Never mind the digital spittle, here’s B.N.I. | Miguel Debattista

Teodor Reljic takes the opportunity to chat with B.N.I. guitarist and vocalist Miguel ‘Kinnie’ Debattista about the band’s history and the secret to their enduring appeal, while also hearing out their opinion on the ‘digital spittle’ of so-called ‘social media warriors’

Originally formed in 1993, B.N.I. have since become synonymous with the Maltese punk rock scene
Originally formed in 1993, B.N.I. have since become synonymous with the Maltese punk rock scene

Promising a night of “cathartic” mayhem, Malta’s stalwart punk rockers B.N.I. (Batteries Not Included) will be hitting the stage at The Funky Monkey on March 8, which gave Teodor Reljic the opportunity to chat with guitarist and vocalist Miguel ‘Kinnie’ Debattista about the band’s history and the secret to their enduring appeal, while also hearing out their opinion on the ‘digital spittle’ of so-called ‘social media warriors’

B.N.I are a true staple of the local punk scene. Could you describe how the band first got together, and what would you say are some of the milestones of B.N.I.’s career so far?

B.N.I. started rehearsals around 1993, initially as a metal band. It was after hearing Sham 69’s ‘If the Kids are United’ and covering it during a rehearsal that we started taking on more of punk-oriented sound. I remember us working on the song for about half an hour and getting an immense kick while playing it. We had pulled off a good cover version, and suddenly realised that maybe a band doesn’t need much to get a strong set of songs together. The directness and power in that punk classic made us see that three growling guitar chords, frank lyrics, a strong beat and a headstrong bass sound could be all you need to create something that people might want to listen and move to. 

Since those times, we’ve released three albums, played countless gigs with who knows how many bands, did a good share of touring abroad and had tons of fun throughout. 

How would you describe the B.N.I sound, and how has it evolved over the years?

B.N.I.’s sound is a muddy cross between old school punk rock, more recent punk rock, rock and roll, reggae and ska. It has always been so. 

We pride ourselves in knowing that most of those who come to our shows return home happy, energised and feeling alive, and we consider this direct effect of punk music on people to be a very powerful positive and constructive influence.

What were some of the main challenges you faced as a band, and do you see Maltese bands today facing the same problems? What would be some of the main things you’d change about the local music scene?

I guess the usual problem Maltese bands have to face is the lack of proper live venues. That was one of the main issues for us too through the years, but our resourcefulness and D.I.Y. attitude always got us through. Apart from that, I don’t know what other setbacks an enthusiastic band could face. Being in a rehearsal room with your buddies and making loud, fast music is the apex of contentment, or at least it was and still is so for us. 

Many artists and bands here whine about not getting record deals, about being under appreciated and about having to work way too hard for recognition. Many of them think that being outspoken is the way forward, and that local artists should be more vociferous about what is wrong with things around us. Others keep mentioning that we need some sort of revolution, and bore the rest of us with half-baked, pseudo-rebellious social media banter egging us on to ‘make a change’. 

The truth is that words are cheap (free, actually) and that people detest being told what to do… social media ‘warriors’ ought to have a good look at themselves and work on their own shortcomings, focusing more on their personal dimension, before going all airy-fairy and expecting help from the very people they denounce. 

The majority of the population is not, I repeat, not interested in bringing change to the status quo. One should think for himself or herself, acknowledge the good in society, and work actively to gently correct, hands-on, what in his or her opinion is wrong with it. There is only so much a person can do in a lifetime, and conscious change can only be brought about within the individual’s sphere of action. Bringing change within oneself with sincerity equates to changing society anyhow, doesn’t it? 

If there is anything that distinguishes the punk attitude from other musical and lifestyle approaches, it must be its unflinching focus on internal and mental control, avoidance of external influences that have the power to jeopardise your independent thought and a general uncanny tendency towards health, especially dietary and physical health. The cultivation of an independent mind and alternative lifestyle is something we value, and we tend to keep whining and complaining to a bare minimum. B.N.I. never aspired to becoming some sort of musical role models or wisdom dispensers: we focus all our energies on ourselves as individuals and do our best to lead by example and lead contented existences. Other than that, the only outlet we use to express ourselves is our music and general attitude towards life.

It’s not up to us to say whether there’s anything to change in the local music scene – it can follow its own course. We’d rather focus on the local underground scene, to which we belong. 

How would you describe the evolution of the local punk scene from the days you guys started playing, until now?

Well, there were no other active punk bands in Malta when we started, except maybe for R.A.S. [Rage Against Society]. None of the older Maltese punk bands from the 80s made it till the 90s, and the late 90s must have been the best times for the local punk scene. People were just picking up instruments and starting bands, and we were putting up shows in all sorts of places. 

More and more people were attending gigs, and it seemed like everyone there was borrowing and lending punk cassettes and CDs. Interest in the music was genuine and people in audiences were enthusiastic to hear what people on stage, usually their own friends, had to say. The metal and alternative scenes were also going strong at the time, and there seemed to be a good sense of camaraderie between bands of different styles. Many bands came and went, and I’m not really sure whether there are any active punk bands in Malta right now except for, as it happens, R.A.S. and B.N.I.… 

What can fans expect from your upcoming gig at Funky Monkey?

The usual crowd already know it’ll be a high-energy, cathartic mess. Others who might not have not heard of the band or of the Maltese punk scene might want to come see what it’s all about, while Facebook and social media warriors might want to come over to let off some repressed steam by singing and dancing like maniacs instead of spreading their digital spittle all over the place on a Wednesday evening. 

B.N.I. will be performing at The Funky Monkey, Manoel Island, Gzira. Doors open at 20:00. Entrance is at €3, at the door.