Bridging the gaps between music and art | plato's dream machine

Robert Farrugia, frontman for Plato’s dream machine - an increasingly popular, if hard to categorize band that plays what they call ‘metaphysical rock’ – talks to TEODOR RELJIC ahead of their upcoming January gig at St James Cavalier, entitled ‘L-Ghera u l-Ohrajn’

From left  - Francesco, Samwel, Robert, Daniel and Mark
From left - Francesco, Samwel, Robert, Daniel and Mark

Could you tell us a bit about how Plato’s dream machine started? What were its initial steps like? 

Back in early 2009, I had a handful of songs I had written along the years that I wanted to perform live. I’ve always had a music project going since my early teens. At that time, I was just playing guitar and writing songs on my own at my parents’ house as my previous band had disbanded. In February of that year I decided to team up with Frederick and Ryan, who played bass guitar and snare drum respectively, as we happened to reunite again as friends after being separated by our life interests. 

We met frequently in my rehearsal space in Zejtun, where we played, sang, drank, laughed, wailed, sighed and talked about pretty much everything for hours on end. In April of that same year we played our first concert at a bar in Paceville. 

As the self-proclaimed leader I had no grand plan for the band at that point in time; it was just fun and I just needed to get those songs out there, and make room for more. We played our hearts out in any place that would have us - bars, clubs, lidos, bedrooms, gardens, roofs, fields, restaurants and festivals. We used to go busking in the streets of Rabat, Sliema and Valletta and also played a concert in prison for the young inmates during Christmas time. I think we really got carried away by the old folk spirit at the time.  

Eventually, a couple of months into it, we recorded some demos and sold them at our gigs. Gradually I started to feel this urge of pushing things further in search of something more refined and elaborate. Eventually there was a shuffle of members along the way and we experimented with both style and sound. And here we are now.

What would you say is significant about ‘Ghera’? What kind of evolution would you say it marks for the band? 

We’ve had our fair share of transformations and conversions, but the making of ‘Għera’ marked our biggest and truest metamorphosis. Back in 2012 I decided that we should take our project to the next level and record a professional album. My restless spirit combined with the pressure to dedicate more time and energy to the band led us to take things more seriously and work harder. We scrapped pretty much all previous songs and started working on new material. 

On all levels, ‘Għera’ marks our finest achievement thus far. We believe that it is significant locally as it brings into play more contemporary sounds and images, proposing a new take on what Maltese songs can sound like. 

I don’t like to think that what we did here was trying to be original for originality’s sake. We have consciously made an effort to engage with and be aware of what was currently happening locally and abroad so as to open up a somewhat unexplored field in the local, alternative rock scene, hoping to make our project more relevant to our times.

Frontman Robert Farrugia
Frontman Robert Farrugia

You describe your style as “metaphysical rock” - what does this mean in practice? 

When someone asks me what kind of music do you play or what genre we fit in I end up being somewhat apophatic. During the process of ‘Għera’ I wanted to coin a term that could possibly say something about us. It is ‘rock’ for obvious reasons. The ‘metaphysical’ element has more to do with the subjects I chose to subtly dwell with in my lyrics; themes such as time, change, identity, God, being and transcendence. 

I tend to understand that my experiences of the natural world serve me as some kind of step stool to disclose, or at least question, an immaterial world and a personal creator. This of course all has to do with the fact that I’m a philosophy student and have metaphysics quite dear to my heart. But, of course, our songs are no lectures. They are simply meant to instil some contemplation and hopefully arouse some emotions too.

You’ve collaborated with poets and writers in the past - and with this particular launch you’ll also be incorporating the contribution of a PhD student in Philosophy. What kind of dimension would you say these contributions add to your music, and vice-versa? 

During the process of ‘Għera’ I wasn’t only reflecting upon our new songs but also on our performances and events. It had become quite standard to have a supporting band or a deejay on the night. But I’ve started to become a bit sceptical as to how one actually supports the other. My experience is that most of the time it’s two or three separate concerts and/or a separate party in one night. Of course it’s fun, economical and it helps with exposure – keep doing it by all means! I just felt that my band should explore what the idea of ‘supporting acts’ really entails and have a different take.

I wanted to have a go at an interdisciplinary approach. By collaborating with poets, writers and students (and in the future I intend to involve other circles) I believe that a genuine engagement and support between the different artistic and intellectual spheres is very rewarding. For our next concert, I’ve introduced a PhD philosophy student, Kurt Borg, who will be sharing his own philosophical thoughts on our lyrical approach. What’s fun and fruitful is that we actually meet with these collaborators numerous times prior to the event and we exchange ideas during endless chats. This has proven to be much more fulfilling for us on numerous levels. But, apart from our gain, I also think that the audience craves new bridges between the music and art scenes.

What do you make of the Maltese musical scene? What would you change about it? 

Well, it’s surely alive and kicking hard these past few years. We’ve witnessed loads of talented new artists recently and seen some great albums popping up. It’s pretty obvious we have venue problems and that directly affects both the musician and spectator. I don’t know what I’d change to be honest. I just want to focus on doing my part really well by delivering the best possible product and maybe inspire others along the way.

What’s next for you?

Start recording our second album in 2016! 

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