The Future Of Electronic Music Is In…Malta?
Electronic music has never been bigger, healthier or more prevalent.
Which also means electronic music might be in crisis.
DT doesn’t mean this in some achingly cool hipster way. Rest assured, we’re too skint to ‘only play vinyl’ and ex-army issue jackets and moustaches just make us look downright (more) creepy. But the fact of the matter is, like the mid-noughties global economy, the 19th century Goldrush and the DT editor’s blood pressure every time I pitch “A cheeky review on my buddy Stevo’s ironic techno night in Fulham” there’s a definite sense that at some point, something’s going to burst. The event calendar has never been more full, there’s never been so many breakthrough DJs, so many huge tracks, so many apparently game-changing landmarks and so much money that many promoters, venue owners and festival often wonder how sustainable this is. Searching for some perspective on all this, DT last week found itself in a place that resembles exactly like how we expect the electronic music community will look in a decade’s time. For real – a little self-sufficient ecosystem in the electronic music jungle that’s been blazing a trail for over a decade.
Hear us out. It may be better known for (note to editor. What is Malta known for?) however when we ventured out there last week ostensibly to see Gareth Emery play a Ministry Of Sound stage event, we were blown away.
Here’s why. The Maltese scene is saturated. Utterly packed. Ibiza may be the ultimate mistress – hot, privileged and a bit jaded, whilst Croatia positively reverberates with energy and the echos of Leeds shufflers hollering “It’s kicking off” down the Adriatic wind, but Malta’s numbers are absolutely crazy. It’s a tiny island, just 420,000 people. Yet Tiesto, David Guetta, Afrojack, Hardwell, Deadmau5, Moby right the way down to deeper names like Jooris Voorn have all passed through the tiny rock.
Like any nation, about 3% of the population are probably in the category of ‘would proactively go to a music event’ (that’s about 2.5 million people in the UK). In Malta though that means for major events to hit +5000 and break even, 1% of the entire island has to show up. Still awake? Stats like this mean a couple of things: For promoters to make money, they have to have the entire island locked down. For promoters to make money, with such a small base to sell tickets to, with such tiny margins, they have run these events all the time. Which means, for people to keep coming every other week, they have to keep these events cheap. Gareth Emery was a free event. Nervo were €15, even on NYE with a household name, last-release tickets go for €25.
So how, in the midst of an industry where even breakthrough new acts demand private jets, does any of this work?
A lot of it is to do with Malta’s promoters. 80% of the nightlife scene here is run by three individuals: Gerry – who started out in 1997 aged 17 by – without any real set plan – faxing Paul Van Dyk invites to come to Malta every single day until PvD simply ‘gave in and turned up’. Trevor, who started age 16 running underage dry-bar parties for local bars. The two teamed in 1998 and started booking in international talent – something at that time unheard of in Malta. “I can’t actually believe some of the stuff we did” reflects Gerry as we sit in a restaurant overlooking a Maltese polo club. “We booked Faithless with no upfront fee. We just paid them out of ticket sales, which we sold right up until the actual evening. Maxi Jazz arrived at the airport and thought we were just the pick-up drivers, not the promoters.” “I booked Sasha with no contract” .“And if I’d known that at the time, I’d have killed him!” chimes in Trevor. Meanwhile across the table sits the third part of the story, rival promoter Nicky who effectively unionised the local DJs and began dabbling in international bookings himself. In one episode, a series of competitive bids saw Trevor and Gerry pay €20,000 extra to counteroffer Deadmau5. “After a lot of swearing, I picked up the phone. And in 2011, we teamed up” Trevor laughs.
With the three of them now in charge of the Maltese nightlife scene – mostly operated out of a combination of open-air stages, and clubs Gianpula, Aria and Numero Uno, a challenge emerged for the trio.
“We have to somehow book international names, to a festival, for club – for small-club fees. Then, our margins are so low, we have to be so careful on our spending” Nicky explains. Their methods have been nothing short of ingenious. They sold out a Tiesto gig by spending just €300 on radio advertising. They’ve somehow convinced every McDonalds on the island to operate as a ticket vendor. They employ local entrepreneurs as a private jet service for DJs. Possibly best of all, to persuade Deadmau5 to arrive they invited his mother along too, who herself was met at the airport by the promoters’ drivers’ own mother, and the two ladies spent the weekend touring the sites of nearby island Gozo while Deadmau5 played across the bay. Ministry of Sound and Creamfields are in – already running regular franchised events through the trio.
DJ-ego-management aside, the dynamics involved in running such a hot machine in such a small space has warped the rules considerably. Rival venues now co-operate – when we there open air pool party Aria put it’s headliners on early afternoon despite it running til 2am, to allow the crowd to filter out to see Nervo play at Numero Uno later that day. Perhaps most impressive of all however, is the crowd. Spoiled by choice for years, the Maltese legal drinking age is 17, and, until the law changed, dry-bar U17 parties were a regular feature too. Cue an entire community of individuals who know their electronica from their EDM back to front. The result, thankfully, hasn’t been a descent into painfully defined hipster cliques (It’s a bit hot to have a beard out here, anyway) but instead a kind of full rotation. We grabbed breakfast with a few Maltese clubbers the morning after the night before. “It goes back to the beginning I guess. You see big names all the time, so in the end, you don’t go for the music, you go for your mates. You go just to have a good time.” The result being a checks and balances system on tickets. If a gig’s expensive – they’ll wait it out – something will come along next week, anyway.
“We’re now at full capacity. We’re looking at the next stage” reflects Gerry as we drop into post-dinner I-don’t-know-what-it-is-but-the-Maltese-do-liqueur-right coffees. “Just think” Nicky interjects, “We bring in international acts all the time, we have Creamfields, Ministry Of Sound, on such a small population. Just two thousand people here for a few days could completely change the game for us.” And that’s no daydream either. After years of polite door knocking on the behalf of the promoters, the Maltese government have started to take a considerable interest. Until then annual MTV concerts were the only event the government backed – handled by MTV themselves. However as electronic music began to wobble into the mainstream, the government couldn’t help but notice the whose-who of EDM names floating through the island via the dynamic trio. Gareth Emery playing to several thousand down by Malta’s main port as a Ministry Of Sound event was the first official partnership between the three and the government. There’s no shady carve up at work – the government are interested in backing the events in order to push up nearby economies – taxi ranks, bars and cafes. It removes an element of sweaty risk from the promoters too, allowing them to think bigger and better.
So we find ourselves at 1am in the 6,000 capacity open air Numero Uno – having come from a driving tech-house work out from poolside day party Aria. “We have the venues, the contacts, the outlets. What we want is a foreign festival” shouts Gerry as Nervo play to 6,000 ecstatic Maltese below. A tiny population utterly saturated in electronic music, has already weathered and bounced on up from an ever-more discerning crowd, handled growing fees, a perfectly competitive event market and seems to be the only location we’ve found that has a no-small-text relationship with the government. Lessons, surely that any national level promoter could learn something from.
Malta’s ready. Are you?