If I were to ask you what you think of the Maltese artistic landscape, I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me that it’s something of a desert. If your knowledge of the local cultural scene is restricted to the arid wasteland of the Eurovision song contest, then you’re very probably nodding in weary agreement. But three minute ditties and histrionics do not, mercifully, tell the whole story.
Out of sight, the local band scene has been experiencing a little golden age. It’s really quite something. Just pop over to the garage complex a stone’s throw away from the Marsa parish church. There you will find ska bands in their hats and sunglasses; mohawked punks rehearsing next to raised eye-brow joke bands; sardonic folk groups sharing a garage with wacky funkateers; and bands playing every imaginable permutation of rock, from old fashioned hard rock to Frankensteins called things like ‘progressive-symphonic-doom-grind’.
Bands, of course, are fuzzy, notional things. They’re made up of people. And what people! Forget the automatons that clutter our TV schedules. Our band scene has human beings; bards with facial hair and acid tongues, guitar virtuosos with more amplifiers than good sense, saucy songstresses with pianos and eyeliner and seen-it-all retro-rockers with more anecdotes than a wild-west bartender. This is what I’m talking about; a luxuriant oasis in the middle of the desert. Or perhaps it is a desert, but one of the Wile E. Coyote variety, full of exaggeration, noble failure and mad-cap experimentation.
That, by the way, was the good news. There’s bad news. The bad news is that it’s steadily becoming more difficult for me and you to enjoy any of this. Intrepid law enforcers will rush to stop a gig mid-chorus at the first hint of complaint from a neighbour, and the gig has to stop, no matter how scrupulously the organizers would have adhered to the rulebook; support from the authorities is scarce; and if you’re letting in young people under the age of seventeen (and you really should, it’s good for them) and selling alcohol during the gig (the horror!), you may be required to get hold of a bank guarantee in an amount ‘not exceeding’ fifty thousand euro. I guess one is grateful for small mercies when you’re at the mercy of the nearest Aunty Mary.
Live music events are the lifeblood of the band scene, but they are often small, financially perilous affairs. When a band independently organizes a gig and five hundred people turn up, it’s deemed a glorious triumph. If the band breaks even, the gig is hailed in poem and song. When hang-ups happen, it’s both heartbreaking as well as financially calamitous for the organizers.
So, will local bands die out, like neglected pot plants? They won’t. Local musicians are a hardy, prickly lot, well adapted to life in the desert. They’ll get by. But do they deserve better? I’ve put this essay together using a bad metaphor, a smattering of punctuation and some Sellotape, but I hope I’ve convinced you that they do. Can you help? (That was the last rhetorical question, I promise). Well, yes, yes you can.
The musicians, you see, are organizing themselves. They’re working together to keep live music viable and practical. It’s quite the thing, like a well-spoken menagerie coming together with drum kits and ideas. Look up ‘DOQQ – Front għas-salvagwardja tal-mużika Live’, and if you’re not some cold blooded reptilian swamp dweller, click join. The band scene has a big heart, but a small voice. Lend some decibels. Aunty Mary won’t like the noise, but she can’t get the police to call this one off.