Never mind the octopus in the background of the Music from Elsewhere festival poster, that's just there to grab your attention. Once that has been achieved, it's the eight bands lined up to perform at that same festival that you should really be thinking about and looking up on your smartphone. Boasting an eclectic mix of musical genres, the line-up for the Maltese edition of the Hard Rock Rising On The Road concert tour is one that effectively reflects the healthy state which the local music scene is in, and in which frankly it has been for the past few years, if I may say so myself. The festival is a collaborative effort between the Fondazzjoni Ċelebrazzjonijiet Nazzjonali (FĊN) and international franchise Hard Rock Cafe, whose 31-foot converted truck has been touring Europe since mid-May, and which will be stopping off at St. George's Bay on Wednesday for a fun evening on the beach and a truckload of live music for everyone to enjoy, and all for free too! MICHAEL BUGEJA gives us a band-by-band guide to help get you in the mood...
One of the shining lights in Maltese hiphop, Sempliċiment Tat-Triq (STT) is possibly also this island's biggest export in this genre, having toured abroad more than once and also recorded several tracks with foreign artists. Formed around 2011 by Ħaxxaxxin and Żdong, STT are hiphop at heart but have no problem with crossing boundaries. This year in fact, they've expanded into a full band, which has enhanced their hardcore rap with a punky reggae edge that not only fits their no-holds-barred and occasionally explicit approach perfectly but has given their music an even bigger punch.
Formed back in 2005, albeit with a very different line-up to its current formation, Jane Doe is a band in constant evolution as it seeks to etch out a sound of its own. The last couple of years were probably its most productive in this regard, yielding a promising EP which the band however, abruptly discarded, deciding instead to push forward and explore other musical avenues. The various line-up changes have played a huge part in steering the band to its home-grown blend of ethereal alternative rock, the true extent of which will see the light of day when they release the Homeostatic Cover EP later this year.
Essentially the brainchild of visual artist and lyricist Nigel Baldacchino, Fastidju started out as a sporadic project involving collaborations with electronic music producers IstishhadHheva and Cygna, but took on a different dimension when a core line-up featuring the cream of the local indie crop was recruited. The band's debut performance last year proved to be a revelation among the local indie circuit, one the band's self-titled album more than live up to. Its beautifully flawed songs, some in English, some in Maltese, range from soothing, introspective pieces to abrasive, piercing outbursts that go for the jugular; an exercise in intensity that is guaranteed to make an impression on the listener.
Led by Chris Mallia, who originally launched the band as a one-man project around a decade and a half ago, Different Strings is one of the leading names on Malta's progressive rock scene. Operating away from the mainstream, the band's music has gradually evolved, the changes in its line-up reflected in a heavier metal edge now quite prominent in its sound. Further to receiving positive reviews by local and international critics, the band recently won the Malta edition of the Hard Rock Rising competition, going on to garner the highest-ever placing by a Maltese band in the final phase of the Global Battle of the Bands.
Skimmed have come a long way from the days of their incisive debut EP, which was elemental in establishing them as a band to watch. Last year's Summer Lovers full-length album reinforced that sentiment; the broader musical vision informing its diverse content a sure sign that here was a band that refuses to be pigeonholed. One year on, the quartet has been trimmed down to a duo, namely founding members Daniel Borg and Alexandra Aquilina, whose recent live performances have already hinted at a more exploratory vein rooting itself in their music. The pop sensibility remains intact, but how they deliver it is what makes Skimmed so interesting.
The story goes that AC/DC's For Those About To Rock anthem was a vital catalyst in the formation of hard rock act Frenzy Mono, even if the Maltese band's members were still crawling around in diapers when that song came out. By the time they formed the band in the late 1990s however, Frenzy Mono had gone through decades of Blues and rock, the result of which, haphazard in terms of direction as it may be, can be heard on the appropriately-titled Unorthodox debut album. Second album O.B.E. however, saw the band realign its co-ordinates, infusing a heavier slant while retaining the same vitality that first endeared them to local audiences.
BARK BARK DISCO
Bark Bark Disco may have started off as an occasional side project, but there’s no denying it is now very much a fully-fledged indie act, and with an extended international fanbase to boot. Flaunting an ingrained lo-fi charm and more than a dash of quirkiness, the band, fronted by Ian Schranz and a revolving cast of musicians, owes much of its popularity to the strong and consistently infectious melodies its songs ooze from every pore. Add to that, the band’s no-frills onstage approach and a left-of-centre perspective when translating music to video, and you’ve pretty much got Bark Bark Disco’s indie credentials wrapped up to a tee.
THE AREOLA TREAT
‘Art for art’s sake, noise for noise’s sake’ has been The Areola Treat’s consistent response whenever they’re asked to describe their music. It is, of course, only part of what they’re about, for within their pummelling indie rock there’s always a twisted killer melody holding it all together. A penchant for B-movies, gutsy rock ‘n roll peppered with voracious punk beats and the occasional howl have all been elemental in shaping the band’s penetrating sound, one that has already taken them as far as Italy and Belgium, and with some luck, it could perhaps take them even further.
An edited version of this article was first published on The Sunday Times of Malta (6 July, 2014)