• Michael Bugeja

MALCOLM CALLUS: LIVING FOR MUSIC


Despite living abroad for several years, his ties to the Maltese metal scene are still as strong as ever. MICHAEL BUGEJA catches up with MALCOLM CALLUS to talk about zines, metal and how music has truly become his life and livelihood.

Like most people out there, I tend to miss a good chunk of the myriad notifications Facebook throws at us at an impossible rate on a daily basis. However, a few months back one post in particular caught my eye, and I immediately clicked to see more. The picture on the screen instantaneously transported me back a couple of decades; a snapshot of Rancid Soup’s first issue. I’m almost sure I still have a copy of that zine somewhere or other, not that I need to look really, as its author, metal fan extraordinaire and accomplished musician Malcolm Callus, has conveniently uploaded its content on his recently launched new website.

The Rancid Soup zine only lasted two issues before evolving into a radio show, with Callus later moving on to focus on bigger things, namely his band Sceptocrypt, a Death metal act that sought to venture beyond the genre’s defining characteristics, and BiSoul Promotions, whose events you surely must remember if you were there. And if you weren’t, there’s enough material on the website to give one a rough idea of what Callus was up to at the time.

His musical past only fills up a small part of the website however, and one also finds a lot about what Callus has been up to in London these past years, where he’s been based after spells living in Australia and Germany. An integral member of London-based avant-world-noir act Ethnamorte, Callus also has a solo side-project Unus Quod Insane and earns a living teaching music, not just in the big city but also worldwide thanks to the internet.

What got you into music and metal in particular?

I was at high school when I discovered heavy metal via tape-trading and soon after, in 1990, I released Malta’s first photocopied zine Rancid Soup. It turned into a radio show and later into an events organisation that grew into Bisoul Promotions. Having taken some guitar lessons, I also played in a few bands, most notably Sceptocrypt and Dysmenorrhea.

I’m sure you have some great memories of the events you staged here…

Bringing Anathema over to Malta in 1995 is definitely at the top. That was the first underground metal band to play here. I also have fond memories of (BiSoul Promotions event) Freeze, which I did after coming back from a year down under. I was overwhelmed at how well it was received.

What attracted you to the idea of uploading the Rancid Soup zines on your website?

I thought it would be a good idea to upload it and archive it while giving anyone interested the chance to read about local and foreign bands from the early 1990s, and perhaps compare how the ones still active have developed. I scanned the original pages to retain the zine’s old school feel, with its black and white photocopied raw presentation. I’d love to revive the zine but I honestly have no time. I want to also make the radio shows available online eventually but first I need to dig out the old cassette tapes and see if they’re still working (laughs).

All nostalgic content apart, your website offers a good insight into your set-up as a music teacher…

I recently re-vamped the website to make it more mobile-friendly. I added more sections but its main content has really always been about my music teaching, which I’ve been doing for more than 15 years now. I teach guitar, bass and music harmony, either one on one or online, and I teach different styles; from metal to jazz, from flamenco to indie, from blues to pop.

Is teaching online more challenging?

The advancement of video software and technology has made it much easier for musicians to collaborate across great distances. In similar fashion, students and teachers can connect anywhere. In fact I already have some students based in Malta, so the system has been tried and tested…it works just fine.

Further to releasing two albums and performing countless gigs with Ethnamorte, what’s the band up to now?

The band is still my main musical exponent and we’ve been busy with Project Alpha Omega Alpha, presenting older, current and new material to new audiences. With over 4 albums worth of material, some of which still needs to be recorded, we make it a point to perform different songs at each show, ideally in a different format with a variety of guest musicians. We’re looking for opportunities to take Project Alpha Omega Alpha outside London, even as far as Malta if needs be, so if anyone reading is interested in bringing us over, we’ll bring along a night of music-meets-theatre-meets-dance, all presented with our twist of combining all the disciplines together.

What other plans are there?

We’ve started working on our third album, although we’re still at a preliminary stage. One track, La Courtisanne Macabrabelle, features female vocals from a new guest, and a version of the song can be streamed online on our website. Outside of Ethnamorte, as many Maltese metal fans will remember, I was drawn to the guitar because of metal, and it’s been at the back of my mind to do something again in that genre for several years. For the past few months I started a new extreme metal project with different musicians, more of which I will be revealing as it starts to take off.

For more information about Malcolm Callus, online music tuition and a lot of info about Maltese metal from the past, visit www.malcolmcallus.com. An eidted version of this article was first published in The Sunday Times of Malta (23 November 2014)

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