who is currently working on a cover album. As they would describe “the darkest covers of the sweetest songs.”
Check out “Sugar” from the upcoming album.
Raja has also been teasing another band for a long time but nothing seems to have been released yet. Keep an eye out for “Royce Millenium” on Instagram.
Raja is lucky enough to already be endorsed by an incredible lineup of companies.
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