Wayne Flask

Author Translator Music Writer Public Annoyance

Shunning the Isle of MTV

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The joys of having a big one are, in this island, endless.

I had friends over to my house last weekend for an honest, uncomplicated BBQ.  I enjoyed it so much that for once I ignored Harry the Howling Husky in the 1.5 sq. m balcony opposite our house, the poor dog whimpering for his owners’ companionship for a full two hours; ignored the other neighbour whose eight dogs have had enough of her companionship and would be willing to break loose in exchange for a lifetime in a Peruvian coalmine; and even forgot that come Sunday morning, there was quite a lot of work required to chisel the carbonised onion off the BBQ grates.

We decamped to dessert and TV, and here is precisely where the big one comes in – the disused 1.5 m satellite dish springs back to life  precisely at this time of the year, as it transmits BBC’s red button streams to areas as remote as the south of Malta. It’s time for Glastonbury again.

Glastonbury on the Beeb is all about chance and endurance.  There’s Elbow fronted by the likeable Guy Garvey, replays of BB King’s set  and irritatingly enough, the Vaccines and Biffy Clyro. We catch some live Saturday action with White Lies (read: A-HA, 2011) and completely miss Coldplay, an incredible stroke of luck. We’re nodding by the time the Chemical Brothers take to the stage.  On Friday, you had to endure a whole two hours of U2 for eight priceless minutes of Primal Scream and the drenched, poncho-wearing audience of forty-somethings swaying along to an anthem of the old days of Britpop, E, Factory Records, Madchester and everything it brought with it.

They were my age then, possibly a couple of years younger.

When I’ll be forty five I will reminisce – nothing. I will be writing about how sanitised we were in 2011, when I was 28, when basic civil rights were a distant reality and when MTV used to organise, with the help of local partners, the Isle of MTV:  a festival where the gross and the exaggerated mix so well together that only those who never went to Glasto, Werchter, Lowlands, Exit, Benicassim or any of the major European festivals will find remotely entertaining.

Isle of MTV perfectly represents its mother company: there is little music, talent is zilch, plenty of fake superstar bull and the perfect opportunity for artists and sweaty goers to revel in the general atmosphere of chavness that surround this event.

In three or four editions, I have never set as much as a toe inside Floriana.  I have a deep irritation with the obvious and with the uncreative, with the spectacularisation of trash and junk, and with the ludicrous press coverage of these events.

We are, of course, the perfect Isle of MTV, where nothing else is really important. We dream of pimping our rides and maybe also being sixteen and pregnant; we keep making a jackass out of ourselves (vide the Gary Neville gaffe) and – sorry, I ran out of shows to mention.

I stopped following MTV around 1998. I was sixteen. Then along came Thom Greene. Get the drift?

All the while we wallow, literally, in the mire of what is the lowest form of entertainment since the singing cats on YouTube.  We seem preoccupied, amusing ourselves to death with the commentaries of the bare-chested Snoop Dogg landing at MIA (the acronym is cooler than saying Gudja) and snubbing journalists, or by kids yelling “LMFAO” on One News, as if they’re waiting for bloody – who – wait – the messiah, maybe? – a sad reminder that this is all the entertainment they can aspire for. LMFAO.

Isle of MTV is everything we should be ashamed of.  On the one hand, MTA works up this huge PR bubble around the event, where we attract a major brand to our shores (we’ve got others too – like, uhm, Lidl…) for a night of madness and hedonism. On the other, the isle itself is so ‘MTV’ it constantly forgets to give its own talent due legroom.

For one, I would have expected our police force to be half as consistent as it is with our own nationals:  Isle of MTV is held in a residential area and the festival creates numerous inconveniences to residents.  Why not stop it at 11.02 pm?  I understand that Snoop Dogg has sold a few more records (and other stuff too) than Areola Treat, Tribali, Brikkuni, PDM and all the bands who suffered the humiliation of having a gig cut short by the boys in blue – including another few bands whose set was cut short during the Notte Bianca 2010.  I mean, the government sends the police to stop an event it funded itself?

Snoop Dogg

Uh-huh him.

I’ve nothing against staging Isle of MTV, weren’t it for its low entertainment value and the impoverishment of discourse it brings about. It’s OK to get snubbed and laughed at by talentless musicians and a gangster with a rap sheet longer than a toilet roll, who all end their set by saying “I’ll be back,” just like the milkman would tell… well you know who.  What I cannot swallow is the tough cookie the authorities have been handing Maltese artists in the last two years. There has been a systematic clampdown on independent music, culture and theatre productions by the authorities.  I don’t know how it all started, but I suspect the reasons are as alarming as their consequences.

It’s OK to have laws as long as they are fair and applied consistently. I wonder what type of fauna felt disturbed by the Wirdien festival in a field in Marfa last year when the police turned up to stop the show (two of the organisers got off with a fine and a morning in court) and whether the inhabitants of Gianpula, Attard and Rabat are simply too wary of picking up the phone to file a report.

I’ve seen bands/organisers give up plans for their events because abiding by the law is just too costly and troublesome, and somehow there’s the feeling your arse is never covered 100%.

Perhaps, the “social order” that many have striven to keep intact during the divorce campaign (they got rewarded by a miserable failure) has a reading in the arts and culture scene in Malta. If you don’t have the blessing of being mainstream, or you’re doing your work independently of government boards and big corporate sponsors or you don’t want any sweaty plump fingers in your pie, then something nasty is bound to happen.

Theatrical producers have found themselves subject of the censorship board, or a 12+ suitability rating slapped onto their works, writers like Alex Vella Gera… well you know the story.

Censorship and policing – it’s how Malta has entered the second decade of the millennium.  I have no idea how or when this ridiculously unjust situation will change.

Hand in hand, Bible and baton, but don’t worry, nigga, we’re the Isle of MTV.

written for MaltaInsideOut