The Maltese Musical Tribes Of The 90s
The closest thing we had to a turf war.
Believe it or not, there was time when the Internet wasn’t really all that much of a thing. And hard as it is to believe – unthinkable, even – there was a time when Malta wasn’t yet a member of the EU. But that doesn’t mean that the mid-to-late 90s in Malta weren’t a vibrant time for local youth.
In fact, those of you who went to school and college at around that time will remember three distinct subcultures vying for attention and dominance around that time – both on the playground and in Paceville.
1. The Rockers
Musical genres: Rock, metal + assorted sub-genres
Defining characteristics: Long hair, spiky jewellery and leather (lots of leather)
Favourite musicians: AC/DC, Nirvana, Iron Maiden, Metallica
Most popular hangout spots: The Alley, Rock Café, Coconut Grove/Remedy, Strings (Bahar ic-Caghaq)
Drawing from a rich tradition that stretched way beyond the 90s themselves, the ‘rockers’ were possibly the most extensive sub-culture on the island, and remain so to this day.
Though they will argue internally about whose subculture is not quite valid and why their own subdivision is different from that other – really quite similar – subdivision of the genre, to the untrained eye a ‘rocker’ is pretty much anyone who identifies with any form of rock, punk or metal music.
The 90s was all about grunge, thanks to Nirvana – but the classic rockers continued to have a presence.
Come the turn of the century, nu-metal was becoming the order of the day, leading to an intermixing of styles and cultures with rap as well as electronic music. Sadly, a genre that had something of a rich presence in Paceville and elsewhere has since lost its club presence. The Alley shut its doors for good some time ago, and Rock Café was gone long before that. Now there’s rumours that the last bastion of rock music in Paceville, Coconut Grove, may be closing down too.
2. ‘Party People’
Musical genres: Dance, Rave, Techno, Trance
Defining characteristics: Tight t-shirts, huge earrings, bleached hair
Favourite musicians: Gigi d’Agostino, Armin van Burren
Most popular hangout spots: Axis, Places, Vibes (now Liquid), Gianpula
Notable events: Follow the White Line, Tribu, Trigger, Summer Trance
Party People was a grab-all term for anyone into party-friendly electronic music and its various sub-genres. The term also shows just how much of a ‘default’ genre this was for Maltese youth at the time, since it became synonymous with party-going in general.
Perhaps what led to its ultimate demise is how most Paceville clubs switched to RnB as their style of choice. But the electronic revolution lives on, with top DJs still making our way to our islands to perform sold-out sets and regular parties happening across various venues.
Musical genres: Rap, Hip-Hop
Defining characteristics: Baggy clothing, basketball gear, chains
Favourite musicians: Tupac Shakur, Eminem
Most popular hangout spot: Havana
Coasting on international trends, Maltese rappers adopted the urban styles of the US mainland, with the East-Coast/West-Coast rivalry and the much-publicised deaths of figures like Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. becoming key parts of the genre’s narrative throughout the decade. Maltese kids could be seen sporting the baggy basketball gears and baseball caps that served as the genre’s ‘uniform’, with Havana remaining the most important hang-out spot.
Come the end of the century, Eminem would push the genre into the mainstream in a huge way… and the fact that yet another bleached Caucasian rapper arrived on the scene at around the same time spoke volumes about the Slim Shady’s influence. We’re talking, of course, about our very own Hooligan.
Illustrations by Nadine Noko. Special thanks to Matt Borg and Aidan Celeste for their help with research.