Nicole Parnis March 25, 2020
Night Fever – 3 Events Planners Discuss the Changing Face of Alternative Partying in Malta
Another post-Covid 19 weekend has come and gone, (with St Patrick’s Day and a Bank Holiday just happening to fall within that week- ouch), and for a lot of us, that has meant a distinct lack of partying. Our social lives have taken a hit, and, if you’re anything like us, we’re definitely starting to feel the disco itch.
The truth is, the party experience starts all the way back from the excitement of online ticket purchasing, the outfit planning and the giddy group chats, all the way up to the buzz of the queue, getting your hand stamped, and of course that all-important first step onto the dancefloor. For now, this has become a fond memory, and we’re buzzing about the thought of getting to do it all again.
The situation at the moment has, in many cases, made us appreciate the work that goes into party planning a whole lot more, and that first event where we get to hug our fellow night crawlers all that much sweeter.
Trackage Scheme caught up with three party planners who’ve all established themselves as big names on the offbeat events scene in Malta. Contrary to more mainstream music club nights which take place weekly at larger venues, these planners opt for irregular parties which pop up in tandem with their fellow promoters’ nights, meaning we’re constantly chasing the next, and there’s always a different party to be sought out every weekend. Never boring.
With the decline of mainstay alternative music venues, as distinctly seen in once-rammed Paceville, events organizers have had to think on their feet to bring us “concept nights”, often making unusual locations their home for the night. From band clubs to previously out of favour time-warp-esque discotheques, party planners in Malta have had to take matters into their own hands to make sure us stragglers have somewhere to go and lose ourselves to dance. We salute you.
Here’s what they had to share.
Shawn James /// B E W Y L D
What is your history of putting on music events and what do you focus on now?
I started off in 2014 with Sofar Sounds at Splendid in Valletta, which consisted of four local musicians, an AstroTurf carpeted floor and room full of audience members. Four more Sofar gigs followed in different ad hoc venues- including a Sofar Sounds London Exchange gig. I then went on to planning Bewildered Music Festival before moving to Berlin do some gigs for Berlin Sessions. I then started my own thing, Be-Wild Events, where I booked a number of artists in Berlin, then deciding to bring it over to Malta.
I continued to spread the Be-wild Events in cities such as Budapest and Lisbon. Since then I’ve created another festival – B E W Y L D. I’ve been building that brand ever since by throwing themed events which have been hosted in local band clubs, and one in Amsterdam. My latest one was a B E W Y L D event International Women’s Day, focusing on the female-centric music scene in Malta. In the midst of all this I try to organise the occasional DJ party or gig in between. I guess you could say events have been my life for a while now.
What is the main difference between Malta’s party and gig scene and that of abroad?
Firstly, in big cities people tend to go out early and on time, for a gig especially. In Malta we take our precious time, get pampered up, go get some pre-drinks somewhere, then when it’s just about time that the foreign headliner starts their set, then they arrive. So yeah, not coming in time to support and see the opening/local act is not cool.
Another difference of course are the venues used. For gigs or parties abroad I’ve been to factories, indoor pools… you name it! In Malta I’ve been to handful of cool venues, but I know that there are more to be tapped into. In Malta we don’t utilise the amazing spaces we have to the fullest, we just let them deteriorate or knock them down to build some fancy, whitewashed concrete building of luxury apartments. Or worse yet, the spaces which can be utilised as amazing music venues are in the wrong hands and used for Bingo nights (which mind you, I quite like…) or some dinner dance or other.
What do you think Malta needs when it comes to music events?
Great venues are dearly needed in order to organise great music events. When I throw a party or gig, I really try my outmost to choose a particular place to give the attendee the whole experience. It also boils down the lineup of artists a promoter chooses to pick. It has to be the whole package: venue and artist, and if both these are nailed down then it should hopefully prove to be a successful music event.
I definitely think new concepts for events should come into place when a promoter plans a gig or a party. How many disco parties, Indie nights, mainstream live music/DJ events or silent discos can someone go to? After a while I guess you get bored. If a promoter is organising a party with a different concept and idea attached to it, yeah, that would be great!
You’re big on “discovering” new venues, having been the first to throw a party at now defunct Funky Monkey (RIP) and Rumors (Pieta Bocci Club). How do you source different venues for you events?
More then source I scout for different venues. I really learned this “trade” through Kinemastic, as those guys throw events in some of the most amazing spaces I’ve ever been. Each time I enter a unique space for a music event, in another city, I get pumped up with ideas for finding something similar in Malta. So I browse the web, walk around, email, shoot messages on Facebook, ask bars and band club owners if it’s possible to throw a party or gig there. Sometimes it can get quite funny. They look at me as if I’m a madman! But when I set up the space, and it’s filled with a good number of people, then I can say it was all worth it, the calls, the messages, the emails…
In terms of interesting venues I’ve used…well, to name just a few odd ones, church halls, bocci clubs, The Orpheum Theatre for a great NYE party back in 2015… However, the thing is that when I discover such venues, theare then picked up by other events organisers, and the real essence and novelty of what it was is kind of lost with all the subsequent parties and gigs thrown there. A lot of people complain that arent any music venues in Malta, but I’ve always gone out of my way to look for an interesting space for any show I put on. It seems once I do discover a new venue, suddenly everyone starts putting on parties there- I have to say it does get to me a bit. If you’re a good promoter you should get off your ass and look around as part of the job. Don’t be comfortable and say “OK let me throw it there, ‘cause everyone throws a party there.” Nothing is handed to anyone on a silver platter. You gotta go out there, find it, and make it happen.
Agreed. What are the biggest challenges of putting on music events in Malta?
I think the biggest challenge is always going to be getting the people to attend your music event. It needs to be said that in Malta some promoters suffer more than others when putting on a music event because of cliques. I’ve always noticed certain crowds of people who just blindly go to one promoter’s parties, gigs and not to the others. Why? We are so very “buddy buddy” here! Our thinking seems to be- if my friend is going this party, then I’ll simply follow him to that party also, sharing on Facebook and promoting for them as I do so.
Particular parties always get the same people attending, but these people hardly try other events out. I’ve never seen Maltese DJ promoters at “rival” parties or at a live concert or indie gig. They can all shout “We need to support the local scene”, but supporting just your own isn’t supporting at all, sorry to say! I see many musicians attending DJ parties, but not the other way around. Why should it be just the musicians attending DJ parties, and not DJs and party promoters attending music live gigs?
An audience is always something hard to get. You can stick as many posters around and post on social media, but at the end of the day you can’t force people to come to your night. On the day, it’s their decision. I’m grateful to every single person who’s ever come to any of my events.
How has the gigging and festival scene morphed since you’ve been in this line of work?
A lot actually, especially in the party/DJ festival circuit with things like Lost and Found, Glitch, Midnight Snack, Groovebox, OTR… However, when it comes to the gigging side, I think this last year there’s unfortunately been a definite decline. Indie bands are running low currently, which is a shame, but the DJ scene has never been bigger which is good to a certain extent, I think.
I’d like to see more interesting innovative gigs and festivals in Malta just like in big cities abroad, and I’m not talking about government-funded festivals who bring over retired, or one hit wonder acts on taxpayers’ money. I know there are more costs incurred to a promoter when organising a live gig, especially if it’s a band travelling with numerous members and equipment, unlike a DJ who is usually just one person with a USB stick or small case of records, so maybe this could be another reason why the DJ scene has morphed and the live gigging scene hasn’t.
I guess with the current situation we are going through, it could be useful for promoters to brew ideas for more interesting events to take place later in the year. And with that said I really do hope that the party promoters do come out of their comfort zone, and attend a few live, independent gigs. In the end we all have to help each other to make the whole music scene morph!
Ben Vincenti /// Trackage Scheme ticketing /// A Night With Indie
What have you heard about the clubbing/gigging/party scene in the 90s and early 2000s?
I heard that the parties were wild and that the band scene was more “vibrant” than nowadays. In terms of the club scene, many people say that Malta was the hub, with big artists starting off their tours in Malta before going to places like Ibiza. With regards to the gigging scene, the Malta Sajf videos speak volumes!
How did that change when you were growing up and what were the regular music venues back then?
Big infamous festivals like Tribu were coming to an end, though there were big parties like Trigger still ongoing. In my teenage years, I still frequented Coconut and Remedy in Paceville as well as techno parties -mostly at Liquid. I used to love going to BJs and to Misfits (whenever they let me in cause I was too young!).
What happened to the alternative music venues in Malta and why?
I think alternative music venues started to die out as the number of attendees started to dwindle. Running a venue is very expensive as the fixed costs are high. Music venues make revenue from bar sales and bar sales will be low if attendance is low – no brainer really.
How did you adapt to the closing of venues and why did you get into planning parties and gigs?
The answer to this depends on the type of event. We stopped hosting band gigs and concerts because the costs are simply too high and the attendance numbers do not justify the costs. In fact, we never made a profit when hosting such gigs. Hosting DJ events is much simpler to set up, and cheaper, so the risk of planning such an event is significantly lower than with bands.
And with that said, our options for venues are pretty much limitless – it really depends on how creative you get and how much risk you are willing to take and how much you’re willing to spend and invest.
For me personally, working with certain venues purely depends on how easy they are to work with, or not. I’m fed up of working with unreasonable crooks so I’m careful of who I work with.
Your website includes a ticketing platform; how important is an entry fee for planned music events?
As an event organiser, I’d say it’s super important. Every organiser wants to secure revenue prior to the event, not just to be able to settle costs but also to have an indication (and hopefully) peace of mind on the number of attendees.
Does Malta need more regular, weekly nights, or are a variety of parties more suitable? What is the future for alternative/indie music nightlife in Malta?
Well, it depends on who you’re asking. As a event goer myself, the obvious answer is yes but as an event organiser, I’d say not really – the have been numerous attempts at weekly band nights, but the numbers just don’t add up. Unless the music market changes, it’s pointless flogging a dead horse.
Patrick Barbaro Sant /// Frisco Disco /// Family Affair
You’re involved in themed parties focused around niche music and dressing up, how do think this added to the parties’ success?
Dressing up for a party makes it that much more fun. The people who make the effort truly belong and it creates a sense of togetherness. It’s not “just another party”, some planning is needed by the party-goer. People recognise this effort in each other which creates unity. As for the music – Disco is my love and people here seem to enjoy it too.
One of your most recent big parties adopted a no-photos policy. What is the importance of privacy within the clubbing scene and experience, with the dynamics of Malta in mind?
If people know they are in a safe zone, they let loose a bit more. People worry about what might be put up on social media. Revellers stop themselves from doing certain things because they worry that their colleagues or family members might catch a story with them doing something which should ‘stay in Vegas’.
Also, seeing phones in the air with a flash on is very distracting, not only because there is a blinding light but suddenly I’m not thinking about the music I’m playing anymore. Now I’m thinking about how I look or if I’m happy with the moment being recorded? What exactly is being put up on social media? It’s invasive and you lose that sense of freedom to these thoughts for a moment.
Having lived overseas, what are the main differences you’ve noticed in the clubbing scene? In Barcelona, are there weekly club nights at the same venue, or scattered parties by different organizers, as there are in Malta?
A bit of both, there are certain clubs who host their own nights, promoters who use the same clubs and sometimes like to switch it up a bit. Some differences I notice are that there isn’t much of a day party culture here. A Sunday day party was my favourite thing there. Party all day, in bed by 10pm. This happened every other week and was a great success.
I’ve also noticed how, in Barcelona, many parties/clubs are quite full until everyone is asked to leave and when they are, everyone is looking for the afterparty. Here, people tend to leave a bit before the scheduled end time. However I’m seeing more of a trend in Malta of people dancing till they’re told it’s time to go home!
I also think that people are more aware of the music acts in a city. If I’ve gone to a party because of a particular DJ playing, most people are there for the same reason. In Malta, I find, the majority follow a brand or crowd and it doesn’t always really matter which DJ is playing, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They blindly trust the brand behind the booking and in turn are discovering something new.
Apart from that, entry to a club is between 10 and 20 Euro in Barcelona, depending on the night and time. Drinks are a minimum of 10e and loaded with booze – clubbing here is cheaper.
What are the biggest challenges when it comes to money matters and doing business in this line of work?
Venues and production cost money and there’s no way about it. Sometimes a sacrifice must be made in the deal for that perfect venue. Do you want to save on costs and allow more people in? Do you want to keep it small and spend more on decor? The biggest challenge is finding this balance. Not all parties need to turn a profit.
Where in the Maltese Islands would be your dream party venue, if permits were not a problem?
There is something very special about watching the sunrise as the last songs of the night are being played out. Dream venues are anywhere with this unobstructed view over the sea.
My two favourite venues for a party I helped organise are both in Barcelona. One being a castle out of the city. This place was run by swingers and had a few props and special furniture strewn about, which added a great vibe to the place. The other was on the 8th floor roof of an old office block in an industrial zone with a view of the Barcelona skyline. Both parties had no more than 120 people and they were both magical. I’ve also played a few private parties in houses which, I think belong in documentaries. Those were pretty memorable too.
Promotion leading up to an event is high on your agenda. What words of wisdom do you have for fellow promoters when it comes to pre-party advertising?
Work with people who inspire you and drive you.
Listen to feedback.
Recognise the mistakes you’ve made
Breaking even is always an option.