Please don't stop the music | Xtruppaw

Ahead of their gig at the Beer Festival on July 24, boisterous punk outfit Xtruppaw speak to TEODOR RELJIC about the importance of singing in Maltese and the challenges local musicians face… particularly the scourge of the ‘gigus interruptus’

Xtruppaw are famous for their bawdy, and sometimes satirical, songs. What are some of your key sources of inspiration, and are you finding it easier or harder to mine that vein?

 Inspiration comes in all forms – very often we compose the music first, then we write lyrics according to the mood of the song. Everybody is influenced by what’s going on around them. Music-wise, we get inspired by whatever we happen to be listening to at the time. When we’re giving words to a song it’s all about a situation or occurrence which we either feel we must comment about or that we find intrinsically funny. Politics have lately been so eventful locally, that it’s next to impossible not to sprinkle them into the mix.

Our greatest challenge there is to keep a neutral perspective – not because we don’t want to take a stand, but because we prefer to present what we (the Maltese) are doing and expose whatever is ridiculous in our behaviour in such a way that everybody can see it.

Taking a stand means that automatically people will listen to what we’re saying and either agree or disagree. We want them to think and see for themselves, expose the behaviours for what they are, then they can form their own opinions, rather than regurgitating others’. Yuck. So from hot dogs to scandals, everything goes for us, as inspiration goes. Both of them were always easy to find, and still are.

What has the reaction to the your second album, Xtruppozitoriju, been like from your fans? What did they respond to the most? 

It has been very well received. It is a very varied album – we crammed in several musical styles and we think people appreciated that. During gigs, people always respond better to the more upbeat songs, but we had several great comments about many songs. There are a few songs which fans always ask for and are very popular. Perhaps one thing that people really liked was the booklet of the CD. Every song was presented in the format of a poster on each page. We did a lot of work on those, especially Jeffrey, but it was worth the while because the CD package itself, not just the music is something we’re proud of.

One of the key elements and influences in your music is ‘punk’ and, more broadly speaking, a sense of irreverence is evident throughout your music and sound. Would you say that this kind of ‘punk spirit’ can still be found in the local music scene? If not, why not?

Up to a few years ago, there were more punk bands locally than there are now, musically speaking. The punk attitude, though, is present in a number of local bands: being anti-establishment, and staying true to one’s values. Though still a little weak in the former, identity is becoming stronger in the local scene. More bands are choosing to sing in Maltese, which is just a start. It is always refreshing to hear a song which is set in Malta and talks about Maltese people and situations, rather than generic, faceless songs. Irrespective of whether it’s in Maltese or English. 

Language has always been a dilemma for bands – singing in English will get you a wider audience because it’s more likely to be marketed abroad, and let’s be honest, Malta is too small to base a musician’s career on. For us this was never a problem, because we never intended for Xruppaw to be a full-time job. It’s something we enjoy doing, and it’s a medium through which we can voice our thoughts. We’d love to have more bands who think the same way.

What would you say are some of the key challenges local musicians face, and do you find the proposed initiatives like the souped-up Carnival Village in Marsa encouraging?

William Mangion. There, it’s out. This question begged to have that name in it, so now that’s over and done with, let’s talk about local music.

There are several things that are problematic for local musicians, but the central problem is that there’s practically no music industry here. Starting from education, children’s exposure to art in general is weak. But education is not just limited to learning music itself. There’s no technical courses for music. No course in audio engineering, stage design or such subjects, which are crucial to recording and live performance. 

This leaves us with a scene where technicians and engineers are either self-taught or incompetent, or worse, both. Rehearsal space is important, and locally it’s difficult to find a decent-sized space which isn’t too close to people it may bother. However, the lack of performing space/venues is even more worrying. Live gigs are crucial to any band, and the only places available are generally small and poorly equipped.

When bands actually manage to gig, then there’s always the incumbent menace of a ‘gigus interruptus’ by the police. They might be doing their jobs, but there’s clearly still a huge discrimination against bands in this respect. Local feasts may carry on with music and fireworks without ever being given a second glance, but if a band’s allowed time is up, they have to stop and shut down there and then. 

Some time ago we had organised a gig with Fakawi. The permit at the venue was until 1am. Exactly at that time we were forced by the law enforcement officers to stop the gig there and then. Following that, we dismantled our equipment, had a chat with Fakawi, and decided to altogether go for a late night kebab since we were famished. By that time it was around 3:30am, and a couple of block away from the venue we chose to eat at, there was some party still ongoing at a bar because we could hear the music. The bar was opposite a police station, in the middle of a residential area. We’re not saying that it’s right, but two weights, two measures certainly won’t help the scene.

As for the Carnival Village in Marsa, well, the name speaks for itself. We still have to see how it will pan out, because so far it has been announced but we don’t know about the details of how it will be run and what facilities will be provided. However it feels like the music facilities have been strapped-on as a second thought. If primarily it was intended as a Carnival Village, we find it very difficult to understand how it can also double up to accommodate the needs of bands, but let’s give it time.

What’s next for you? 

Lunch. We’re getting hungry now. Our next gig is going to be during the opening night of the Farsons Beer Festival, on July 24. We shall be playing with another local band Mistura, and we’re very much looking forward to it. We’re preparing our antics and silly doings for a show that will leave nobody disappointed. See you there! We’re also working on expanding our repertoire with new songs, to eventually release in the future, in a galaxy far, far, away. 

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