[Aflos take shots with the crowd at The Daisy Jones Bar in May. PHOTO: Wilné van Rooyen]

Since 2019, Aflos have been leaving a long trail of hungover mornings, lost voices and vaguely remembered nights in their wake. These pillars of the Stellenbosch nightlife have never failed to deliver unashamedly student-centred rock with a sense of humour and irresistible live energy. 

We chatted with the band’s Jess Meissner and Joshua Swanepoel to find out the secrets behind their crowd-pulling ability, get their thoughts on the latest singles, and get a glimpse of their plans to refocus the band’s sound.

“Let’s start a band, that sounds fun”

Aflos started as a three-piece aiming to tackle the Aandklas Battle of the Bands in 2019, with Josh on drums and Jess on bass. “None of us really knew what we were doing, but we [thought], ‘Heck, let’s start a band, because that sounds fun,” Josh says.

After a few gigs and lineup changes, Josh switched to frontman after bringing in Chris Burgess on drums, keeping Jess on bass and adding Ben Hatch on guitar. Last year, Henko Uys (of Almost Alive) took over on bass and Jess moved over to keys.

Josh still felt they were missing something. “I always wanted harmonies on the vocals, and nobody else in the band was either able or willing to sing,” he says. So, the final addition to the band was Cameron Hatch on saxophone — and cowbell — to support the harmonies and play parts on their two latest songs.

“Initially it was just for fun. We just [thought], it’d be cool if we opened for this band, or if we played in Pretoria for shits and giggles. I mean, we’d like our music to get big but it just wasn’t at that point yet because everybody is still in university and it was more of an outlet for us,” Josh explains.

Aflos

[Jess didn’t like Josh before they started the band. ”Update, we’re besties now,” she says. PHOTO: James Browning]

“I wouldn’t really say we [had] goals aside from giving people a good jol […] Up until now we’ve just been that student band, and it’s worked for us I suppose, but now we want to be taken a bit more seriously,” Jess says.

Songs to scream along to

Aflos’ latest release was ‘Strangers’ in August. While Josh usually takes the lead in songwriting, ‘Strangers’ started with Jess — who is also an up-and-coming composer — playing an impromptu refrain on the ukulele. “I love it. It’s different to everything else we have, but obviously, I’m a bit biased because I helped write it,” she says.

“‘Strangers’ is a completely different sound. It’s still rock at the end of the day, but I would compare it more to, [sigh] kinda like ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ by Journey,” Josh explains.

Josh clearly wasn’t fully behind the offhand comparison, but we can certainly see where he’s coming from. Both tracks are longing but ultimately optimistic takes on our fleeting moments with people we don’t really know.

In ‘Strangers’, vocals strain against the walls of a lonely bar, overthinking the small things but holding out a hopeful hand. The track takes things home with an unabashed solo and a build-up to a well-earned vocal cry — a satisfying sequence that would feel right at home amongst theatrical 80s rock.

“I think there’s something anthem-y about it. You just want to scream it in your car driving down a road at night. I think it’s relatable and catchy and I’m really proud of it,” Jess adds.

Aflos

[Cameron (left) and Henko (right) play to the crowd. PHOTO: James Browning]

Audience participation is mandatory

“I think for Aflos it’s more about our performances than our recordings. The main idea with any recording for [us] is to try [to] keep the same energy as we have live.” That’s a high bar to set — Aflos arrive at their live shows brimming with pure party energy, and they’re there to ensure everyone else’s cup is similarly full.

The band members’ enthusiasm aside, a big part of the fun is the set list — classic youth anthem covers mingle perfectly with their campus rock originals. From ‘Chelsea Dagger’ and ‘Hooked On A Feeling’ to Weezer’s ‘Say It Ain’t So’ — audience participation is absolutely mandatory.

Luckily the band is rarely without a crowd to engage with. “[Aflos] have the most dedicated fans […] When I go to Aflos shows now I know everyone because their fans don’t miss a show,” says Frances Steyl, a photographer at Aandklas Stellenbosch and a friend of the band.

Aflos

[“The best part of any Aflos show is the cowbell moments,” says Frances – and she’s not the only person who thinks so. PHOTO: James Browning]

“I love the mix of people that come support. It’s interesting to see that there are always people that you know but there are also always new faces. It’s really exciting to see what the crowd is going to be like,” says Jess. “It’s something new every time you get on stage,” Josh adds.

But even when turnout is thin, Aflos manages to magic up an audience. “We have vibey music, so if [they] hear us playing people tend to come in and want to dance and sing […] Ultimately we’ve had gigs where there’s been no one and we just pull people in from the street […] It is really the music,” Jess explains.

“And also of course the support of our bars, like Aandklas [Stellenbosch]. They like to promote us which is really helpful,” she adds.

Setting their sights on ska

Josh tells us that Aflos’ sound has always been a mixed bag of ska, rock, punk, and indie. However, the band has plans to pull their sound together into something more cohesive soon.

“Over December I want to record a full album. Take some of Aflos’ older music and new stuff and create a specific sound. The idea is we want to make it a ska-punk album — that just seems to be the direction that most of the music is taking,” Josh adds.

Aflos had their first original ska-punk outing with the single ‘Roundabout’, released back in May this year. ‘Roundabout’ is a ska-infused romp that makes full use of the addition of Cameron’s sax. The track eagerly embraces the genre — infectious ad-libs, groovy bass and a proper campy finish.

“When I wrote the song initially it wasn’t actually a ska-punk song, but it had a ska feel to it. Before one of our shows, we shook it up a little bit and added some distortion and it sounded really good so that’s how we’ve been playing it since then,” Josh explains.

Aflos

[“Taking photos of Aflos […] you can always catch Josh doing something fun,” Frances adds. PHOTO: James Browning]

Escaping the student band brand

Alongside a re-focussing of their sound, Aflos is looking to make some bigger changes to their identity and take things a step further. “I want to get a touring band together [since] everyone’s almost done with university now, [but] nothing’s quite decided yet,” Josh says.

“We want to do a rebranding. ‘Aflos’ associates [us] with student life, and if we want to get ourselves out of being seen as just a student band I think a new name will work, Jess says.

While the band is planning to play a few more live shows before the end of the year, no dates have been confirmed. You’ll have to keep an ear out on their gig group chat. Aside from Aflos shows, you can catch Josh, Chris and Henko as part of the Emo Night act Josh organises at Aandklas Stellenbosch.

Full of fantastic performances of teenage classics and a crowd always ready to sing along at full volume, we can highly recommend the event — though the next date has not yet been announced.

Author

​​I write about the tech sector in hopes we can find human-centred alternatives to the mess we’ve made for ourselves. I get involved in the music scene because leaving passion unpursued is a sin. When my feet aren’t busy on the sokkie floor, you can find me chasing silver linings.

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