The beauty of self-indulgence | Michael Spiteri of Proga

Teodor Reljic speaks to Michael Spiteri of Prog the Islands, one of the organisers behind the upcoming prog-rock mini-festival ‘Proga’ – an outgrowth of a previous concert series, Archipelaprog, which celebrates the burgeoning progressive rock scene on the island

Michael Spiteri
Michael Spiteri

How did the idea of Proga first come about, and does it differ from Archipelaprog?

As I see it, this year’s Proga! is more of a continuation of Archipelaprog, which means that once again that Prog The Islands has branched out to include musical acts that, for the most part, stray out of the mould. The name itself is a play on words. Given the historical criticism and perceptions surrounding the genre we threw around event titles and Proga happened to ironically highlight the fact that the event can be seen as promoting “self-indulgent” music.

That the Maltese metal scene is healthy has been a truism known to a lot of (perhaps select) people for quite some time. But how would you rate the state of Prog scene in particular?

Prog has the luxury and also the audacity to include acts from various other genres. It’s not bound to metal. As far as the “state of prog” goes... it’s only goes as far as how many musicians attempt to break away, without wearing their influences on their sleeves in a some- what obvious manner. This is the most difficult part in my opinion, as when composing one needs to filter away the already “known” and “familiar”.

As far as the scene per se is concerned it’s in a healthy period. Local prog veterans, Mirage, have regrouped and provided a great throwback gig last September. Meanwhile, new and interesting acts are emerging and providing an interesting and sophisticated take on music.

New albums on a yearly basis are on the increase. Bands have become highly productive while making the best use out of the platforms available.

What have been some of the most interesting developments in the Prog scene recently, in your opinion? And how do the bands featured in this first edition of Proga express that?

On an international scale, new bands are frequently emerging and making a name for them- selves. They’re also managing to include themselves in other non- prog specific festivals. I had the opportunity to catch Romanian act White Walls at Carpathian Alliance - a yearly festival held in the Carpathian Mountains in the Ukraine. The rest of the festival showcased mostly black and death metal acts.

I also had the opportunity to at- tend the awkwardly named: ‘Be Prog, My Friend’ in Barcelona, last summer. Attendance was phenomenal and the acts were varied enough that each of them provided a unique experience. Watching the likes of Jethro Tull, Anathema, Devin Townsend and Animals as Leaders was but just the surface of this exciting experience (as a handful of other popular/emerging bands performed as well - such as Leprous and Caligula’s Horse). Underground (yet still popular) Norwegian act Ulver also performed and their audiovisual experience closed off the first night with a solemn bang.

For better or worse, and obviously, to a much smaller degree, Prog The Islands is attempting to embark on a similar path, while showcasing mostly local acts. This year’s headliner, Brodu, is not usually associated with prog at all. However, they’re eclectic and different enough to be a very much welcome addition.

What do you make of the local music scene? What would you change about it?

That the scene has exploded in creativity is nothing new, al- though this influx may create a certain sense of detachment from the creative processes and appreciation of these acts. Still, now it feels that there’s an influx of events and even though in principle this is a good thing (as it will also support emerging bands) support may mostly be dedicated solely to member familiarity rather than genuine curiosity. How- ever, this was always the case for the past decade or so.

Another issue is clashes, and they have always been a problem (even between relatively smaller events). However, I doubt that it will ever be entirely resolved since that would entail a some- what totalitarian control over the festivals themselves. Middle- way agreements are always on the cards though and that’s why, for the most part, every major rock/metal event has an allocated month.

The Garage (venue) in Zebbug has been a breather to local bands and organisers as a centralised space is now available for bands to perform. This initiative has the love of music at heart, and the awareness of the troubles that are involved in order to organise any kind of event.

One of the matters which I would change would be to im- prove actual conversation be- tween governmental entities and the underground scene - as, evidently, we’re on two entirely different planes of reality. Case in point is the increasing expenditure on this “bands hub” project. Bands don’t need any help to find a rehearsal space, but they do need well-organised areas where they can perform. It also seems that funds have been quickly given to a select few that don’t re- ally have an idea of what they’re doing. Such practices tamper Malta’s rock/metal reputation, unfortunately.
 Hopefully, a healthy conversation between the government entities and the underground scene festival/events organisers may help to bridge this discrepancy.

Proga! will be taking place on De- cember 8 at The Garage, Zebbug. Featured bands include Brodu, The Ranch, Ferret, Super Sponge Trio, Kizum Klof and The Plakard Project. Doors open at 19:00. Tick- ets: https://shop.trackagescheme. com/event/prog-islands-presents- proga/. The event is organised in collaboration with The Garage, Trackage Scheme, Rejects, VOTS, Bandaid Music Malta and Supro Amplifiers.