Top Secret Drum Corps

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Top Secret Drum Corps, performing with their notable 'fire-sticks'.

Top Secret Drum Corps is a precision drum corps based in Basel, Switzerland. With 25 drummers and colorguard members, the corps became famous for its demanding six-minute routine performed at the Edinburgh Tattoo in 2003. With its invitation to Edinburgh, Top Secret became one of the first non-military, non-British Commonwealth acts to perform on the Esplanade at Edinburgh Castle.

Since its success in 2003, Top Secret was invited to return to Edinburgh in 2006 with a new and improved routine. They were invited a third time in 2009 and again in 2012. Under the leadership of Erik Julliard, the band is also responsible for the founding of the Basel Tattoo, a military tattoo show similar to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, now held annually in Basel.

Drumming style[edit]

Top Secret has its roots in the rich drumming traditions of the band's home city, Basel, Switzerland, which is known for its annual carnival called Fasnacht. The city is said to have over 3,000 active drummers at any one time. These drummers perform at traditional events such as Fasnacht, the Vogel Gryff, Charivari, and various parades associated with the city's guilds. A Trommelkönig (Drummer King) competition is also held every year by the city's Fasnacht Committee.

Basel drumming style is militaristic, derived from the military drumming drills of Swiss soldiers dating back to the Middle Ages. Top Secret in many ways adheres to the military nature of Basel drumming, but differs in many respects. Its drummers play at a much faster rate. Also, while traditional Basel drumming is somber and favors traditional marching tunes (accompanied by fifes during the Fasnacht), Top Secret's drumming style is upbeat and playful. Over the years, the corps adopted many elements from Drum Corps International (DCI), Scottish, and American rudimental drumming. Segments of their routines feature a "rhumba", a drummer's duel (where a number, if not all, of the drummers will fight one another, using their sticks as one-handed swords or fencing foils; at Gymotion 2014, the drummers fought the colour guard, who used their flags as double-blades), drumstick juggling (seen at every show, where the drummers and sometimes the colour guard throw their sticks and flags, respectively, to one another (the colour guard always throw the flags over the bass drummers' heads)), flagpoles and bass drums which produce sparks (first seen at the 2006 Edinburgh Tattoo (flags only); the sparking bass drums came at the 2009 Tattoo), and other crowd-pleasing details, such as removable bass drums (first seen at Gymotion 2014) and fire-sticks (usually the last act of their show, where the drummers produce two special sticks, light the ends and perform a very fast drumbeat, after which the fire is extinguished). Their 2012 routine at the Edinburgh Tattoo included strobe lights within their drums that appeared to be activated by the drummer's beats; there were also similar lights at either end of their flags.

Perhaps because of their 18th Century uniforms and precision work, the Corps is often referred to as a military band or a part of the Swiss Army, but it is not affiliated with any military unit.


Top Secret's members are highly dedicated college students to drummers with diverse day jobs—bankers, civil servants, factory workers, etc.[1] They give up their free time to practice nearly every day of the year. Due to the demanding nature of the work, its membership is frequently changing.


Traditional drumming society in Basel initially frowned on Top Secret's style of drumming but came to accept the Corps after its success in Edinburgh. As the corps developed its own drumming style over the years, embracing influences from DCI, Scottish and American rudimental drumming, that controversy became obsolete.

During the 2005 Fasnacht, Top Secret made local headlines with a prank meant to poke fun at the stringent rules of the Basel carnival. That issue was a policy which forbids foreigners from marching in the Morgestraich. Top Secret circulated news that it had invited a band from Oman to march at the event. The "Oman band" then appeared in costume at a press conference where angry carnival bolsters expressed their outrage. When the "Oman band" revealed itself as Top Secret members and friends in disguise, many Fasnacht participants and organizers were not amused whereas a majority of the public found the gag hilarious.

Ongoing success[edit]

Since its 2003 performance at Edinburgh, Top Secret has enjoyed worldwide success. They have performed at various venues in Europe, the United States, Australia and at the 2008 South African Tattoo held from 11 - 14 September 2008.[2] In 2011, they performed at the Quebec Military Tattoo.

They are the subject of a documentary film by Swiss television which recounts their rise to fame at the Edinburgh Tattoo. A feature film based on the Edinburgh endeavor is currently in the works with Insert Films, Switzerland.

Top Secret made an appearance on an episode of the 2014 series of Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, as the act for the "End of the Show - Show". In their routine, show presenters Ant and Dec joined in as drummers, colour-inverted versions of the drummers' jackets (Ant and Dec wore white; the drummers always wear off-black). The routine included the ever-present drummers' duel, the ever-present stick juggle and the notable fire-stick routine.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Top Secret Drum Corps Edinburgh Military Tattoo 2006". YouTube. Retrieved 16 October 2012. 
  2. ^ City of Johannesburg Website, Tattoo gives drumming an edge, 27 August 2008

External links[edit]