Malta might be a tiny island with less than half a million people crammed on it, but what we lack in size and human resources, we definitely make up for with creativity and experimentation. And nowhere is this clearer than within the island’s alternative music scene.
Even with the alternative scene being such a limited one on the rock, you’d be surprised as to how many bands have managed to evolve and flourish over the last couple of years. You might also be a little confused as to where to begin. Well, you’ve got start somewhere, and these 12 acts are your safest bet.
Disclaimer: this list is in no particular order. It’s also by no means exclusive. There’s a beautifully expansive world waiting just underneath the mainstream surface, and these acts are just the tip of the iceberg.
Probably one of the first bands to crop up in people’s minds when they’re asked to compile such a list, both subjectively and chronologically. Beangrowers shot to fame way back in the 90s, and their influence in Malta is still strongly felt nowadays. Back then, they had even made it to international festivals like Texas’ South By Southwest (three times in a row, nonetheless!), so you can only imagine what effect they had on budding musicians back home.
Fast-forward to 2018, and PDM are one of the alternative scene’s most exciting acts around.
Taking cues from international legends like Radiohead, Atoms for Peace and Portishead, the five-piece band take very local themes like religion and spirituality, give them philosophy-induced Maltese lyrics, and add a beautiful layer of electronic music that audiences beyond our shores will instantly fall in love with.
This band is not just important for their music, but also for what they represent in the scene.
In the early 2010s, the alternative scene saw a beautiful explosion in activity. Suddenly, more people were attending gigs, more venues were opened, and more bands took the cue to start experimenting and sharing their music with people. At the heart of this all was Msida Valley’s Coach & Horses, and Stalko.
Stalko’s 2012 debut album Grandiloquence was the perfect embodiment of all this, while their 2016 A Long Wave Goodbye felt like just that; a tribute to a time which was over as quickly as it had appeared. And Malta’s alternative music scene owes a lot of those brief, beautiful moments to bands like Stalko.
How do you go about injecting youthful energy into a scene? Well, by doing just that; get three very energetic young musicians to tear up the stage.
They might now only play rare one-off gigs, but Clandestines’ album Saturday As Usual back in 2013 had given the alternative scene the kick in the ass (and potentially also balls) it deserved.
If heavy is what you’re looking for, these guys have got it by the truckload. Creeping out of Malta’s dingy garages in the early 2010s along with some of the island’s most exciting acts, The VVs had released their debut album Tame to all the hype they could ever hope for.
After a couple of years of radio silence, the boys had a surprise announcement to all their fans back last November. “We’re back, rehearsing and writing new material”. And that, for the alternative music scene, is very good news.
Quirky name aside, The Areola Treat are heavyweights as far as the alternative music scene goes.
Even though the band had been around since 2006 and had even released two loved EPs, their rise to popularity was also beautifully timed with that 2012/3 sweet spot. This is also when the band released their very first music video, ahead of their album Walk Into Nothing.
By 2014, the band had released a full, 45-minute full with the same name, where they talked everything from their own formative years to the scene’s brightest (and darkest) years.
7. Stolen Creep
If you’ve been paying attention to this list, you’ll realise that the alternative scene was never really short of female-fronted bands. What was missing, however, was an entire band made up of female musicians. That’s where Stolen Creep came in and took the spotlight.
The band’s eerie guitar notes and beautiful harmony’s helped Stolen Creep instantly shoot to the top of the scene. The band was asked to open for local sweethearts nosnow/noalps‘ debut album back in 2011, and very soon, the girls were headlining local festivals among some of the scene’s biggest bands.
One of the biggest problems local alternative bands have faced is their inability to attract a wider audience beyond the scene’s strict confines. This has less to do with how good the bands actually are, and more to do with how scenes and cliques work on this island. There is, thankfully, an exception to every rule, and for Malta, that exception’s Dolls For Idols.
Merging energetic post-punk elements and vocals to fully-fledged electronica, the trio managed to bring together a wider – and much more varied – audience. Suddenly, bands were playing in nightclubs and on lineups with DJs, and the Dolls were at the helm of it all.
The band has been in hibernation for a couple of years, but hopeful rumours of a reunion still regularly brew beneath the surface.
If you’re getting worried that too many of the bands on this list have descended into inactivity, this is where things get a bit more uplifting.
A relatively new band on the block, Eyes to Argus released their debut album last November. Fusing anything from post-rock to hip hop influences into long, contemplative numbers, this band is a clear sign of things to come. And it’s a great sign.
Back in 2014, Brodu released the classic tearjerker Iċ-Ċimiterju. Four years and 37,000 views later, they’re one of the go-to bands for many fans of the scene.
After a very successful debut, Brodu released their sophomore Tfejt last year. It’s arguably the most important Maltese album of 2017, so if you’re looking into discovering the alternative scene, be sure you don’t gloss over these geniuses.
Another remnant of the early 2010s heydays, Yasmin Kuymizakis has gone from quirky songwriter, to electronic artist, to genius producer.
The last couple of years have seen YEWS move away from the experimental music she shot to fame with, and she’s even ended up performing some of the bounciest sets at heavy clubs like Liquid.
In the last couple of years, most of the local alternative scene came to one important realisation; music is great and all, but it’s not everything. More focus was given to the entirety of the show, the decorations of the venue, and most importantly, the lighting. That’s where Late Interactive came in back in late 2016.
The brainchild of Andrew Schembri and Toni Gialanzé, Late Interactive brought genius DIY creations to stages all around Malta. Soon, the slightly diminishing scene was injected with a new life, and the duo found success in art installations on the streets of Valletta and more mainstream events.
2017 came to a close with Schembri announcing a new project, this time a musical one. Enlisting the drumming machine that is Manuel Pulis, Schembri’s weird and wonderful electronic creations now have a new mission; to make cool music. And if their first two performances are any indication of things to come, 2018 might just be Traskurat’s year.
What, do you think we were going to forget the biggest band of them all?
As notorious frontman Mario Vella himself sings on one of the bands older numbers, it’s all just a matter of opinions, but Brikkuni are easily one of the best bands to ever grace this island.
Enlisting the help of some of the scene’s most talented musicians (you’ll now recognise the names Clandestines, Violent Violents, Traskurat and YEWS among others), Brikkuni command a certain reverence which is yet to be challenged.
Starting off with Kuntrabanda and Trabokk’s more sarcastic tracks that might’ve been tough for their targets to digest and evolving into beautifully expansive and contemplative with last year’s Rub Al Khali, Brikkuni might just be the best band to check out if you want to really get into the alternative scene in Malta.