Column – This Festive Isle? The new nights of Malta

Column – This Festive Isle? The new nights of Malta
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maltaimagePS"Room for more?" It’s a pertinent question this May Bank Holiday Weekend. With a packed dancefloor, soundsystem and DJ booth set up at the rear of pleasure boat Hera II, the buoyancy of this boat party is quite stern heavy. With the ship now bobbing along in time with a house bass rather than the waves of the Mediterranean, can this party grow any more?

Asking if there’s room on the party boat are three sun burnt dance heads who having missed the schooner’s departure an hour earlier have caught us up by hiring a water taxi speedboat. To be fair, few fashionably late entrances are so daring and room is duly made for these aquatic party animals.

The question of more is also one being asked by the promoter behind this boat party. Organised as part of Groovefest, this house music cruise is one of the several exclusive events that feature festival’s three-day programme. Having previously staged the festival in the Dominican Republic, the British promoters behind Groovefest are staging a more club-based, house music-orientated edition of the festival in Malta for the first time.

Not that Club Med is exactly wanting for dance music. The Balearic Islands virtually have a genre named in their honour, while resorts dotted around the Mediterranean from Spain to Greece have boasted seaside clubbing for years. So with a reputation for cruise ships and pensioners chasing winter sun, rather than pill-popping punters, can Malta join the party?

The key issue of perception the island and Groovefest are looking to over come is aptly demonstrated in the middle of our boat party. Anchored in the Crystal lagoon, just off the shores of tiny sister island Comino, as house beats and soul-samples drift out over the sun glistened sea and tattooed body builders and bikini glad crasher kids attempt to bump and grind without going overboard, a lone couple from Reading at the front of the boat are arguing.

Rather than typical club hysterics this so-loud-you can’t ignore it disagreement is over business. He wants to move to Malta, open a guesthouse, stage parties, the lot. She is having none of it. “No, it’s not going to happen,” she snaps drowning out the DJ’s best efforts. “I want live in Ibiza, I could do marketing and promotion for clubs, I just don’t know this place, what would I do here?”

Sadly the issue goes unresolved – and they miss most of the party – but it’s one Malta needs to overcome if it is serious about staging music events. Why come to here, when the scene is so well known elsewhere in the Med?

For Groovefest promoter Jason Nelhams the unknown quality is the attraction. Vive la different. “I’m looking for untapped places,” he tells Q. “It’s why we do a festival in the Dominican Republic, there’s a different vibe there and I feel that here too. I want our festival to be an experience. You only get so many days off a year, so you can come here have a holiday and get the music too.”

With talk of direct scheduled flights from New York to Malta starting soon, there are plans already for Groovefest to grow from the modest start of several connected club-based events and boat parties. They’re not alone in seeing Malta's music potential. Annie Mac was here in March staging the second edition of her Lost & Found festival, while MTV have been taking over one of Malta’s parks every summer for the last ten years to host their Isle Of MTV festival.

And the event approach seems to suit Malta. It cannot yet rival the weekly institutions of a Mediterranean neighbour like Ibiza, and there’s something about the festival format that feels more in keeping with the place itself.

Boasting baroque cities, castles and palazzos’ from its days as the fortress home of the Knights Of Saint John, alongside modern water sport holidays, beach holidays and a deservedly growing reputation for gastronomy, Malta has a cosmopolitan appeal. It’s popular with art lovers (the island hosts many works of art, including a Caravaggio masterpiece in the capital Valletta) and scuba divers alike. Music festivals, with the variety and choice they bring seems a promising fit. At Glastonbury you can go from Beyonce to a bead stall, so how about club nights and cathedrals?

Ironically, the same weekend as the inaugural Groovest was hoping to change perceptions of Malta, Liam Gallagher definitely was breaking the Maltese stereotype. News of his holiday in Malta filled local and international papers, while social media captured him singing Wonderwall with the locals at an island pub (see above)… Which raises yet another question: a rock festival with virtually guaranteed sunshine, is there room for that too? Paul Stokes @Stokesie