‘I’m getting 500 DMs a day’: Fish56Octagon, the dressing gown-wearing viral DJ sensation

Estimated read time 6 min read

This year’s biggest breakout DJ is a 44-year-old car influencer in a dressing gown. Six months ago he pivoted his social media account, Fish56Octagon, away from automotive advice to playing his decades-old rave vinyl in jarringly domesticated scenarios: listening to happy hardcore in the family estate car, chivvying the kids along in the morning with underground speed garage, or eating breakfast to hallucinogenic psytrance.

But his videos aren’t just for lols: they’re part music journalism, part informed recommendation from a well-meaning record shop guy, as he enthuses about a rave obscurity then explains its place within its canon, covering a wide range of dance music genres. Now, with followings of more than 300,000 on TikTok and nearly half a million on Instagram, he’s being booked to DJ at some of the best clubs and festivals in Europe, including multiple visits to Ibiza over the summer and three sets at Glastonbury this week.

Liam Cross from the London club Night Tales, which will host Fish in July, attests to Fishmania: “The response was crazy – the show sold out in just over 24 hours.” Fish began June by closing a stage at High Lights festival in London, curated by his hero Carl Cox. “He’s so popular because it’s rare to see someone so incredibly in love with the music they’re playing,” says Simon Denby, who runs the festival. And Fish confesses he had not really DJed in public before: “I played out a bit when I was at university, in the student union and a few house parties, but that’s it.”

Fish56Octagon DJing to his young fanbase at the Brickworks, Nottingham, in April.View image in fullscreen

Fish – who doesn’t want to reveal his real name – went to his first club aged 15 (“Things were a lot more lax in those days”), and was soon spending every penny he had on records, mixing them for hours and hours at home. Clubbing became the backbone of his life. He has been a punter in Ibiza around 20 times, and had his stag do at Creamfields festival in 2010 (somewhere else he is now booked as a DJ). Eventually he moved out of London and raving took a back seat. He lives in the south-east with his wife and two kids.

He has worked in marketing, across various sectors, since he was a student. Would he like to explain his day job? “Not especially,” he says in a friendly yet assured manner. “I’ve got a serious career which I’m really committed to, and I don’t really see that they cross over. I still see myself at just a hobby level with DJing.”

His nine-to-five nevertheless informs one of his most distinctive visual traits: wearing a dressing gown while dropping rave bangers online. To some it seems like an arch gimmick, but according to Fish: “it’s because I have to get up early and make this content before I start work. I’m usually on Zoom calls from about half-eight. So if I’m getting up at six in the morning to make five social posts, it makes sense just to be wearing what I’d naturally be wearing at that time.” The same applies to another quirk: his habit of munching on a dry Weetabix during a video. “I used to have three with butter spread on them every day,” he confides. “But I needed to get my BMI down a bit. All I’ll say is: they’re not as dry as you’d imagine.”

So far, no-one from Weetabix has asked Fish to be a brand ambassador, nor has he been offered a free dressing gown. He approached a company, but they declined. “I need to get a more lightweight one because the ones I’ve got are really heavy winter ones,” he says. More importantly, of the 1,200 songs he has played on his channel, he’s only been paid three times to promote a track. “Right at the very start I experimented with that, but quickly stopped. It’s too much of a compromise. I don’t want to be beholden to anyone.”

He is loved by legions of fans in their 20s, with one telling me: “His enthusiasm always cheers me up and gets me through the day.” His age isn’t a barrier, it’s a virtue; young audiences today like it when their DJs have accumulated rave wisdom and a huge vinyl collection to draw from. Another fan, aged 24, likes that Fish and his own mum have the same taste in rave bangers: “My favourite kind of music is 90s dance. There’s nothing as multi-generational as music in my opinion.”

It’s those most demographically similar to him – other bedroom DJs his age, or associated rave know-it-alls – who are cynical about his success. They think he’s a bit of an interloper, a bit too try-hard, not a “real” DJ. Some don’t like the fact that he’s a middle-aged man with a body to match: a recent podcast discussing the Fish phenomenon was subtitled “What does a bald English record nerd in his dressing gown say about dance music in 2024?”, as though his baldness somehow disqualified him from the zeitgeist.

Fish56Octagon at the decks.View image in fullscreen

Others recoil at the way he dances in pretty much every video: how dare a middle-aged rave fan dance like a middle-aged rave fan, all flailing wrists, closed eyes and goofy shuffles? Some assume it’s an algorithm-gaming contrivance, which he is keen to deny. “Does it look like I could even fake it?,” he says. “My dancing might not win me a prize in a competition but it’s a true expression of how I feel about the music I’m listening to. Just let me live my life. It’s not hurting you, is it?”

Perhaps it’s jealousy. His contemporaries may have the same tunes, the same rave experiences, the same Hospital Records T-shirt – but Fish’s ability to be so open and unvarnished, on a platform that demands full immersion from its content creators, is a genuine skill that many of his generation don’t have. “There was never any strategy behind it, to market myself or promote anything,” he says. “I’ve always just made the content that I thought was entertaining and interesting and fun. To be honest, it has taken a bit of a toll on my family life, because I do spend a lot of time on it. I’ve missed quite a lot of bedtimes and bathtimes because I’ve been busy making content. Doing 10 social posts a day for TikTok and Instagram is not a quick thing.”

DJing today is as much about narrative as anything else. If an audience feels good about you and feels part of your journey, it seems almost anyone – from Steve Davis to Gok Wan – can hold down a busy DJ career. Fish56Octagon has that narrative, plus shedloads of goodwill to boot. “I can get around 500 DMs a day at the moment,” he says. “People are realising from my videos that you can just put yourself out there and not care what other people think.”

Source: theguardian.com

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